After hearing testimony from public officials and 33 citizens, the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors moved to dismiss a motion to send a signed letter to the Obama Administration requesting a delay in the process to establish a National Monument in the San Gabriel Mountains and instead spend additional time gathering information on the proposal themselves.
On the evening of Labor Day, word got out that Supervisor Michael D. Antonovich of Los Angeles County’s 5th District had introduced a supplemental agenda item to a planned meeting on September 2nd. The new item would have sent a message to Washington D.C. that Los Angeles County was not enthusiastic about the establishment of the San Gabriel Mountains National Monument, a plan spearheaded legislatively by Representative Judy Chu and more recently through executive declaration via the Antiquities Act. The agenda item read:
Recommendation as submitted by Supervisor Antonovich: Direct the Chief Executive Officer to send a five-signature letter to Congresswoman Judy Chu, the Obama Administration and the County’s Congressional Delegation requesting a delay in the process to establish monument status to provide the County, multiple stakeholders and all impacted agencies and municipal governments an opportunity to discuss and review its potential impacts; work with all affected Departments to determine any impacts on public safety, flood control or emergency services and report back to the Board in 30 days; and send a letter to the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Forest Service, which is the lead Federal agency in the National Monument process, stating the impacts on public safety, flood control, and emergency services.
After a few unrelated local government items, Supervisor Antonovich opened up discussion on his motion saying he had personally spoken with the Undersecretary of Agriculture, who assured him that there was time to discuss the plans for a San Gabriel Mountains National Monument. Antonovich said he had serious concerns about public safety, dams, and watersheds – and said that no one had been able to answer his questions about the difference between a National Monument and the National Recreation Area that would have come about via Representative Chu’s legislation.
Representative Chu approached the stand first to offer her testimony. She strongly urged the Board to vote No on Antonovich’s motion, saying it gives clout to the idea that the Monument was a hastily prepared proposal and raises an alarm where none is needed. Chu attacked the idea that this was a last-minute proposal, saying “The initial study was done over 11 years ago. There have already been 66 public meetings and we’ve received 16,800 public comments.” Chu reminded the Board that the National Park Service’s recommendations for a National Recreation Area were published in 2013, and since then she has personally held more than 40 meetings and worked with the Forest Service, foothill cities, and public utilities to gain their support before her bill was introduced in June. She repeated what many Forest Service and Park Service officials have mentioned both on and off the record – that the National Monument designation was actually more limited in scope than the National Recreation Area her legislation introduced but was a step in the right direction.
Chu concluded her remarks, saying “Let’s allow the dialogue to continue without any more delay,” at which point applause broke out in the meeting room.
33 citizens were then allowed in front of the Board in groups of four and each given one minute for public comment. Although there was a bit of confusion as to what a Yes or No meant (supporters of the National Monument were telling the Board to vote NO on Antonovich’s motion), overall 8 citizens testified in favor of the motion to send a letter to D.C. and 26 were opposed.
Motivations on the pro-delay side were varied. A City Councilwoman from Monrovia wanted more time to review the proposal and asked what the San Gabriels would gain through the proposal that they aren’t getting now. Judy Nelson, the Mayor of Glendora said “No one in my city has a clear understanding of what this means,” while Margaret Clark, the Mayor Pro-Tem of Rosemead, said she was most concerned about the water rights to the San Gabriel River, which supplies a third of the region’s drinking water. A few other foothill residents were concerned the increased traffic would make drinking water dirtier, and a resident of El Sereno distributed a 2012 letter from the San Gabriel Water Association saying the National Recreation Area should be delayed until after the drought is over (a representative from the Sierra Club who spoke after him clarified that the letter was over 2 years old and the Water Association has since come out in support of the NRA). Members of the Kizh / Gabrieleño Nation requested additional time to make sure the Monument recognized indigenous peoples and history.
Other supporters of the motion felt that the Mountains didn’t need any more protection because you could access them now (a favorite refrain of Chairman Don Knabe as well), while two supporters accused Representative Chu of packing last week’s meeting with bussed-in supporters so that opponents couldn’t get into the meeting (they were referring to COFEM, a member organization of the San Gabriel Mountains Forever coalition who – I can attest – also had many of its members denied entrance to the Baldwin Park Performing Arts Center). One supporter even said this whole Monument proposal was “nothing more than personal ambitions[sic]” for Representative Chu.
COFEM had several representatives on hand to testify against the motion in both English and Spanish, many of whom spoke about the importance of the region as a rare public green space for their families. They were happy to be able to hike, camp, and fish with their children and hoped they would soon get the chance to do the same with their grandchildren. Members of Bike San Gabriel Valley also testified against the motion, saying the region is notoriously park-poor and that a National Monument would provide the resources the Mountains needed to increase outreach to the local communities. Andrew Yip from Bike SGV, who I spoke to outside the meeting last week, again mentioned that kids from the San Gabriel Valley are bussed to the Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area because that NRA has the funds to do so, while the Angeles National Forest does not.
