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,