Tuesday, December 28, 2010

The San Gabriel River Clean Up at the Whittier Narrows Dam

Ah! It was a GREAT DAY! And, I am so happy we (Los Angeles County, US Army Corps of Engineers, the Friends of the Whittier Narrows Natural Area, the Whittier Narrows Nature Center Associates, San Gabriel Mountains Regional Conservancy, the Whittier Narrows Audubon and the Urban and Environment Group at the Sierra Club) all came together to do this project! GREAT WORK FOLKS!!!! And MANY THANK YOUs to all the volunteers who came to make it a spectacular day including Ware Disposal Inc. who donated the dumpster! THANK YOU!

It only took us a year to get all the kinks out!!! But perhaps not so long the next time, yes?

Here are links for a paper with its supporting materials written to help other groups who want to do a project like this.... It is called

The document is on Google Docs for anyone and all to peruse. Here are the photographs that go with the written document and an Exel file, which is small, that shows what was collected in the soils in the River near the clean up. Download it and notice that two of the large samples of soils, where the trash collects along the River, was comprised of 4% and 10% (small pellets and chunks of styrofoam) trash in the San Gabriel River!!! Also here is the USACE FONSI File and the USACE EA docs written so that we COULD clean up the trash in the River.

Just for fun here is the link to the TIME LAPSE video of our dumpster filling with bags of trash. And here is our intrepid bird expert, Ed Barajas showing what stuff goes over the Dam into prime birding areas of the San Gabriel River.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Gabrieleno Indians oppose Whittier Narrows water museum/meeting hall project — Los Angeles Times

In a widely reported development in the story of the controversial water museum proposed for the Whittier Narrows Natural Area, the Gabrieleno Band of Mission Indians announced their opposition to the project Thursday at the threatened wildlife sanctuary.
“It's one thing for a child to push a button and see a picture of nature. But there is nothing like walking along a trail here, seeing, smelling, hearing, and touching nature all around you.” — Lucy Pedregon, Gabrieleno Indian and educator.
Click here to read the story that appeared in the Los Angeles Times on Friday. The story was also reported in the San Gabriel Valley Tribune, on the architecture website la.curbed.com, and in numerous locations on the Internet and blogosphere.

The tribal representatives and others who spoke at the event all communicated the message that the project — a $22 million taxpayer-funded water museum and meeting hall called the San Gabriel River Discovery Center — would be inappropriate development for an important area of remaining open space and a historic center of Gabrieleno culture; would destroy rare habitat, plants and wildlife; and threatens to disturb ancestral remains and artifacts.

Members of the tribe, the original Native American inhabitants of the Los Angeles basin, questioned the rationale for the project and its cost in natural, historical and cultural resources.

“It's one thing for a child to push a button and see a picture of nature,” said Lucy Pedregon, a Gabrieleno and a media aide in the Hacienda-La Puente school district. “But there is nothing like walking along a trail here, seeing, smelling, hearing, and touching nature all around you.”

The Gabrielenos also offered an alternative vision for the Whittier Narrows wildlife sanctuary and its nature center, including renovation of the existing facilities and inclusion of Native American history and artifacts, improvements to interpretive displays along nature trails, and a monthly volunteer program focused on sharing Native American culture with the community.

Renovation of existing interpretive centers or the adaptive reuse of other buildings has been successfully achieved at a number of locations in Southern California, including the National Park Service’s Scorpion Ranch Visitor Center on Santa Cruz Island, Los Angeles County’s Placerita Canyon Nature Center and Haramokngna cultural center high in the Angeles National Forest.

The Gabrieleno vision would use this sustainable, historically and environmentally focused approach to develop a rich cultural resource in the heart of urban east Los Angeles County.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Friends' petition invites community to add its voice to campaign to save Whittier Narrows Natural Area

We’ve started a petition to help the community tell officials that we want the Whittier Narrows Natural Area and Nature Center preserved today and for future generations, not sacrificed to make way for a government and water agency water museum and meeting hall.

To go to the petition, including its background information, or preamble, you can click here or click on the link below. You can also go directly to the signature page by clicking on the "Sign our Petition" counter at the right.

By signing today, you help to send a clear message that our tax dollars, our public lands and our children's access to firsthand experiences of nature are not to be sacrificed in a misguided attempt to build an unsustainable $22 million water agency marketing tool.

As part of the petition, we offer our vision for truly community-focused, fiscally responsible and environmentally appropriate improvements at our community’s wildlife sanctuary:
  • Restoration of habitat and improvement of trails and interpretive displays
  • Eco-friendly renovation of the nature center
  • Historical landmark status for the entire Whittier Narrows Recreation Area, as recommended in a federal historic resources survey of Whittier Narrows.
With your help, we can prevent the terrible waste and failure that has plagued water museum projects, and project like them, from claiming the Whittier Narrows Natural Area as yet another victim. Please sign today, and please ask your friends, family and others to sign too.

Together we can save the Whittier Narrows Natural Area.

Find our petition at http://www.gopetition.com/petitions/save-whittier-narrows-natural-area.html

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Troubled water museum project brings in 'main force' behind failed water museum project

The past is prologue, as the saying goes, and so news coming out of an agency struggling to build a $22 million publicly funded water museum proposed on the Whittier Narrows wildlife sanctuary should have taxpayers and ratepayers very worried about how officials are handling millions of their dollars.

At the Oct. 18 meeting of the San Gabriel River Discovery Center Authority, board President Robert Apodaca announced that the agency has brought in former water official Phillip J. Pace to assist with fundraising for the project and said Pace would be working “behind the scenes."

The role that Pace played in another, now-failed water museum project was far more evident.

In a 2007 story on the troubles then plaguing the $26 million Center for Water Education, the Los Angeles Times called Pace the “main force” behind the project.

The paper reported that the board of directors of the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California approved a $4.67 million bailout of the project, an amount that “was on top of $16 million in ratepayer money that the agency previously allocated to the Hemet-based Center for Water Education, which was on the verge of bankruptcy even before officially opening.”

The Press-Enterprise reported that the board “canceled the lease and took over the museum from the nonprofit foundation district directors had created to build and operate the facility.”

Pace, one of the district directors at the time, chaired the nonprofit foundation.

