Two public figures will be honored by the Friends of the Ballona Wetlands for protection of state watershed and restoration efforts. Terry O’Day of the Santa Monica City Council and Cynthia Ruiz of the Los Angeles Department of Public Works will be recognized at the event April 29, at 5 p.m.
The Friends will hold the fundraiser in downtown L.A at 515 S. Flower Street. For the lavish event the Friends publicized, “literally recreating the Ballona Wetlands in downtown L.A.” Area businesses and sponsors donate to the group, such as Venice’s G2 Gallery, Southern California Edison, and even the group’s contender in legal battles, Playa Vista.
This is the first “Passionate Pickleweed Awards” honoring environmental advocates. The group chose O’Day and Ruiz due to their individual long histories of activism for the environment through civil service, according to internal documents. The newly-appointed council member O’Day explained the focus needs to be on the threats to the community and creating conservancy programs to protect the wetlands.
“I am very fortunate to have made a career that I feel passionate about, and to have crossed over from the private, to non-profit and public sector,” O’Day said. “We have reformed the way development is made in our community to protect ecosystems.”
O’Day served on the Santa Monica Planning Commission for six years, deliberating on issues such as the Land Use and Circulation Element and the Exposition Light Rail. The 12 year Santa Monica resident has worked on the Sustainable City Task Force, which advised the City Council, and Solar Santa Monica, a program to aid in the city’s goal to be energy independent by 2010. O’Day also unsuccessfully ran for City Council in 2006.
When Mayor Ken Genser passed away in January of this year, the City Council swore in O’Day to fill the vacancy until the next election in November 2010. He has served on the Council since February 23.
O’Day is the executive director for Environment Now, a nonprofit that campaigns for the “health of California’s ecosystems” and “urban sustainability.” The group founded more than a dozen lasting, successful organizations like the Waterkeepers in California and Mexico, Sequoia ForestKeeper, and Energy Independence Now. The group has also created programs to curb storm-water run-off, O’Day said that continues to pollute the ocean, especially with dwindling wetlands.
He first became involved in sustainable causes by co-founding EV Rental cars. It is the first rental company in the U.S. to offer only environmental vehicles, such as hybrid, natural gas, and electric cars. Originally studying to be an engineer, he has an MBA from The UCLA Anderson School of Management, completed the Coro Public Affairs Fellows Program in Los Angeles, and received a BA with honors in Public Policy at Stanford University.
Cynthia M. Ruiz serves as the president of the Board of Public Works after the Los Angeles City Council confirmed her to a seat in 2005. The board has on public education programs to get residents to adopt upstream management practices, including water quality education. DPW monitors Ballona Creek under two programs, Metals and Estuary Toxics, and the Bacterial Coordinated Monitoring Program, which includes the Del Rey Lagoon.
She has also partnered with Los Angeles Unified School District School Board Member Monica Garcia to start Latinas Lighting the Way, a youth mentorship program. She is a graduate of California State University, Los Angeles, where she earned a Bachelor of Science degree in Chicano Studies and a Master of Science degree in counseling.
The Friends is a 32-year-old nonprofit that strives for restoration and protection of the dwindling wetlands, which boasts more than 65,000 volunteers since 1994. Ballona’s 600 acres are a remnant of a wetlands system that once covered more than 2,000 acres. The Friends of Ballona Wetlands works with the California Coastal Conservancy, the California Department of Fish & Game, and the Mountains Recreation & Conservation Authority, which have authority over the state-owned ecological reserve.
Tickets for Thursday’s event range from a “multi-benefit sponsor package” for $10,000, to a “student/activist rate” of $250. For more information visit www.ballonafriends.org/aga.
Mirror Staff Reporterkatherine@smmirror.com