Tuesday, December 29, 2009

What a contrast! The Discovery Center Authority and Native Habitat Preservation Authority

In the course of some recent research I happened upon some Whittier Daily News Stories on the Puente Hills Landfill Native Habitat Restoration Authority and its activities and projects.

The contrast between its habitat restoration focus and the bulldozers-and-buildings focus of the San Gabriel River Discovery Center Authority is truly striking.

The newspaper's Mike Sprague wrote on Nov. 21 that about a dozen preservation authority volunteers "helped clear non-native plants in the Whittier hills and put in some that are indigenous to the area."

"This was the first restoration day of what is expected to take place every other month, said Shannon Lucas, ecologist for Puente Hills Landfill Native Habitat Preservation Authority."

(An ecologist! The preservation authority has an ecologist. Perhaps if the Discovery Center Authority spent less on lawyers and public relations consultants it might be able to afford an ecologist too.)

I also happened upon a story (sorry, no link) from June 1, 2006, in which Sprague writes about the dedication of a "$1.2 million wildlife underpass that creates a critical link between the Whittier Narrows nature area and the Cleveland National Forest 31 miles away."

The underpass, 12 years in the making, really got going when "preservation authority officials obtained funding for the project through the Metropolitan Transportation Authority and Caltrans."

Contrast this preservation-and-restoration focus with the development focus of the Discovery Center Authority.

Whereas the preservation authority is working to connect and to improve the wildlife corridor, the proposed Discovery Center--and the other development projects to which it opens the door at the Whittier Narrows Natural Area--threatens to impede wildlife movement.

But it shouldn't come as a surprise that the environment, habitat and wildlife are not the priority for the Discovery Center Authority--the focus of the agency is the construction of a building, after all.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

RMC's Lario Creek project 'could hurt water conservation': Water Replenishent District

Yet another Rivers and Mountains Conservancy project proposed for the Whittier Narrows Natural Area could set back the cause of resource conservation said a senior Water Replenishment District official on Wednesday.

The district's senior hydrologist, Nancy Matsumoto, said that the Lario Creek project, a proposal to dramatically alter a channel used to move water from the San Gabriel River to the Rio Hondo spreading grounds, could hurt water conservation efforts.

Under the RMC-backed proposal, the channel, known as Zone 1 Ditch, would be replaced with a man-made creek planted with wetland-type vegetation, according to a story in the Whittier Daily News on a planned revision to the Whittier Narrows Master Plan.

Wetland plants would need water and where would it get it?" asked Matsumoto.

Matsumoto also focused her criticisms on the meandering design of the project. Journalist Mike Sprague writes that Matsumoto said such a design "would take longer for water to move through, possibly increasing evaporation."

At a time of drought and increasing water rates, any project that increases water usage should be greeted with skepticism. I won't call the project a greenwash exactly, but the potential environmental costs certainly do appear to be greater than the meager benefits.

The proposed Discovery Center, on the other hand, is the epitome of greenwashing.

Not only would it replace wildlife habitat with parking stalls and replace dozens of mature, majestic trees with meeting space for water district officials and bureaucrats, but it also would cause an explosion in resource use (e.g., five times more water used than the current nature center) and in greenhouse gas emissions.

And all or most of it paid for by our tax dollars and from our water bills.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Whittier Narrows Master Plan meeting Wednesday

A meeting to solicit comments from the public on a new master plan for the Whittier Narrows Recreation Area is scheduled to take place Wednesday from 2 - 4 p.m. in Pico Rivera.

The location of the meeting is the Pico Rivera Parks and Recreation Department's community room, 6767 Passons Blvd.

The meeting is being called by the Watershed Conservation Authority, a joint powers authority consisting of the Rivers and Mountains Conservancy and the Los Angeles County Department of Public Works.
How is bulldozing dozens of mature trees and paving over wildlife habitat in a county Significant Ecological Area to build a meeting center for bureaucrats and a 150-car parking lot in any way compatible with conservation or restoration?
The information I've picked up from the project's Notice of Preparation and from an article in the Whittier Daily News raise a few questions.

First, why is the WCA the lead agency on this rather than the landowner, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers? (USACE's Sepulveda Basin Master Plan is also being revised, but there the corps apparently hasn't ceded control of the planning process.)

Second, why is the Whittier Narrows scoping meeting being held midweek, 2 - 4 p.m.? Is the WCA intentionally trying to suppress public participation? Or is the WCA staff simply disinclined toward weekend or evening meetings? (Again, contrast this with USACE's Saturday, 10 a.m. - 2 p.m., meeting regarding Sepulveda Basin.)

And third, why is the Discovery Center being proposed for what is identified in the new master plan as a conservation and restoration zone? (See map above.) How is bulldozing dozens of mature trees and paving over wildlife habitat in a county Significant Ecological Area to build a meeting center for bureaucrats and a 150-car parking lot in any way compatible with conservation or restoration?

The logic stays screwy when you read in the Whittier Daily News that Norma E. Garcia, deputy director for Los Angeles County Parks and Recreation, says they "didn't want to intensify the use of Whittier Narrows."

How is doubling annual visitation of the natural area to 120,000 people without first analyzing the potential impacts of such growth anything other than intensifying use of Whittier Narrows?

Perhaps the county and the RMC need to get their story straight.