The project’s troubles also prompted California State Parks to warn the district that a $5 million grant might have to be repaid if it didn’t come up with a plan that fit the intent of the grant.

The Discovery Center Authority has applied to State Parks for a $7 million grant, reports the Los Angeles Times in a story on the impending retirement of the authority’s executive officer, Belinda V. Faustinos.

But Faustinos says that water bonds for recreation and habitat restoration, the source of such grants, are "slim picking these days."

Today, the district’s Hemet building houses its relocated Diamond Valley Lake Visitor Center, a charter school and an archeology museum. Not quite what ratepayers expect out of their water bills.

Now Pace brings what the authority board president calls his “great record of doing these types of things” to the trouble-plagued Whittier Narrows project.

Fundraising for the water museum and meeting hall has been stalled at less than $10 million for some years now. Last January, driven by financial worries, the authority reduced the construction price tag $5 million by reducing the project’s size. And five months later, Faustinos conceded that long-term operations funding was also an “issue.”

Authority board member Dan Arrighi called Pace “a good fit for us.”

Such words should strike terror into the hearts of taxpayers and ratepayers.

See also: Relocated water museum reopens as Diamond Valley Lake Visitor Center (Press-Enterprise PE.com website)

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

'$84K salary just don't pay the bills,' says RMC, Discovery Center chief, announces plans to retire

The timing is suspicious, to say the least.

Three months after the state Department of Finance issues a report and audit (link below) declaring that the San Gabriel and Lower Los Angeles Rivers and Mountains Conservancy "has not exercised adequate fiduciary oversight of bond funds," the conservancy's executive director announces her retirement.
Faustinos, who earns $84,000 annually, told the Times that retirement is "something I’ve been thinking about for a while because of salary cuts for state employees -– the checkbook doesn’t balance any more at the end of the month.”
The Los Angeles Times' Louis Sahagun broke the story (link below) of Belinda Faustinos' decision to retire on the paper's Greenspace blog today.

Faustinos, who earns $84,000 annually, told the Times that retirement is "something I’ve been thinking about for a while because of salary cuts for state employees -– the checkbook doesn’t balance any more at the end of the month.”

Yep -- $84,000 a year just doesn't go as far as it used to.

It's important to note of the recent audit that many of the problems it identified were first brought to light in an earlier 2006 audit but went uncorrected.

It reminds naturalareafan a whole lot of the story outgoing drug czar Ralph Landry tells the incoming czar in the movie Traffic:

"You know, when they forced Khruschev out, he sat down and wrote two letters to his successor.

"He said, 'When you get yourself into a situation you can't get out of, open the first letter, and you'll be safe. When you get yourself into another situation you can't get out of, open the second letter.'

"Well, soon enough, this guy found himself in a tight place, so he opened the first letter, which said: 'Blame everything on me.' So he blames the old man, it worked like a charm.

"He got himself into a second situation he couldn't get out of, he opened the second letter. It said: 'Sit down, and write two letters.'"

Then again, perhaps it is as easy to explain as annual salaries. One can imagine that, with the connections Faustinos has made, first at the Santa Monica Mountains Conservancy and now at the RMC, she has the potential to make far more money as a lobbiest than the $84,000 per year she's had to settle for as a government employee.


Audit of San Gabriel and Lower Los Angeles Rivers and Mountains Conservancy's Propositions 40 and 50 Bond Funds (PDF file)

- Conservancy official for L.A. and Orange Counties to retire
(Los Angeles Times Greenspace blog)

Monday, September 27, 2010

Flooding? HERE? NO! Where do you live on this MAP?

This is a pieced together collection of maps all of which were created by the Army Corps of Engineers in 1986. It depicts what would happen if the Whittier Narrows Dam failed. The document is in a public library in New Mexico and I borrowed it and scanned the maps and then, put them together in Photoshop. The only alterations were to cut the edges to make a smoother connection between one map and another, and to size it so that I could put them all up on the web in one piece to get the - whole picture of such a disaster.
This is what would happen, according to the Army Corps of Engineers. if the Whittier Narrows Dam fails.... Remember, the Army Corps of Engineers made these maps and it is up to the CITIES around the Dam to not build RIGHT UNDER the Dam. It is also the responsibility of the Corps, the Los Angeles County, that Leases the land in and around the Dam, to not fill the DEBRIS BASIN -> which IS THE NATURAL AREA.... There should be enough room behind the Whittier Narrows Dam to hold ALL OF THE WATER FROM THE FOUR DAMS BEHIND THEM!!! -> Santa Fe Dam + Morris Dam, + the San Gabriel Dam + Cogswell Dam.

If there is STUFF in the Whitter Narrows Natural Area (the Debris Basin is like a reservoir for emergencies like flooding) like lots of Arundo donax or there are buildings (like a Discovery Center with a large parking lot) and the Debris Basin can't hold all the waters from the mountains if the other dams fail or if we have an extraordinary winter storm/s.... then a whole lot of people could loose their lives and property. If the Army Corps of Engineers and/or the Los Angeles County do not take care of the Dam/s - then they are not doing their jobs and we are all at risk.

Where do YOU live in relation to the flood waters????

But here are two close ups that I thought were interesting....
These two clips show that the flooding would first begin by filling up behind the dam and flooding the cities north of the Dam, if, for example, the Santa Fe Dam failed or if there was more water then usual - as in a Hundred Year Flood which could happen next year... or in ten years. Then, if the dam gave way - if the sand under the cement covered berms washed out (see the photos shot in spring of 2010 of the undermined Whittier Narrows
Dam, below) - then all of that water from the mountains and the storm drains from the cities that feed water into the San Gabriel River would gush out to the sea.

Now, let's talk about how well the Whittier Narrows Dam is holding up after all of these years.... It was completed in 1957. Dams have relatively short 'life' spans. The reliability of any dam is all about how the dam was built, what materials were used, what the conditions were/are (earthquakes, high sedimentation, flooding around the dam, piping, design problems, etc.) and how well it is kept up. Like anything, it needs periodic repairs. Has the Whittier Narrows Dam Been repaired? I have not found any references showing repairs or even maintenance. But, I can tell you that it needs repairs NOW!!!

