The cracked roads and old streetlights are remnants of the Playa del Rey neighborhood that stood decades ago just west of Los Angeles International Airport.
As LAX grew busier and noisier, Los Angeles World Airports in the 1960s and '70s began buying up properties and tearing down homes, some of which had been part of the coastal landscape since the early 1900s. Yet much of the old Surfridge community's infrastructure was left behind, creating a scene reminiscent of a ghost town.
On Thursday, the California Coastal Commission could sign off on a development permit allowing the airport agency to pull up pavement, retaining walls and other structures still visible on the bluffs along Vista del Mar, and make plans to replace some of the old neighborhood's invasive plants with native vegetation.
The permit focuses on a 48-acre area within the northernmost portion of the LAWA-owned dunes, which span 302 acres between coastal Vista del Mar and Pershing Drive. The northern dune boundary is formed by Waterview Street, Rindge Avenue and Napoleon Street, while Imperial Highway serves as the southern border.
The work involves pulling out abandoned streets, curbs, gutters, sidewalks, retaining walls, foundations and above-ground utilities, along with non-native plants that once adorned the former residential area. The agency would then plant about 6 acres of native coastal dune and coastal prairie vegetation.
The Coastal Commission staff recommends the permit win approval with conditions, including requirements that LAWA submit final plans on erosion and drainage controls, as well landscaping, which must be compatible to the habitat of the nearby El Segundo blue butterfly preserve.
The airport agency years ago began setting aside parts of the dunes as protected butterfly habitat. Today, LAWA maintains a roughly 200-acre preserve about a half-mile south of the project site.
Work on the northern part of the dunes has been a long time coming, considering that LAWA agreed in 2005 (while settling disputes over a proposed airport master plan) to set aside up to $3 million for aesthetic improvements.
Preparing for the work apparently hasn't been a simple feat, considering the time that's passed and that various city agencies, along with the Coastal Commission and Federal Aviation Administration, have jurisdiction over the land.
But LAWA's Intissar Durham, chief airports engineer, said the agency has tried to prioritize the project in its capital program and ensure "the right resources are working on it, including a qualified biologist," given the work would occur in an environmentally sensitive area, and that multiple agencies are involved, among other factors.
More than a decade ago, LAWA ran into trouble when it set out to beautify land on the south side of Waterview and Napoleon streets and Rindge Avenue and planted non-native Mexican fan palms without the proper permits. Several environmental groups complained, prompting the Coastal Commission to order the trees removed. A walking trail and native plants adorn that area today.
Travis Longcore, whose Urban Wildlands Group opposed the palms planted in 2000, said he has questioned why coastal buckwheat - which attracts blue butterflies - is not included on the revegetation list for the new project, saying it could help the insect's recovery. Still, he called the removal of the old infrastructure and exotic vegetation "a good step forward."
If the state panel approves the permit, Durham said the project on Feb. 19 would go to the Board of Airport Commissioners, which could give the staff permission to put the work out to bid. She said she anticipates construction could start in August, assuming there are no restrictions from commissioners. The work is expected to last eight months.
With this project completed, only about 50 acres of dunes near Sandpiper Street would remain unrestored.
"Given the location of the work, there will be minimum noise and traffic impacts to residential areas," Durham wrote in an email. "Minor traffic impacts may affect Vista del Mar during the replacement of curbs along the east side of the street."
LAWA has no plans to open up the area for public access.
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Find out more
The California Coastal Commission on Thursday is set to review LAWA's proposal to remove old streets and invasive plants on a section of dunes south of Playa del Rey along Vista del Mar. The panel meets at 8:30 a.m. in Pismo Beach. To watch it live and read the agenda, link to http://bit.ly/Ydzqe/.