Nicola Huarte of Amigos de los Rios took issue with the idea that people did not have time to learn about the Monument or National Recreation Area. “This has been a long-term process and the resulting study (that the NPS released) should not be taken lightly,” she said. “We can all agree that Los Angeles is a world-class region and it deserves world-class recreation areas. Instead of asking ‘what’s the rush?’ we should be asking ‘why not?”
George Sanchez, a former Eagle Scout and current Eagle Scout coordinator who has led 20 volunteer projects in the San Gabriel Valley echoed that sentiment, asking why there had been so many delays. “11 and a half years is a generation’s time,” he said.
Monica Armendola of Claremont was similarly surprised at the reaction from the Board of Supervisors. She mentioned that when legislation was introduced to establish a Sand to Snow National Monument in the San Bernardino Mountains the bill was met with near-unanimous enthusiasm and support from local groups – some of whom even put up signs declaring the region “The Future Home of the Sand to Snow National Monument.” (That bill, introduced at the end of 2009, has been stalled in a series of do-nothing Congresses ever since).
Other speakers noted that there were plenty of other National Monuments we could look at for examples of the kind of increased recognition and resources that would accompany a similar unit in the San Gabriels. Speakers also took issue when Chairman Don Knabe interrupted San Gabriel Mountains Forever‘s Lourdes Morales to imply that because people could already access the San Gabriels they didn’t need any additional protection. Another opponent of the motion from Amigos de los Rios said the movement to establish a Monument wasn’t about access, but rather of improving access and the quality of the experience.
An avid hiker who said she was from Antonovich’s district echoed this sentiment, mentioning the closed campgrounds, vandalism, and invasive species the cash-strapped Forest is dealing with. “I’ve volunteered in the San Gabriels for years and I want the Forest Service to have the resources it needs,” she said.
After public comments ended, Antonovich again insisted that access to all of the areas was already possible, then asked the Director of L.A. County Public Works and the L.A. Fire Chief for their input.
The Public Works Department’s Dr. Gail Farber said they did not yet have a list of impacts, but that she felt confident working with partners and stakeholders would proceed smoothly.
County Fire Chief Daryl Osby wanted to proceed more cautiously. He said although he had been on flyovers of the San Gabriels in relation to the National Recreation Area, his first meeting on the National Monument was only last week. He also wanted to know the difference between the two distinctions and how it could affect Los Angeles and San Bernardino Counties, and also mentioned the communications problems – saying the city of Wrightwood was only notified about last week’s meeting in Spanish.
Osby said he supported additional support for the Forest Service but wanted clarification on what the designation would have for fire management.
After the testimonies wrapped up, Chairman Knabe took the floor and again urged restraint in support. He said the Board of Supervisors had gone through this process with WICA (sorry – I tried to find out what this stood for, but you know how bureaucracies love acronyms) and that the County had been left out of talks until the last minute. Knabe acknowledged that he had received comments from his constituents from Native American tribes and that they had felt left out of the discussions.
Finally, Supervisor Gloria Molina took the mic. She questioned the claims of Monument opponents who say there isn’t any information available. She specifically mentioned that both Representative Chu and the San Gabriel Mountains Forever group had detailed FAQ pages that answer virtually every question that had been raised (although last week, Chief Tidwell said that some of that material had yet to be finalized). In addition, she mentioned the Park Service’s 2013 study on the region has been available in full, online, for over a year and that Representative Chu had contacted her before she introduced her bill in Congress earlier this year. “This didn’t just show up last week,” she said. “It’s been here for over a decade.”
Molina acknowledged the Forest needed help, mentioning the graffiti and vandalism as well as known homeless encampments and areas where drug users congregate. She said that as it stands, the Forest Service just isn’t capable of dealing with all of these issues, let alone with basic ones like improving trail signage and going through the repair backlogs. She also specifically mentioned fond memories camping at Crystal Lake as a child but said the today the area is in need of help.
She proposed killing the idea of sending a signed letter to the White House and instead instructing Supervisors’ staffs to gather the already available information over the next 30 days. “I don’t have a problem asking for a little bit more time – but we should embrace this and seek a Monument designation.”
With that, Chairman Knabe seconded the motion. Supervisor Yaroslavsky asked if this was in lieu of sending the letter and Antonovich said yes. And with that, the agenda item was concluded.
Supervisor Ridley-Thomas did not comment on any of the proceedings.
After the meeting, supporters of the Monument seemed satisfied with the outcome and hopeful that the Board would eventually endorse the proposal.
Supervisor Antonovich tried to pass a motion to send a signed letter from the Board to the Obama Administration asking the Executive to delay movement on the San Gabriel National Monument, which could have signaled a lack of interest in the Monument itself. Instead, Supervisor Molina passed a motion to give the Board 30 days to do their own research before contacting the White House. 8 citizens entered public comment against the National Monument while 25 spoke in favor.
A full transcript of the meeting should be available by Thursday.
Head here to contact your County Supervisor.
The letter the El Sereno resident was distributing was about the National Recreation Area, not the National Monument. The San Gabriel Water Association came out in support of the NRA earlier this year but has not yet made an official statement on the Monument.