These are the electrical towers (many stories tall) and lines which are near the existing Nature Center. (see Google Maps of Whittier Narrows Nature Center/Dam)

I keep mentioning that the Dam may NEED repairs - IT DOES~!
Do you see the crack with the trees growing out? I could crawl in the crack inside the dam - that is how big this crack is!
I took these pictures from inside and behind the dam this spring 2010. The Whittier Narrows Dam is nothing but sandy dirt and just plain sand piled up like a kid's fort with concrete poured on top. Inside this structure, what is supposed to be big enough to hold all the water from four dams upstream, or when if rains really hard and long, needs to be able to fill up with water. However, the water gets under the concrete and the sand, which is what the Dam is made from, and flushes out in a 'slushy' mud under the concrete 'tent' leaving an empty, hollow top and area that faces the holding area of the Dam. This undermining of the Dam's structure is called 'Piping'. The army Corps of Engineers knows ALL about this and wrote a very extensive paper on the possibility of the Whittier Narrows Dam Failure from piping.... Here is a PDF file of the study...
or you can go to this one...
or here...

Pleasant dreams....

This crack goes all around the Dam!


... including on TELEVISION!

Monday, September 20, 2010

Central Basin MWD support for troubled Discovery Center project could cost customers millions

If officials at Central Basin Municipal Water District have their way, cities, water retailers and ratepayers who get their water from the district could end up paying millions of dollars over the coming years to prop up a financially troubled water museum project that a district official concedes customers do not want.
At the most conservative estimate, projected over the time Central Basin and Upper San Gabriel Valley MWDs would be expected to support the project, the additional costs would reach into the millions of dollars for each district and its customers.
At a June meeting of the San Gabriel River Discovery Center Authority, board President and Central Basin Director Robert Apodaca said that customer cities and agencies were concerned about the district’s support for the project — a $22 million taxpayer/ratepayer-funded water museum and meeting hall — and that “they don’t feel [the project] is a priority for them.”
Central Basin's Robert Apodaca dismissed opposition to the Discovery Center from the district's own customer cities and water agencies as "excuses to criticize" the project.
But Apodaca dismissed the opposition as “excuses to criticize” the project. He then offered additional district resources, saying, “We have a large staff. We have the resources. And we’re willing to share those,” adding later, “We have money to do things.”

At the same meeting, authority Executive Director Belinda V. Faustinos conceded that long-term funding for the controversial project is an “issue” and said that the authority would likely turn to Central Basin and a second district, Upper San Gabriel Valley MWD, to cover the project’s additional costs. “If we need to look at some ongoing operations costs down the road, it could potentially come from the water agency partners,” she said.

Faustinos said that long-term costs for the proposed facility — which would replace an existing Los Angeles County-owned-and-operated nature center already used by Central Basin to deliver education programs — will be a minimum of $200,000 annually beyond what the county and the two district’s pay for the nature center and for education programs, respectively.

Even at the most conservative estimate, projected over the time the districts would be expected to support the project, the additional costs would reach into the millions of dollars for each district and its customers. Such support, and statements that Central Basin has “money to do things,” stand in stark contrast to recent district actions, decisions and statements that seem to indicate a water district where finances are extremely tight — and getting tighter.

Those decisions and actions include: (1) more than doubling a surcharge on water, (2) borrowing tens of millions of dollars, (3) claiming to have made $1 million in budget cuts, and (4) passing on to customers the Metropolitan Water District’s most recent rate increase because, said Central Basin’s general manager, “We don't really have outside income to absorb this.”

If Central Basin officials have their way, their customers — some of whom pay among the county's highest property taxes or sales taxes — also will be absorbing the multimillion-dollar costs of a water museum they do not want.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Discovery Center long-term funding is an ‘issue,’ says authority Executive Officer Belinda Faustinos

Eight months after a government agency dominated by unelected water executives and public employees gave its approval for a controversial publicly funded $22 million water museum, the same agency appears to have no firm idea of the project’s long-term operations and maintenance costs. Nor has the agency been able to secure funding commitments to pay the long-term costs.
At a meeting of the authority board of directors in June, the agency’s executive officer, Belinda V. Faustinos, conceded that long-term funding was an “issue.”
In January, the San Gabriel River Discovery Center Authority approved the water museum and meeting hall proposed for the Whittier Narrows wildlife sanctuary between the Montebello and Puente hills. Yet in April, the LA Weekly reported that the authority, in addition to being short of needed construction funds, “does not even have an updated estimate of future operating costs.”

At a meeting of the authority board of directors in June, the agency’s executive officer, Belinda V. Faustinos, conceded that long-term funding was an “issue.” She said that costs beyond what the Los Angeles County Department of Parks and Recreation pays for its existing Whittier Narrows Nature Center and what two authority-member water districts pay for their current education programs would likely be a minimum of $200,000 annually, “if not more.”
It appears that officials prefer to dedicate meeting time, as they have recently, to selecting logos and letterhead and coming up with a design for a facility they can’t afford to build and probably can't afford to operate or maintain.
A document from the same June meeting shows that the authority had failed to secure commitments for long-term funding even by that point. Board agendas from a second June meeting, the authority’s July meeting and its August meeting show no attempts by the authority to address the critical matters of the project’s long-term costs and funding.

Long-term costs and the ability or willingness of organizations to pay those costs are at the heart of the viability question for such projects. “What comes to me is that it’s easy to build something [but] it’s hard to sustain the operation,” Michael Feeney, of the Land Trust for Santa Barbara County, told the LA Weekly, reflecting on the county’s troubled Watershed Resource Center.

“Everyone was excited to build it and there was a lot of enthusiasm at first,” he said. But, writes LA Weekly journalist Tibby Rothman, “the officials at the various agencies grew reluctant to devote the funds needed to keep it going. According to Feeney, the resource center is largely shuttered now, though not only for financial reasons.”

Similar problems contributed to the failure of the multimillion-dollar Children’s Museum of Los Angeles and to the troubles of the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California’s big-ticket Center for Water Education in Hemet — today a costly white elephant for MWD ratepayers.

But rather than address the serious problems that plague the Discovery Center project, it appears that officials prefer to dedicate meeting time, as they have recently, to selecting logos and letterhead and coming up with a design for a facility they can’t afford to build and probably can't afford to operate or maintain.

