UPDATE: Obama to designate San Gabriel Mountains a national monument
In what supporters call a much-needed development and detractors say is an end run around public review, President Barack Obama will sign an executive order Friday designating approximately 346,000 acres of land in the San Gabriel Mountains as a national monument, officials said Wednesday.
As a result of years of budget woes, the mountain range has become littered with trash and graffiti, officials say. Crumbling trails and other neglected features pose safety hazards; visitor and recreational resources have deteriorated or even vanished in some places.
“The San Gabriel Mountains are a treasure, providing 70 percent of the open space for Angelenos and attracting more than 3 million visitors a year,” said Rep. Judy Chu, D-Pasadena, in a statement Wednesday. “But without adequate funding, the gorgeous woods and waters are marred by trash and graffiti while many trails have become dangerous and lack appropriate signage.”
The area is already part of the Angeles National Forest, but the rules are more lax about what can be done in a national forest than in a national monument.
For example, new roads can be built and new mines created in a national forest. National monument designations honor existing rights but prevent new drilling and mining while ensuring that historically significant objects are protected.
Two Los Angeles County agencies raised red flags over the designation, saying national monument status could cause problems with fire suppression, water resources, flood control and roads.
“This list of issues is alarming,” county Supervisor Michael D. Antonovich said in a statement Wednesday about issues raised by the county Department of Public Works and Fire Department.
“We have been told repeatedly that this designation will have no impacts on county operations, yet our county departments immediately identified multiple areas of concern,” Antonovich said.
“We now have more questions than answers, and unfortunately, we will be unable to definitely determine the potential impacts of a designation prior to the president’s ill-advised executive order.”
“This is really an end run around the process, around congressional approval, and it forfeits the rights of the people to know exactly what the impacts will be and the people’s opportunity to weigh in on whether or not they wanted the monument or the recreational area,” Antonovich spokesman Tony Bell said.
A spokesman for San Gabriel Mountains Forever, a group whose aim is to protect the San Gabriel Mountains, said he thinks the county’s concerns will be dispelled.
“I don’t think that there’s any basis for a claim that this will impact any existing rights or operations,” said spokesman Daniel Rossman.
Earlier this year, Chu introduced legislation to designate the San Gabriel Mountains a national recreation area. After that bill stalled in Congress, Chu urged Obama to instead use his authority to declare the area a national monument.
The monument designation will make available new sources of money that can be used to address some of the current issues in the mountain range, said Dianne Erskine-Hellrigel, executive director of the Santa Clarita Valley Community Hiking Club.
“The Angeles National Forest will get additional funding to manage things better,” she said Wednesday.
Erskine-Hellrigel said some improvements could include additional or improved trails and signage or new parking areas at popular destinations.
“It’s a step in the right direction,” she said. “It will offer additional protections and help protect our water and air and endangered species.”
Santa Clarita City Council members voted in July to support Chu’s original legislation to designate the area a national recreation area.
White House officials say Los Angeles County is one of the most disadvantaged counties in terms of access to open space for minorities, especially children. For many urban residents, the mountains provide the only available large-scale open space.