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Congresswoman Chu Introduces Bill to Create a Regional Recreation Area

Congresswoman Chu Introduces Bill to Create a Regional Recreation Area

File Photo by Terry Miller, Becon Media News

File Photo by Terry Miller, Becon Media News

On Thursday Judy Chu sent out a press release stating: “After more than a decade of studies and collaboration with local residents and stakeholders, Congresswoman Judy Chu (CA-27), introduced the San Gabriel National Recreation Area Act – a bill that would designate the San Gabriel Mountains, river corridors and Puente Hills as a National Recreation Area (NRA).

This legislation would allow the National Park Service (NPS) to coordinate stakeholders at the Federal, State, and local level throughout the region, and contribute to community-based, community-driven projects focused on sustainable recreation, education, and the preservation of local habitat and history.”

Not everyone is happy about the idea including the city of Monrovia which rejected Chu’s plan May 6 to which many refer as a ‘land grab.’

Lead by Ret. Senator Dick Mountjoy who resides in Monrovia, the community came out to the May 6 Monrovia City Council meeting to voice concerns about Congresswoman Judy Chu’s National Recreation Area legislation. Mountjoy warned the Council , ‘This a bad idea. You don’t know what is in it and you don’t even have a set map yet. People don’t know the boundaries.’
Mountjoy echoed resident, Fred Bowden’s concern about the bond Monrovia residents passed 14 years ago to buy wilderness areas above the city. This is a 30-year bond for $10 million the residents are obligated to pay off. He said the council is giving away property to the federal government and he and the citizens of Monrovia are going to have to continue to pay on that bond for another 15 or 16 years. Bowden said he also donated property to the Monrovia wilderness area, not to the federal government.
Tom Adams, Monrovia Council Member joined in pointing out Monrovia asked the federal government at that time to partner up and join in their efforts to preserve the Monrovia hillside and wilderness areas. The feds declined, so Monrovia residents did it themselves with the $10 million bond. Now that the land has been purchased we have someone who is a willing partner … why wouldn’t they be, it doesn’t cost them anything, said Adams.

Adams said he had been to a meeting with Chu and was surprised when she said part of the reason her legislation is needed is because we have no maps of the trails in the San Gabriel Mountains. He asked her about the maps and books the Santa Anita Historical Society has and she told him she had never heard of the organization. Adams said he was shocked that Chu professed to be so knowledgeable about the San Gabriels and wants to save them but knows so little about them.
Despite Mayor Lutz’s push to move forward with support for the NRA legislation, the Council voted 5-0 to send a letter to Congresswoman Chu opposing Monrovia being in the National Recreation Area. Council voted 5-0 to support that motion with Mayor Lutz qualifying her vote noting there are questions she would still like answers to regarding the NRA and the impact on Monrovia.

Based on the long-standing unwritten rule in Monrovia that council members don’t put Monrovia’s name on anything that is controversial without coming back to the body for support, Adams asked the Council’s representative to the COG, Mayor Mary Ann Lutz, write a letter rescinding her vote supporting the NRA. Alternate motion was carried to copy the SGV COG on the letter to Congresswoman Chu opposing Monrovia’s inclusion in the National Recreation Area. Motion passed 5-0.

But Judy Chu marched on despite the oppositions and continued with her NRA plan on the house floor.
“The Los Angeles region is one of the most park poor regions of the country. We face two challenges as a result: there are very few options for Angelenos to enjoy the outdoors, and the options we do have are under immense stress from overuse,” said Rep. Chu. “After a decade of consideration and collaboration, I am proud to introduce legislation protecting these mountains that’s consistent with our community needs and priorities.”

Congresswoman Chu undertook an extensive public outreach process to ensure local influence and control over the final product. Her efforts include four stakeholder roundtables with elected officials, water, sanitation and utilities, business groups and Chambers of Commerce, and environmental advocates, as well as a town hall for constituents from all over the San Gabriel Valley to voice their opinions and concerns.

This has been a community effort from the very beginning,” Rep. Chu continued. “My bill empowers local communities to collaborate on recreational plans and projects in ways that don’t exist today. The vision of this NRA began with the community and it will be realized by the community.”

Additional Members who are original cosponsors of Congresswoman Chu’s legislation include Representative Adam Schiff (CA-28), and Representative Tony Cárdenas (CA-29). They released the following statements:

Representative Chu’s legislation is an important step forward in a decades-long effort to preserve open space and increase access to nature across the Southland,” said Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Burbank). “As the National Park Service finalizes their recommendations on the expansion or creation of a National Recreation Area in the Rim of the Valley as well, I look forward to continuing our combined efforts to ensure the preservation of wildlife corridors, recreational opportunities and rare ecosystems throughout our region.”

In urban areas like Los Angeles, we must treasure and protect the open spaces that so many in our nation take for granted,” said Cárdenas. “My friend Judy Chu has taken a wonderful step in that direction, by creating a recreation area that is not pavement and swing sets, but instead the natural wonder of our mountain landscapes. I am proud to add my voice of support to environmentalists, nature groups and families through the Los Angeles area, and I urge my colleagues to pass this Act quickly, so that Californians can begin to enjoy the San Gabriel National Recreation Area as soon as possible, and for generations to come.”