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Opportunities to help protect foothill areas

In the most recent edition of the Pasadena Audubon Society's newsletter, Laura Garrett writes of two opportunities to help save important foothill areas of the San Gabriel Mountains.

Sensitive wildlife habitat in Pasadena's Hahamongna Watershed Park (located near JPL) could be turned into sports fields, parking lots and roads if a majority of the city council has its way.

While the proposed project appears to have been reduced in size to some degree, the city council's recent decision to move ahead with the project -- and to sacrifice ever-rarer habitat and opportunities for passive recreation -- is at odds with what the council heard from the community on July 12. "40 people spoke out against building any soccer fields in Hahamongna Watershed Park, " Laura writes, "while not one person spoke out in favor of the fields."

She encourages people to write the mayor or a city councilmember, attend council meetings when the EIR is being discussed, and sign the petition at http://www.savehahamongna.org/.

Conservation isn't just about stopping bad projects, it's also about taking positive, substantive steps to ensure that our remaining wild places stay wild. In that spirit, the Arroyo & Foothills Conservancy is working to buy 21 acres at the mouth of Rubio Canyon, Laura writes.

Combined with a 2009 purchase, the new effort would preserve all of Rubio Canyon, -- its waterfalls, its diverse habitats and the wildlife they support, she writes. The purchase would also help to link and expand hiking and birding opportunities.

The conservancy is working to raising $1.3 million by the end of this year for the purchase, habitat restoration and trail creation. Laura -- who writes that she is also the newest member of the conservancy board -- encourages people to visit http://www.altadenafoothills.org/ if they're interested in making a financial contribution to the effort.

The September - October PAS newsletter, as well as past newsletters, can be found at http://www.pasadenaaudubon.org/act.html#wren.

Sunday, August 29, 2010

Last community-based environmental organization walks away from Discovery Center project

And then there were none.

The last community-based environmental organization on the booster committee for the troubled San Gabriel River Discovery Center water museum project voted in July to remove itself from the committee.

The exit of the local chapter of the California Native Plant Society is the latest page in an exodus from the project. In past years, the Discovery Center Authority claimed to have nearly 30 members on the committee. Today the list is down to seven.
The project booster committee is now made up almost exclusively of government agencies and water districts, a fact which reveals the project for what it is: unsustainable pork-barrel spending at a time when the taxpayer and ratepayer can no longer bear it.
The $22 million taxpayer-funded water museum and meeting hall -- deemed "incompatible" with the Whittier Narrows Significant Ecological Area by the county's own habitat experts -- is being pushed by a group of government agencies and water districts. Now, their booster committee consists almost exclusively of other government agencies and water districts.

Remaining members include the watershed council, an interest group dominated by agencies, water districts and utility companies; and another government agency whose chairman supports expanded oil drilling in the nearby Whittier Hills even though the agency was established to protect habitat and wildlife there.

Organizations that have decided to walk away because of their opposition to the project or their concerns about its goals, impacts and viability include the Sierra Club, the Audubon Society and the Whittier Narrows Nature Center Associates. Volunteer members of these and other organizations are deeply committed to community, conservation and education -- and they reject the destruction of wildlife habitat and public lands for a building intended primarily as a meeting hall for government officials and water execs.

But the authority seems to be little concerned that the local community, the habitat experts and the conservationists have all rejected the project. With a handful of its fellow agencies still on the booster club, the authority can claim a kind of support. But that support reveals the project for what it is: unsustainable pork-barrel spending at a time when the taxpayer and ratepayer can no longer bear it.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Nature education and bulldozers don't mix

What do the Whittier Narrows Natural Area, Ballona Wetlands, Abalone Cove Shoreline Park and Rancho Los Cerritos all have in common? At each location, officials have decided that nature education begins not with nature but with bulldozers.

In recent months, naturalareafan has learned that the proposed San Gabriel River Discovery Center isn't the only project in Southern California following the same worn-out recipe. Other projects that would require destruction of open space and wildlife habitat include:

- A proposed facility at the Ballona Wetlands -- as if the massive Playa Vista project didn't devour enough of the rare coastal wetland area

- A proposed facility at Abalone Cove Shoreline Park in Rancho Palos Verdes -- RPV already has a large coastal interpretive center

- A planned facility at Rancho Los Cerritos in Long Beach -- native plants were torn out and open space graded for the project

Most people would probably agree that Southern California is overbuilt and that open space is at a premium. So it seems truly strange that some people think destroying open space, wildlife habitat or public lands in order to put up yet more buildings is somehow ok.

But these projects have their critics.

There is the Friends lawsuit against the Discovery Center Authority, of course. And a group called Save Our Shoreline has an online petition that allows signers to express their opposition to the Abalone Cove project. And conservationists from the South Bay and the Westside have expressed their disappointment over the destruction of land at Ballona and Rancho Los Cerritos.

I invite you to sign the SOS petition. They're at 485 signature as I write this. Help put them over 500. Help keep the bulldozers out of our remaining wild places and open spaces.
Photo: Bulldozer, by MonsterPhotoISO, Flickr

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Water bond reveals swine in museum's clothing

The yearlong debate surrounding the $11 billion water bond shined a bright light on what government officials like to call "water education facilities" -- a category that includes the proposed San Gabriel River Discovery Center.

What did that light reveal? That such projects are little more than government pork.

Democratic legislators, Republican legislators, political observers -- people from across the spectrum pointed out that these projects are the superfluous, costly ingredients intended to do nothing more than sweeten the deal to build political support for legislation.

But don't take my word for it:

The Los Angeles Times, Aug. 10, 2010:

"Sen. Lois Wolk (D-Davis) criticized the bond for including money for economic development projects, a water taxi service at Lake Tahoe and the construction of water education centers, saying that spending is not directly related to improving water quality.

"'It is fiscally irresponsible,' Wolk said. 'We need to repeal it, revise it and refocus it on the true needs of California.'"

The Los Angeles Times, Aug. 18, 2009:

"The bond proposal includes funding for bike paths, museums, visitor centers, tree planting, economic development and the purchase of property from land speculators and oil companies -- all in the districts of lawmakers whose key votes helped it pass the Legislature.

"'It's unfortunate that so many pet projects were put in that it has just created a Christmas tree out of this bond, and most of them don't produce one drop of water,' said Sen. Jeff Denham (R-Atwater), who voted against the measure when it cleared the Legislature this month."

