The largest private real estate development project in the history of Los Angeles and the largest dam ever proposed have something in common: Their existence depends on the support of a few Wall Street investment banks, which are funding both projects after virtually all other investors have fled.
Morgan Stanley Dean Witter is underwriting bonds and acting as financial advisor for the Three Gorges Dam project on the Yangtze River in China and is a major funder of the Playa Vista development, a city proposed to be built in and around the Ballona Wetlands, the last coastal wetlands ecosystem in Los Angeles. International river activists and L.A. wetlands activists have noted an additional synergy: MSDW's headquarters are located across the street from the Century City hotel where Al Gore will be staying when he comes to town for the Democratic National Convention. Activists will be turning out to bring the problems of Three Gorges and Playa Vista to Gore's attention on Thursday.
"The Vice President could make a tremendous contribution to the environment in L.A. and worldwide by condemning Morgan Stanley's socially and environmentally irresponsible investments," said Marcia Hanscom, director of the Wetlands Action Network. "In the case of Playa Vista, the voters of the State of California have approved million in bond funds to help take this land public and turn it into a wildlife preserve. Al Gore's support for this initiative would make all the difference for L.A. coastal wetlands."
Three Gorges, a mile-wide dam, would forcibly displace nearly 2 million local residents, assure the extinction of the Yangtze River dolphin, and radically alter the Yangtze's ecology and the fishing and agrarian economies that depend on it. The National Security Council vetoed any US involvement in the project, the U.S. Import-Export Bank has refused to guarantee loans to companies seeking dam contracts, and the World Bank has refused funding.
Playa Vista was slated to be the home of the new DreamWorks movie studio on the westside of Los Angeles until June 1999, when, after many reversals, financing difficulties and vocal environmental protests, the studio, a major investment draw for the project, announced they were dropping their option and going elsewhere. Currently developers are dealing with a City-ordered suspension of bond funding pending an investigation of the potential impacts of a newly discovered earthquake fault and large deposits of explosive methane gas under the project site.
The Thursday demo in Century City should be one of the more colorful DNC demos, as it is driven largely by L.A.'s artist-activist community, who are promising a replica of the Yangtze River flowing to Morgan Stanley's door. Giant frog and turtle puppets will represent the denizens of L.A.'s Ballona Wetlands.
Also present will be Taiwanese artist Chen Long-Bin, whose sculpture "China vs. America," a set of large-scale sculpted maps of the two countries made of recycled books, made its debut at the local 18th Street Arts Complex in July. "Three Gorges will destroy China," says Long-Bin. "It must not happen."
The demonstation will be held at at 1999 Avenue of the Stars in Century City, starting at noon; for information call 310-840-5553.