However, a former Mayor states:

As a former Mayor of Glendora, I, and several other elected and appointed officials in the San Gabriel Valley, have been talking about Congresswoman Judy Chu’s National Recreation Area (NRA) legislation and two other pieces, Wilderness and Wild & Scenic Rivers legislation. No official titles or bill numbers have been provided at this point.

These pieces of legislation are the product of a 9-year San Gabriel Watershed & Mountains Special Resource Study presented April 2013.

Initially, the Study proposed the San Gabriel Watershed Area be incorporated into the Santa Monica Mountains Conservancy led by Joe Edmiston. Across the board, jurisdictions are strongly opposed to becoming a unit of the Santa Monica Mountains Conservancy (SMMC) An articles sent to me the best explanation why all are so adamantly opposed.

Articles by Beth Barrett and Jack Cheevers, L.A. Times:

1. From Congress to the Governor’s Office to local governments, Edmiston has created a political machine beginning in Gov.
Edmund G. “Jerry” Brown’s administration that exempts him from term limits, voters’ displeasure and even from very much independent or fiscal oversight.
2. The conservancy’s staff has been cut in half. Its capital budget, which swelled to $80 million in state bonds during the 1980s, now has no unencumbered funds left. A $324,000 appropriation in this year’s state budget was needed to keep it afloat.
3. In a Land Swap deal, Bob Hope would have sold and donated thousands of acres in Los Angeles and Ventura counties for public open space. In return, the federal government would give national parkland to a developer for a road to Hope’s secluded Jordan Ranch in Ventura County. That access would allow luxury homes to be built on the land, which government park authorities have sought to acquire for years.4. What role has eminent domain played in SMMC and Joe Edmiston’s acquisitions?
5. What is the financial status of the SMMC now?

More concern about the Whittier Oil Revenue Land Swap Deal. Prop A bond money purchased 1,280 acres in 1994 for $17 million intended for open space/conservation. In 2008, Whittier voted to lease 7 acres of that land to an oil company for up to $100 million a year.

Mountains Recreation and Conservation Authority, a regional government entity, dedicated to preserving open space and wildlife, after filing a lawsuit, agreed to settle and is to receive up to $11.25 million a year from Whittier’s royalties from the oil. The MRCA will use the money to buy land elsewhere . L.A. Times 8-17-13 said the Board of Supervisors will have final say on this one.

Additional concerns:

1. Water Rights
a. Water agencies requested an audit of Federal water rights in the SG Mountains before legislation takes effect to establish a benchmark to measure impact of proposed recreational projects (Chu’s response: After the legislation passes)
b. Technical review process when new projects are proposed be included
c. Water supply, water quality and water facilities should not be treated as co-equals with recreation
d. Water replenishment costs could double or quadruple if the current level and quality of ground water is not

2. Private Property Rights
a. What role does eminent domain play in acquiring the National Recreation Area? (Chu’s response: Specific maintained
1. Borders of the National Recreation Area are not specifically defined and should disclose:
2. Impact on adjacent uses absent buffer zones
3. Increased insurance costs for residential and businesses within the NRA zone
4. Disclosure requirements prior to sale and impact on property values
boundaries after legislation passes)
3. Local Control
a. Boundaries of NRA are not specifically defined therefore public comment is restricted
b. In place of a legal description, the legislation says a map is substituted [having the same force and effect as if included in this act] not clearly indicating specific boundaries but allows the federal government to “correct any clerical and typographical errors”
NRA establishes two entities to make decisions concerning access and use of the Area and any
future “improvements” or development. Members are appointees of the federal government, not directly elected by the public that will be impacted.
San Gabriel National Recreation Area Partnership includes 17 people headed by Secretary of Agriculture and National Park Service along with several state secretaries with 3 years to create a Management Plan
San Gabriel National Recreation Area Public Advisory Council includes 21 members appointed by the Secretaries of the Partnership to represent interests of the NRA and adjacent area. A quorum of this group is 10 members and can make decisions even if the full Council has not been appointed. Less than 50% and not directly elected by the public.

The partnership may use Federal funds under a section not defined in the legislation and then give that money in the form of grants to the State, political subdivisions of the State, nonprofit organizations, and other persons.

Other persons? Who is that? Not defined.

The public advisory council shall cease to exist 5 years after the management plans are completed or whenever the appointed members of the Partnership think is appropriate.
How does this proposal improve what we in the San Gabriel Valley have already done? Who will oversee or control those plans after preparation and initial implementation of the Management Plan?
What we have here is a group of people not directly elected by the public picking a committee and leader and establishing rules of operation guided by a federal bureaucracy all of whom will dictate to those within various jurisdictional boundaries who didn’t elect them.”

To find more about the proposal go to Pasadena Independent