The Los Angeles Times' George Skelton, Aug. 19, 2009:

"No matter how clever and careful the writer, on occasion a work should be ripped up and retooled. That also goes for writers of legislation.

"A prime example: Sacramento's new state water bond proposal. Granted, this bloated $11.1-billion bond is laced with humor: A waterworks package that provides borrowed money -- at twice the ticket price, counting interest -- for building bike trails, buying open space and developing 'watershed education centers.'

"OK, it is not funny," Skelton writes. "It's politics. It's pork."

Skelton's right: It's not funny.

And the proposed Discovery Center is so not-funny -- government officials ignoring the will of the people, attempting to build a project that destroys what it supposedly is intended to interpret, lashing the taxpayer to a project that promises to waste tens of millions of dollars -- that you have to laugh to keep from crying.

To my mind, one of the least funny aspects is that while the county, the state and the two water districts behind the project are raising taxes and water rates, all while slashing budgets and services for things people actually need and use, the Discovery Center Authority would have us believe that a water museum and meeting hall is something other than the multimillion-dollar government boondoggle it so obviously is.

It's not funny. It's just sad.
Photo: Potbellied pig, by Ian Britton, FreeFoto.com

Friday, July 16, 2010

Consecrating sacred grounds.....

Most times, we all need each other.

Sunday, June 27, 2010

Lawsuit protecting Whittier Narrows wildlife sanctuary for community and nature continues

Our lawsuit targeting the controversial, expensive and destructive San Gabriel River Discovery Center project continues to protect the community’s prized Whittier Narrows Natural Area, a historic wildlife sanctuary of tremendous ecological value.

We filed the suit in February, under the California Environmental Quality Act, or CEQA, which the Planning and Conservation League calls the state’s “premier environmental law” and a “powerful tool for public participation.” The suit charges that the Discovery Center Authority failed to meet its legal obligations under CEQA and the Seismic Hazards Mapping Act when it certified an inadequate final environmental impact report and approved the project.
The authority’s own records show that meetings, VIP tours and special events aimed at water district executives and government officials make up the vast majority of new programming for the $22 million taxpayer-funded facility.
CEQA violations cited in the suit include the authority’s failure to fully disclose and evaluate the environmental harm the proposed water museum and meeting center and its sprawling compound of structures would cause. The suit also charges that the authority ignored the project’s public safety impacts from seismic hazards and failed to prepare a feasible, funded and legally enforceable plan to mitigate the project’s adverse environmental impacts.

The authority has relentlessly marketed and greenwashed the Discovery Center as an environmental project for more than a decade, yet it has done little or nothing in that same period of time to preserve or restore habitat at the natural area or to enhance existing educational programs there. And the authority’s own records show that meetings, VIP tours and special events aimed at water district executives and government officials make up the vast majority of new programming planned for the $22 million taxpayer-funded facility.

For more information on our organization, the Friends of the Whittier Narrows Natural Area, and our efforts to protect an important community resource, please see the following links:

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Sierra Club refuses to endorse Discovery Center

In a serious blow to the controversial San Gabriel River Discovery Center, the local chapter of the Sierra Club in May refused to endorse the proposed water museum and meeting center that threatens important community and environmental resources in east Los Angeles County .
One Sierra Club member said the center appeared to be a monument to water districts and county agencies. Another said the project would “destroy the atmosphere of local community — something that is as rare and valuable as remnant habitat.”
The executive committee (board of directors) of the Angeles Chapter opted instead for neutrality toward the $22 million taxpayer-funded project proposed for the Whittier Narrows Natural Area.

The significance of the Sierra Club move cannot be overstated. The local chapter has been involved in the project since 1999. For the organization to turn around now and refuse to give its blessing — after presentations by Belinda Faustinos, director of the Discovery Center Authority, and Russ Guiney, director of Los Angeles County Parks and Recreation — is an important indication of the serious, unanswered questions that surround the project and the joint powers authority attempting to build it over the opposition of the community.

In discussions leading up to the chapter decision, local Sierra Club leaders questioned the wisdom of the project. One member said the center appeared to be a monument to water districts and county agencies. Another said the project would “destroy the atmosphere of local community — something that is as rare and valuable as remnant habitat.”

Project opponents within the Sierra Club and outside it (the latter including Bill Robinson, a director at one of the authority’s member water districts) made the case that too many grave doubts exist regarding the authority’s goals and priorities, the questionable environmental ethics and educational need for the Discovery Center , and the project’s financial viability.

For more information on our efforts to protect the natural area, please visit our website at http://www.naturalareafriends.net/.
Photo: John Muir (Library of Congress)

Sunday, June 13, 2010

Protecting corridors there, threatening them here

The Whittier Daily News and other Los Angeles-area media are reporting that the U.S. Forest Service wants to bring lands that stretch from the Santa Monica Mountains to the San Gabriel Mountains "under federal protection and would study the possibilities of trail development, land acquisition and preservation of wildlife corridors that connect different sections of open space in the area."

At a recent event at Pasadena's Eaton Canyon Nature Center, U.S. Rep. Adam Schiff said: "These are incredible wild areas that are loosely connected corridors that allow for wildlife to pass through. If the areas become disconnected we lose those corridors."

The five-year study that was recently initiated to look into creation of the "Rim of the Valley Corridor" is not without its critics, but there still appears to be much to recommend the idea.

The agencies and water districts pushing the proposed San Gabriel River Discovery Center should take a page from these efforts. The Discovery Center, Lario Creek and other related projects, instead of enhancing the Whittier Narrows wildlife sanctuary and habitat connectivity, promise to destroy habitat and likely threaten habitat connectivity. (See the accompanying connectivity map, taken from the San Gabriel River Corridor Master Plan, and note where most corridors intersect .)

It's tragic that a few organizations charged with stewardship of our evermore scarce resources -- financial, ecological, recreational -- can be blind to reality and deaf to reason. But it's heartening to see that at least a few officials, such as Mr. Schiff, appear to be working for the good of the community and the environment.

Saturday, May 22, 2010

It's NATURE not human nature that keeps humans alive

Ed Barajas teaching kids and their parents about NATURE.. the old fashioned way! Out IN IT!

