Saturday, April 20, 2013

After federal turf battle, Park Service proposes 'skim-milk' national recreation area for local area

The National Park Service announced April 10 that it was recommending to Congress that it adopt a "national recreation area" designation for the San Gabriel foothills, San Gabriel River, Rio Hondo, and Puente Hills. Missing from the recommendation were the hundreds of thousands of acres of the San Gabriel Mountains/Angeles National Forest--an area that more than 95 percent of public comments received for the San Gabriel Watershed and Mountains Special Resource Study recommended including in the NRA.

 As the Pasadena Star-News' Steve Scauzillo reported, the "Forest Service won the jurisdiction battle. The largest urban-interface forest in the country still would be managed only by the U.S. Forest Service, a division of the U.S. Department of Agriculture."

The Los Angeles Times' Louis Sahagun summed up the larger effort and the way it fell short: "The National Park Service spent nearly a decade researching alternatives, conducting public hearings, developing a 316-page report and evaluating 12,000 public comments that led to Wednesday's announcement."

Including the national forest, he said, "would have emphasized recreational use and brought new environmental protections to a region now designated as a national forest charged with managing multiple uses including mining, hunting, logging and other activities. The 655,000-acre portion of the Angeles National Forest suffers from illegal campfires, crime and pollution."

Whatever your feelings about the proposed national recreation area--and we at the Friends continue to have significant concerns about the authority that agencies other than the park service would have under the new designation--it's pretty clear that the park service has proposed (to borrow from a Supreme Court justice) a skim-milk national recreation area for the San Gabriel Mountains and Valley.

But the process isn't over. Former Secretary of Labor and U.S. Rep. Hilda Solis, who launched the study in 2003, said that the NRA boundaries could change as the proposal works its way through Congress. We hope that also means that the roles of various partners could be clarified and the overall values that would guide management of the national recreation area would be made clearer.

No, not over by a long stretch of the imagination.
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Monday, April 8, 2013

It's not just about bicycle trails and horse paths -- it's about democracy and accountability too

A scoping meeting April 3 reintroduced Southern California's proposed Emerald Necklace project to communities near the San Gabriel and Rio Hondo rivers. According to environmental reporter Steve Scauzillo, the proposal was greeted with some skepticism.

The project is a plan for "interconnected bike, running and equestrian paths along the two rivers, from Peck Road Water Conservation Park in Arcadia on the north end to Whittier Narrows Recreational Area on the south end," Scauzillo writes. 

Such greening of heavily industrialized areas it can be agreed is, in and of itself, a good thing. So, Scauzillo asks, "how can people be against connecting bike lanes to river trails? Or adding a small park near the San Gabriel River?" 

He wonders whether the resistance he observed was a matter of "people conditioned to being against everything in CEQA." 

We at the Friends have tremendous respect for Steve, his reporter's eye, and his great writing. But in this case we wonder if he missed the larger issue at play -- that of concerns about democracy, transparency and accountability to the people.

People have come to understand -- rightly, in our experience with the Discovery Center project and other environmental matters -- that the CEQA process and other such meetings are often little more that ways in which government serves the interest of the powerful while either taking advantage of communities or tossing them a few easy scraps.

The Emerald Necklace is a project of the Watershed Conservation Authority, one of four supposedly independent agencies all run by the same individual. The state's department of finance criticized such arrangements in 2009 in these same agencies but the situation hasn't changed. Except to show a lack of accountability and consequences.

But the WCA and its parent Rivers and Mountains Conservancy are only two examples of power getting farther and farther away from the people. As Kevin Uhrich, of the Pasadena Weekly pointed out regarding the powerful county MTA, it is "but one of many such boards that make monumental decisions, recommend spending lots of money and forward critical recommendations to other governing boards, yet are populated by nothing but already elected officials, who are paid stipends and other perks for their 'extra service.'"

More paths along these rivers is a good thing, but you could hardly do further damage to the rivers at this point, encased as they are in concrete for much of their courses.

Not so for natural stretches of the Santa Clara River in the north, which developers and their allies in government want to channelize so they can build more houses, make more profit, and exchange more campaign and lobbying dollars for access and influence.

The question isn't "Why are people opposed to bike trails?" The question is, as Uhrich wrote, "how to use the instruments of democracy that we have available to make our present system stronger, more inclusive and representative, and better.

We wish the Emerald Necklace project great success. And we wish the communities it is supposed to serve the representative and responsive government that is so often lacking.