The California Coastal Commission has asked the developer of Playa Vista to remove drains in the Ballona Wetlands that the agency said were not approved and have siphoned water from the ecological preserve.
Andrew Willis, an enforcement analyst, said in a letter dated last month that the two drains north and south of Culver Boulevard just west of Lincoln Boulevard were "never authorized ... by the commission in any way that we are aware of."
Willis said in an interview that the commission never reviewed the drains and that they were "damaging habitat" in violation of the state Coastal Act.
"They're located within a natural wetlands area of which water is the primary characteristic," he said. The drains are "taking surface water and groundwater out of the wetlands area."
Playa Capital, the developer of the sprawling development south of Marina del Rey, installed the drains in the mid-1990s at the city's request, said Marc Huffman, a Playa Vista representative. He added that the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and other agencies were aware of and signed off on the drains.
"The drains are designed for flood control in large storms for public safety, and we have no indication that they're doing anything but that," Huffman said. "They appear to have been constructed at the request of the city of L.A."
He said the Coastal Commission "has certainly seen them."
Huffman added that the company was in contact with the commission in the hope of resolving the issue.
Huffman is a vice president with Brookfield Residential. In 2012, Brookfield, a home builder based in Calgary, acquired Playa Capital, the master developer of Playa Vista.
Willis said the commission had been unaware of the drains' existence until a member of the public called last year to ask about them. He added that the coastal panel and the company had been trading correspondence.
Brookfield Residential provided a December letter from the city stating that the drains were designed to be part of Playa Vista's freshwater marsh, a habitat installed years ago that doubles as a water treatment system for the development, now home to thousands of residents.
The city's Bureau of Engineering said it reviewed the construction drawings and approved installation of the drainage to provide "localized flood protection."
The coastal panel disputes the need for the drains and said that whether the city approved them or not, they still would have required the commission's approval.
"We are early in the case so still have to flesh out the facts," Willis said. "In general, you can appreciate that a structure designed to drain water out of an area is going to interfere with the functioning of a wetland, a habitat that needs water."
Playa Vista no longer owns the land, which originally was planned for residential and commercial development. In 2003, Playa Capital sold the 650 or so acres west of Lincoln to the state for preservation as wetlands.