Read another article today.... another group of experts talking about Climate Change. This time this group, from the United Nations, says that protecting biodiversity is MORE important then working to stop Climate Change! Then I read that another group of scientists who have grouped together to try to get President Obama to DO something about the BP spill.. but he is setting up another panel to study BP's destruction of this huge water body ... OH, FOR CRYING OUT LOUD! But the real problem may be that government types are scientifically ignorant and illiterate. And being on the edge - sort to speak - of a massive global ecological collapse (see articles above) it makes sense why smart things are not done like they are in "DeMovies" (my grandparents, who made their living in the entertainment business, used to say, "In da moo-in pit-tsures!"). Humans have always made terrible messes of their environment (read 'Collapse', by Jared Diamond, and don't forget his other book, 'Guns, Germs, and Steel') and this Discovery Center Authority is just another blip in the paleontological scheme of things.

So, why do I write about this on a blog about a California Governmental Agency... the RMC ... (as per my grandparents, again - Govern-mental) that calls itself a CONSERVANCY (HA!) and wants so badly to build a huge building, with a big parking lot (where's the 'green mentoring' on public transportation????), a giant catch basin for the gas and the (?BP?) oil from the parking lot (of COURSE it won't leak into the soils above the drinking water aquifer!)? And then they say this is all for... da children, to TEACH dem 'bout NATURE? Well, it's kinda the same. Just a smaller tragedy.

Remember, the best Shakespearean tragedies were of smart people with really large-dumb-blind spots which cause them to eventually kill themselves and their loved ones.

Ok.... now I have written this downer article ... I am going to do something positive! Let's stop this stupidity by demonstrating how to teach nature to kids and the adults.

Meet me half way! LET'S GO!

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Well, it MET ALL of our expectations!

It was a..... U.S. Green Building
Council's Leadership in Energy
and environmental Design of the
HIGHEST Platinum level!!!!

(not really.... but folks followed the
orders from folks at the top... and
no one questioned their motives or
their deficiencies in their work ethics.)
Photo taken by a Department of Energy Contractor.

Sunday, May 2, 2010

BIRD-A-THON! May 14 - 16 ....on your mark, get set...

(hint: 5 birds, 2 invertebrates on this page)

The Friends are holding their inaugural Bird-a-thon May 14 - 16 to raise money for the cause of saving the Whittier Narrows Natural Area.

The proceeds from the Birdathon, an event in which individuals or teams count birds and collect sponsorships based on the number of species they spot or in a flat amount, will go to the Friends to support their efforts to protect the natural area,including their lawsuit against the San Gabriel River Discovery Center Authority.

The Friends have been one of the few voices consistently defending the historic wildlife sanctuary from ill-conceived and destructive development plans being pushed by water district executives and government bureaucrats. (You can read the latest story to appear on the house of cards that is the Discovery Center here.)

But as they say, all work and no play . . . So the Birdathon is intended as a fun way to raise money and raise awareness of the variety of birds we have in Southern California and of the importance of the dwindling open space we have here.

The great thing about the Birdathon is that you can do it anywhere and for a length of time of your choosing. You might choose to do it at El Dorado Park in Long Beach or sitting in your living room watching birds come and go from your birdfeeder. You don't even have to live in LA to participate. You could do your birding anywhere on the planet and at your own pace.
More information on the Birdathon, including the participant/sponsor form, is available at http://naturalareafriends.net/how_you_can_help

Friday, April 23, 2010

LA Weekly: Lack of money, poor financial planning the 'gorilla in the room' for Discovery Center

Don't miss the LA Weekly's stunning, sobering story on the proposed San Gabriel River Discovery Center: "Pave to Save Whittier Narrows?"
"Funding — including some of the construction money — has not been secured. The Discovery Center Authority does not even have an updated estimate of future operating costs."
While reporter Tibby Rothman looks at the important environmental questions that plague the controversial project, her story focuses on the project's other ongoing green problem: lack of money.

As Rothman writes: "Ultimately, however, the gorilla in the room is not about environmental ethics but about money.

Belinda V. Faustinos, executive director of the San Gabriel River Discovery Center Authority, "concedes that, in fact, that funding — including some of the construction money — has not been secured. The Discovery Center Authority does not even have an updated estimate of future operating costs."

But as Rothman points out -- and as readers of this blog already know -- serious financial troubles have plagued projects too similar to the Discovery Center to ignore or brush off.
"What comes to me is that it's easy to build something [but] it's hard to sustain the operation," says Michael Feeney, executive director of the Land Trust for Santa Barbara County, speaking of Santa Barbara's troubled Watershed Resource Center.
Rothman tells the cautionary tale of Santa Barbara's "largely shuttered" Watershed Resource Center and includes quotes from someone familiar with that troubled project:

"'What comes to me is that it's easy to build something [but] it's hard to sustain the operation,' says Michael Feeney, executive director of the Land Trust for Santa Barbara County.

"Feeney points to the experience of Santa Barbara's Community Environmental Council, which constructed the Watershed Resource Center at a county beach, but no longer owns it.

"'Everyone was excited to build it and there was a lot of enthusiasm at first,' he says. But the officials at the various agencies grew reluctant to devote the funds needed to keep it going."

Southern California taxpayers and ratepayers watched this same sad story play out on at least two other occasions -- first with the Center for Water Education in Hemet, then with the Children's Museum at Hansen Dam -- losing tens of millions of dollars in the process.

Feeney gets the last word in the LA Weekly article, suggesting the fatal flaw of projects that try to graft indoor, entertainment-oriented facilities onto areas where the focus is naturally (no pun intended) on outdoor recreation and education.

"Everyone goes to the beach to go to the beach," he notes. "They don't go to go inside a building."

Thursday, March 25, 2010

'Fault that could eat L.A.' runs beneath Whittier Narrows location of proposed Discovery Center

Would you situate a multimillion-dollar building intended to be used by tens of thousands of people -- including children -- each year in a liquefaction zone sitting atop "the fault that could eat L.A."?

That appears to be exactly what the San Gabriel River Discovery Center Authority intends to do with its controversial project.

A story at latimes.com last Saturday reported that the March 16 Pico Rivera earthquake occurred on the Puente Hills thrust fault, which stretches from the Puente Hills through downtown Los Angeles and "is capable of producing a devastating, magnitude 7.5 quake."

