From the start, something seemed amiss to the League of Women Voters.
It was 1975 and the local chapter was looking for a study project when members heard about a marina that was proposed to be built on the Bolsa Chica wetlands.
“The more we studied it, the more we found this was something that had great importance,” recalled Linda Moon, a Huntington Beach attorney.
League members grew worried about the project’s effect on wildlife, the beach and the community. Because the League of Women Voters is nonpartisan, members decided to form an advocacy group to take over the fight--Amigos de Bolsa Chica.
And the environmental battle was on.
Twenty-two years later, after lawsuits, setbacks and the rise of other groups that joined the fight, an agreement was reached this week to restore and preserve the Bolsa Chica wetlands. Much of the credit for the historic agreement, observers said, goes to Moon and others who spent Wednesday savoring their victory.
Huntington Beach Mayor Ralph H. Bauer noted the origins of the movement to save Bolsa Chica at Wednesday’s meeting with the State Lands Commission, which met here and unanimously approved the sweeping plan to save the ecologically sensitive coastal wetlands.
“A small group of ladies gathered here in a living room--'What should we do about the Bolsa Chica? Doesn’t it belong to the citizens of California?’ ” Bauer recalled.
One of the “ladies” he was referring to was his wife, Charlene Bauer.
During the commission meeting, Lt. Gov. Gray Davis also acknowledged the group’s vision and asked the original members in the audience--Moon, Charlene Bauer and Virginia Whipple--to stand and be recognized.
“I cannot tell you how much we are in your debt for your vision,” Davis told the women as he closed the meeting. “We are very grateful to you for all your wisdom and inspiration.”
When they started out, Moon said, Amigos members received advice from a similar group, Friends of Newport Bay.
“They said, ‘Be ready to be around 20 years.’ And we said, ‘Twenty years?’ ” Moon said. “ ‘And be ready to have it eat up a significant part of your life.’ And they were right.”
Amigos filed the first suit in 1979 over the proposed marina and plans to build a 5,700-home community alongside it, arguing the state had given the developer public land for the project.
Few realized at the beginning how protracted the fight would be. But the years of lobbying and fighting paid off, said Charlene Bauer, who also credited the work of the Bolsa Chica Land Trust, the Sierra Club and others.
When it seemed an agreement for the state to buy the wetlands might fall apart at the last minute, City Councilwoman Shirley S. Dettloff took the drama in stride.
“I think the way it was done--right down to the wire--that’s Bolsa Chica,” said a smiling Dettloff, one of the pioneers with Amigos de Bolsa Chica. “Nothing is easy about the Bolsa Chica.”
Members said they never despaired, although they sometimes joked they might not live long enough to see such a happy ending.
“This is a great, great day. This is a day that was a dream,” Dettloff said. “I really did not think in my lifetime this would be completed, to have all the wetlands restored.”
Dettloff said Wednesday she did it so the Bolsa Chica will always remain a sanctuary for a variety of birds, plants and fish.
“It’s a legacy,” Dettloff said. “I have grandchildren--what we’re doing is something for future generations.”