In this city where giant refineries loom over the landscape and the din from freeways fills the air, a marsh--one of the last natural wetlands in the South Bay--has been quietly struggling to survive.
Located in a well-appointed mobile home park near the north end of the city, the 18-acre marsh with its animals and plants has been threatened recently by hunters--human and wild--oil spills, trash, dogs and even an out-of-control automobile.
Now the marsh is the subject of a noisy debate about its future.
The struggle involves a property owner seeking to make more money, residents anxious to conserve what was there when they arrived and city officials trying to do something about odors and rats.
Add 60 Sites to Park
The owner's plan, which has yet to reach final form or receive approval from the city, would fill in most of the marsh, reroute its water flow and expand the Carson Harbor Village mobile home park by 60 spaces.
"It looks like three to four acres is all that would remain of the marsh under the initial proposal," said Patricia Nemeth, the city's director of community development.
Residents of Carson Harbor Village, who only recently found out about the proposal, quickly signed up a majority of those living in the 410-space park on a petition opposing it.
"I don't want it filled in," said Gladys Runnalls, a resident. "I want it just like it is."
Also opposing the plan is Dr. David J. Morafka, a biology professor at nearby California State University, Dominguez Hills, who supervised a biological survey of the site about 10 years ago. In addition, an official of the state Department of Fish and Game said filling in the marsh would violate deed restrictions intended to keep it as it is.
Morafka said the marsh is irreplaceable.
'Brutalized' Urban Area
"The South Bay is probably the most brutalized, thoughtlessly uncontrolled urban area in western North America. It is devastated," he said. The marsh is "part of a network of tiny patches of wetlands. . . . These little bits of land are the last bits of natural environment."
The owner said the marsh is not attractive.
"Personally, I don't think it looks very pretty . . . ," said Carson Harbor Village owner Jim Goldstein. "I want to make the area prettier than it is now." He said the additional mobile home sites are needed to pay for the improvements he plans at the marsh.
Before the mobile home park was built, the park and marsh were part of the former Albertoni dairy farm, which had a stream wandering through pasturage marked with barns and other farm buildings. The marsh, which was larger then, helped alleviate flooding during heavy rains, and still does.
In 1977, when a developer proposed turning part of the farm into a mobile home park, the Carson Planning Commission insisted that the marsh remain as it was. In the conditional-use permit for the mobile home park, one of the requirements is that a deed restriction be recorded "to ensure that the fresh-water marsh . . . shall be forever preserved and protected."
The only way to alter that condition, according to the deed restriction, is to obtain permission of the state Department of Fish and Game and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
Jack Spruill, associate wildlife manager biologist with the state Department of Fish and Game, said that filling in the marsh would violate departmental policy as well as the deed restriction.
"We have a position that no net loss of wetlands could occur without replacement in acreage or habitat value," he said.
Despite Spruill's assertion that the deed restriction requires approval of the Fish and Game Department, Goldstein said the city attorney told him that may not be the case. City Atty. Glenn Watson said, however, that while the city could change its regulations governing the marsh it could not take action involving other agencies.
During the decade that the marsh has been surrounded by the mobile home park, its integrity as an untouched preserve has been fragile, judging by incidents cited by mobile home park residents.
Predators are a problem, according to resident manager Tom Schellhorn. Stray cats and dogs constantly get into the mobile home park and prey on birds and rabbits, he said. About a year ago, Schellhorn said, "some kids were playing with a rifle. They were shooting into the marsh. I told them it was against the rules."
Inanimate objects have threatened the marsh as well.
Unocal spokesman Barry Lane said oil from a spill upstream had washed into the marsh last Memorial Day weekend. The oil company spent most of a week cleaning up the mess, said Betty Cary, who is vice president of the park chapter of the Golden State Mobilehome Owners League.
Schellhorn said Fish and Game officials hauled him into court once when he wanted to install a cement abutment to strengthen a trestle bridge over the marsh. "They wanted to leave it natural," he said, and the state agency prevailed.
And about a year ago, a resident, who has since moved, drove her car off the bridge. The car flipped over and landed in the marsh. The woman was not seriously hurt.
The marsh, which gets its waters from the Compton area via a county-owned culvert, also collects a lot of trash after heavy rains. The trash stays behind when water exits the marsh on its way to the Dominguez Channel, which drains into the ocean.
The trash generated smells and attracted rats. About two years ago, a heavy stream of complaints from the mobile home park prompted discussion by the City Council on how to clean it up. City Atty. Glenn Watson said he suggested that the owner might receive the right to add mobile homes in exchange for making permanent improvements such as filling in the marsh.
Goldstein said he had this suggestion in mind when he produced his proposal, which he filed in April, 1986. Since then, the city has asked him to expand his proposal with an array of options, a request he is working on.
Since a cleanup of the marsh about a year ago, complaints have dropped off, a city official said, and sentiment now appears to favor the conservationist side.
"We don't have that much green belt left," Cary said. "That is what attracted me to the park."