This is the same fault, described by a USGS seismologist as "the fault that could eat L.A., that experts believe produced the 1987 Whittier Narrows earthquake, which killed eight people.

The latimes.com Web site also provides a good map showing the location of both quakes just about in the center of the fault area -- which turns out to be the same spot where one finds the Whittier Narrows, the location for the proposed Discovery Center.

An additional risk factor is that the Discovery Center would be located in a liquefaction zone, a high risk area in which "liquefaction occurs when an earthquake jars loosely compacted, moist earth, causing the soil to lose its stability, often becoming gelatinous."

The authority's choice to approve the Discovery Center apparently before adequately identifying and disclosing seismic hazards is part of the Friends lawsuit against the authority and the project. (You can find a link to the lawsuit here.)

I find it incredibly troubling that the authority insists on proceeding with the Discovery Center when everything seems to argue against the project, such as:
  • Earthquake and flood hazards of the proposed location
  • Community opposition to the project
  • Likely damage to habitat and wildlife
  • Inability to secure private or foundation funding
Perhaps its too broad a statement to claim that the whole authority is 100 percent behind the project. At last Monday's RMC board meeting, when the board voted to approve RMC funds to defend against the lawsuit, one board member asked if any of the other authority member agencies were contributing money.

Nope. Just the RMC.

It looks to me like three out of four of the member agencies are either unwilling or unable to pay their fair share.

So much for their "full support" of the Discovery Center.

Thursday, March 4, 2010

Act locally this weekend: San Gabriel HS e-waste collection; yard sale for Montebello Hills effort

A couple of events this weekend are giving people in the San Gabriel Valley opportunities to take concrete steps to help the environment.

The San Gabriel High School PTSA is hosting a free e-waste collection 9 a.m. - 4 p.m. on Saturday and Sunday in the school's south parking lot at 801 S. Ramona St. in San Gabriel.

For more information, call (626) 308-2352.

And the Sierra Club's Montebello Hills Task Force is having its spring fundraiser yard sale 10 a.m. - 4 p.m. on Friday, Saturday and Sunday. The location is 337 N. 19th St. in Montebello.

The yard sale goes on, rain or shine.

Sunday, February 28, 2010

RMC's 'edifice complex' siphoning millions of public dollars from conservation mission in SG Valley

Remember the movie Contact? Remember when, after the destruction of the first spaceship, billionaire S. R. Hadden reveals to scientist Eleanor Arroway that a second spaceship had been secretly built?
"First rule in government spending," Hadden says. "Why build one when you can have two at twice the price?" But such spendthrift ways don't appear ambitious enough for the RMC.
"First rule in government spending," Hadden says. "Why build one when you can have two at twice the price?"

Well, it appears the Rivers and Mountains Conservancy saw Contact and decided even Hadden's spendthrift ways weren't ambitious enough: within only two or three miles of each other, the RMC wants built not one, not two, but three interpretive centers -- and all, one can assume, to be built with our tax dollars.

The Friends published a press release recently connecting the dots on the RMC's intentions. And although it might sound absurd, it's all true.

The RMC and its partners want the San Gabriel River Discovery Center at the Whittier Narrows Natural Area. They want the "Duck Farm on the San Gabriel River" less than three miles up the river from the natural area. And they want a Whittier Narrows "welcome center" on Rosemead Boulevard, again only a couple of miles from the site of the Discovery Center.

Friends board member Gloria Valladolid called the plan “indefensible and obscene” when placed in the context of the budget cuts that are eviscerating state, county and local services.

Spending $30 million on a "watershed education facility" (the Discovery Center) and who knows how much more on the Duck Farm and Whittier Narrows welcome center seems especially scandalous -- Can it get worse? you ask -- when you learn that the RMC simply gave itself $3 million for the Discovery Center without vetting the grant through its competitive grant process.

The RMC spends tens of thousands of dollars -- maybe into six figures -- developing its grant guidelines and then simply ignores those guidelines, doesn't even bother with a grant application, and writes itself a big, juicy check for what can only be considered a pet project.

It all reminds me of a line from another movie:

"It's good to be the king."

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Montebello recall election this Tuesday

The City of Montebello is holding a recall election on Tuesday in which voters will decide whether to oust city council members Robert Urteaga and Kathy Salazar and replace them from a field of seven candidates -- four running for Urteaga's seat and three for Salazar's.

According to a pamphlet printed by the League of Women Voters of Whittier for the candidate forum on Feb. 11, each voter, even if he or she votes not to recall an incumbent, may also vote for candidates in case one or both incumbents are recalled.

You can find information about the recall and the seven candidates at SmartVoter.org.

According to the San Gabriel Valley Tribune, the recall "was touched off when the two incumbents were among a majority in 2008 that voted to grant Athens Services a 15-year exclusive contract to haul all the city's garbage.

"'In some surrounding cities where the contract went out to bid, Athens is charging less than half for the same service,' said Mayor Bill Molinari, who was re-elected in November and opposed the Athens contract."

One of the issues that was raised during the candidate forum was each participant's position on the proposed development of the remaining Montebello Hills. The local Sierra Club chapter, which has a task force dedicated to preserving the hills as community open space and wildlife habitat, has endorsed two candidates: Larry Salazar (if Urteaga is recalled) and Alberto Perez (if Kathy Salazar is recalled).

Because this is a city election only, Montebello residents may want to consult their sample ballots before heading out to polling stations--they might be different from the ones you're used to.

It's conventional wisdom that its local elections that have a real impact on the day-to-day lives of people. This vote could have a dramatic impact on community parkland, resident health and property values.

Remember, su voto es su voz.

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Agency ignores community, ok's unpopular project

Ignoring the growing chorus of opposition to the proposed Discovery Center, the Rivers and Mountains Conservancy and its partners voted to bulldoze wildlife habitat and an existing nature center and replace them with a project few people actually want.

But the project still needs county board of supervisors approval and -- the real challenge -- to scrape together $30 million for construction.

