"M" is for Mitigation
by Robert Nanninga
"I'm going to cut off your foot. But don't worry, we're going to
provide a prosthetic limb for a patient in Peoria." Make sense? Read
hen I decided to address the subject of mitigation,
little did I realize the headache I was setting myself up for. I thought
this would be a cake walk; you know, a quick diatribe on the evils of over-development,
and then on to more pressing matters. Not the case. What I found was an
environmental slight-of-hand that not even David Copperfield could pull
In this time of shrinking open space, threatened species
and stagnating economies, mitigation is becoming the placebo of choice.
It offers developers and local officials an opportunity to prove to themselves
and others that they are being good stewards of the environment. It works
Being the fine upstanding capitalist that you are, you decide that Southern
California is in desperate need of another consumer warehouse outlet. First
thing you do is find a city that is strapped for cash. Next, within that
city's sphere of influence buy a piece of land that has yet to be developed,
due to the fact that it is a wetland. Then, set out to convince the "Powers
That Be" that their community won't survive without the gift you're
offering them. Just mention an improved tax base, real or imagined, and
you're "in like Flint."
Uh oh, here come those pesky Eco-activists complaining
about habitats and little birds. What do you do? You guessed it, you mitigate.
You agree to find another piece of open space and alter it to resemble the
area you're destroying to make room for your much needed Church of the Holy
Currently, this "robbing Peter to pay Paul"
scenario is being played out here in North County at the $55 million Batiquitos
Lagoon Enhancement Project. Five agencies are involved: The U.S. Fish and
Wildlife Service, the California Department of Fish and Game, the Port of
Los Angeles, the City of Carlsbad, and the California Land Commission. These
fine public defenders decided that it makes sense to replace the loss of
deep-water fish habitat brought about by harbor expansion of the Port of
Los Angeles with a newly-created deep-water habit in Batiquitos Lagoon,
currently a shallow lagoon of saltmarsh and mudflats.
Does L.A. need a bigger harbor? I would think they could
have used the $55 million to clean up the one they have. And who, you ask,
will benefit from this misguided sense of stewardship? The obvious answer
is the Port of Los Angeles. The mitigation law was designed to protect sensitive
natural spaces and habitats. The corporate interests behind the port expansion
have deemed protecting ecosystems along our coast as unprofitable. So, to
prove to the agencies that oversee the protection of the environment that
they are team players, they waved large sums of money in the faces of a
city council that is eager to grow.
Once the City of Carlsbad was on board, the Port of
Los Angeles bought the best science and scientists money could buy and set
about "enhancing" Batiquitos Lagoon. Enhancements like creating
California least tern nesting sights where none existed, adding rock jetties,
and recontouring the lagoon floor. These actions are justified in the name
of "providing protection for plants and animals and their habitats,
especially those that are threatened or endangered." Does anyone, other
than myself, see the irony in the fact that human manipulation is the reason
these species are endangered in the first place? Greedy guys of L.A. throw
the City of Carlsbad a $55 million bone and they're off the hook, case closed.
Granted, this deal may benefit the local populations
of the California least tern and the western Snowy plover, but at the expense
of others. It is like saying, we can mitigate for the destruction of Chula
Vista by building more homes and strip malls in Julian. When government
agencies start thinking of natural spaces as commodities that can be traded
at will, as if they were baseball cards, we are all in trouble.
Also benefitting from this cozy deal is the City of
Carlsbad. Dredging will provide sand on South Carlsbad beaches, and we all
know that this translates to more beach goers, which in turn means more
traffic, more trash on the beach, more pollution hanging over the coast.
And more disturbances for the birds the enhancements were designed to protect.
The enhancement of Batiquitos lagoon is also a shot
in the arm for the ill-conceived and financially struggling Aviara project.
Although siltation was cited as the cause of the needed improvements, development
of the la-goon's north shore continues apace, as does development up-stream
- the major cause of siltation build-up in the first place.
If the coastal cities of San Diego's north county were
really interested in protecting the viability of the lagoons that grace
their communities, they would cease development in environmentally sensitive
areas, such as streams, creeks, and their corresponding greenbelts. If the
objective is to lessen the environmental damage to a given habitat, doesn't
it make sense to scale back your plans, as opposed to pawning off your responsibility
to another community? In no way is the environment of the Los Angeles area
or the species that inhabit it enhanced by this mitigation. The damage is
Instead of land swaps, the people of Southern California
need to demand that their elected officials pay close attention to the actions
of the agencies whose sole purpose is to protect our environment. It seems
to me that the Department of Fish and Game has become little more than a
clearing house for natural resources.
If we truly wish to mitigate for the impact of human
civilization, as species we must find a way to bring back the natural balance.
This will not be done with dredging machines and cement tidal corridors.
What is needed is a new way of relating to the planet that supports us.
Human Beings must come to terms with population control, and leave some
breathing space for other species. If we do not, there will be nothing left
Robert Nanninga is an independent video producer, actor, vegan and
active member of the Green and environmental community.