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Celebrate Ballona Honors Local Heroes:

In fashion terms, The Ballona Institute’s Celebrate Ballona Gala dinner fundraiser featured dress styles according to one’s natural environment. Jerry Rubin wore his shorts, journalist Patt Morrison wore a big black hat, and the guest of honor, the Ballona Wetlands, wore its décor of flora and fauna, as seen in videos throughout the evening.

It was fun, but the cause was serious. Ballona Wetlands activists honored some heroes from the political arena and from the media, who had championed the preservation of one of the last open spaces and ecological preserves in Southern California.

The presentation began with a ceremony by Native Americans Anthony and Andrew Morales from the Gabrieleno/Tongva tribe. Their songs and prayers, accompanied by rhythm instruments, were a reminder that the Ballona preserve is a sacred land to the natives who have lived there for several thousand years.

Master of Ceremonies Los Angeles City Councilman Bill Rosendahl remarked on the joint honoring of politicians and journalists: “If you can get the politicians and journalists together, you can accomplish anything.”

Receiving awards were Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, former California State Senator Tom Hayden, former California State Controllers Kathleen Connell and Steve Westley, Secretary of State Debra Bowen, and journalists J. William Gibson, David Helvang, Nick Madigan, Mary Moore, Jeff Stockwell, Jill Stewart, Patt Morrison, and Robert Scheer.

Hayden, who had to leave early, was given his award “out of order” and spoke of how people often took ecosystems like the Ballona Wetlands for granted.

“Wetlands are treated politically as utilitarian,” said Hayden. “We expect them to be used to ‘get rid of’ our stuff. That’s how I found [the wetlands] and it bothered me. I had to argue every day with people who ‘used’ it.”

The acquisition in 2003 of more than 600 acres of the Wetlands by the state of California was aided by the Trust for Public Land. Huey Johnson, founder of the Trust as well as founder of the Resource Renewal Institute and former California Resources Secretary, observed that through 40 years of battling for the Wetlands, he had thought the saving of that large parcel of land “would never happen.

“Seeing this amazing accomplishment was overwhelming for me.”

The eight journalists, who wrote for publications as diverse as the Los Angeles Times, LA Weekly, New Times LA, Variety, and the Daily Breeze, were praised for taking risks and keeping the issue afloat when many people thought that the fight to preserve the Wetlands was over.

J. William Gibson reminded the audience that print media is in trouble and that they should “keep reading.”

“If you like somebody’s work, write to the editor!”, said Gibson.

Patt Morrison admitted she had envied Robert Scheer for being on the Nixon “enemies list” but achieved a dubious honor of her own in being on the list of “known opponents” of Playa Vista.

Scheer said, “I was mostly concerned about the traffic on Lincoln,” and he was initially not impressed by the visible activists who picketed at the burgeoning Playa Vista development. But he added: “This is one of the best grassroots movements.”

And Jill Stewart got a laugh when she told of how her editor wondered why she was knocking herself out in writing her pieces – was she afraid of the developers or the politicians? And she replied, “I’m afraid of [Ballona Institute co-director] Marcia Hanscom!”

Celebrate Ballona was the first in a series of events in honor of the Wetlands and those who have struggled to save it. More events are scheduled for 2009, including a picnic in the spring. For more information go to celebrateballona.com.

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