The project has about $10 million committed to it, and authority board member Sam Pedroza said at last week's meeting that fundraising difficulties could derail the project. Of course, he said the same thing to the Los Angeles Times a year and a half ago when the authority had raised only -- $10 million.
"Was the center planned to be built 'regardless' of what the actual citizens in the region want? Was the request for public comment simply (and cynically) an effort to make people believe they actually have a say-so about such things?"
If you're interested in a recap of the meeting at which this took place, please see the Pasadena Star-News story, "Officials OK new river center at Whittier Narrows site."

The story gives a good sense of the opposition that was expressed at the Jan. 21 meeting, but it doesn't place it into the context of the opposition that's been building for some time. (Have a look at the reader comments for an idea of the growing anger over the waste of the public's money.)

If you take last week's meeting and the public hearings on the project's draft environmental impact report last summer, this is who you see lining up against the project:

- Numerous residents of the local communities that are the ostensible beneficiaries of the project
- Local members of environmental organizations such as the Sierra Club and Aububon Society
- Latinos ranging from high school and college students to professionals and retirees
- Numerous educators, including a past vice-president of Rio Hondo College

But who supports the project? you ask. A very small, very narrow slice of society, to judge from the handful of voices speaking in favor of the project at the same hearings and meeting. And few, if any, of these drawn from the communities of the Whittier Narrows area.

But none of this seems to matter to the RMC and the water districts that apparently can't wait to take advantage of the marketing and meeting-space opportunities the outsized building promises.

It makes one wonder if the environmental review process was undertaken in good faith, or as one observer of this matter asked: "Was the center planned to be built 'regardless' of what the actual citizens in the region want? Was the request for public comment simply (and cynically) an effort to make people believe they actually have a say-so about such things?"

The project must be serving someone's interests. But whoever that someone is, it's clearly not the community.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Is Discovery Center to be capitol of RMC empire?

Throughout history, empires have announced and reinforced their power through architecture meant to dominate. Be it Rome or London or Madrid, or the capital of any other current or former power, these places announce the hegemony, past or present, of the men and women who built them.

The proposed San Gabriel River Discovery Center seems exactly this kind of announcement of empire, with the empire-builder this time being the Rivers and Mountains Conservancy.

The RMC building an empire? you ask incredulously. Come now, you can't be serious.

Well, how else to explain the fact that an agency created primarily to "provide open-space, low-impact recreational and educational uses, water conservation, watershed improvement, wildlife and habitat restoration and protection and watershed improvement within its territory" is focused so intently on putting up a building -- over the objections of so many -- that would harm many of those same values?
"They've placed themselves too high." -- Sally Havice on the RMC
How else to explain its use of the "joint powers authority" across the San Gabriel Valley and southeast Los Angeles County? Could it be the RMC's way of getting around the prohibition against its use of eminent domain and of cementing its influence in areas that were previously and largely the responsibility of local governments?

How else to explain the RMC inserting itself into the management of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers-owned Whittier Narrows Recreation Area? In 2008, one of these JPAs, the RMC-led Watershed Conservation Authority, launched a Whittier Narrows Master Plan development project that, to all appearances, was the real thing. But in late 2009, we learned that the project "is not a formal update to the existing USACE Whittier Narrows Master Plan. . . ."

What is it then? And how much is it costing the taxpayer?

On a recent Sunday afternoon, former state legislator Sally Havice visited with the Friends and other critics of the Discovery Center. Havice, co-author of the legislation that created the RMC more than a decade ago, said that, at the time, "there was no discussion about bricks and mortar and buildings," though there was to be start-up money for various projects. "But no empire building," she said.

The goal was, Havice said, "to preserve, enhance and create parks, green space and habitat."

But of the RMC today she said: "They've placed themselves too high. They're too far removed."

Somewhere along the road, the RMC lost its way. As it grows more powerful, cities and communities grow less so, and we all start to look more and more like petitioners, or, for the "lucky" few, like princes at court abasing themselves before the monarch.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Discovery Center final EIR released, on authority board Jan. 20 agenda for possible adoption

The San Gabriel River Discovery Center final EIR was released last week. No reaction here to it yet, other than to say there's a strong air of "Authority right, public wrong" about it.

The 1,200-page document is available on the Discovery Center Web site.

The Web site also states that the final EIR will be on the authority board's Jan. 20 meeting agenda "for consideration for adoption."

The meeting is scheduled for Wednesday, Jan. 20, at 2:30 p.m. at the Whittier Narrows Golf Course, 8640 E. Rush St., Rosemead CA 91770.

Thursday, January 7, 2010

Former state legislator, co-author of RMC-founding legislation to speak at Whittier Narrows on Sunday

Interested in learning how the San Gabriel and Lower Los Angeles Rivers and Mountains Conservancy--also known as the RMC--got its start? Join the Friends of the Whittier Narrows Natural Area this Sunday for a presentation by former California Assemblymember and co-author of the founding legislation, Sally Havice.

Havice, a professor of English at Cerritos College, will give her presentation at 2 p.m. during the Friends monthly meeting in the picnic area of the Whittier Narrows Nature Center, 1000 N. Durfee Ave., South El Monte, 91733. The meeting begins at 1 p.m.

This should be a truly illuminating talk. The RMC is, in my opinion, the man behind the curtain you're not supposed to notice. But this state agency is the driving force behind the unpopular San Gabriel River Discovery Center project, attempts to take 30 - 40 more acres at the natural area for "future potential development," and a potentially anti-water conservation proposal that would alter a canal (and the land around it) that runs across the entire wildlife sanctuary.

I'm interested to learn what was the original vision behind the RMC back in the late 1990s.

The Los Angeles Times did a good job chronicling the process that led to the birth of the RMC. Here are links to Times and other coverage:

- A conservancy for an urban river, Los Angeles Times, Oct. 16, 1999
- Changing a river's course, Los Angeles Times, Oct. 3, 1999
- Ideas flow for a river conservancy, Los Angeles Times, April 4, 1999
- Conservancy coalition idea in the works, LA Weekly, Dec. 28, 1998

That process seems to give credence to Otto von Bismarck's view that "Laws are like sausages--it is better not to see them being made."

I have no doubt that Havice and co-author Hilda Solis had the best of intentions when they set out to create a state conservancy for the San Gabriel River. My hope is that Sunday's conversation will help shed some light on how we went from a focus on conservation a decade ago to the RMC's bulldozers-and-buildings approach today.