Seeing peregrine falcon in the wild will blow your mind

By Steve Scauzillo, San Gabriel Valley Tribune

I walked into the Big 5 in Pasadena and waited for the young man to finish his negotiation with the salesman. He was buying bullets, presumably to hunt animals or target shoot.

“Just a second. I’ll be right with you,” said the clerk.

When he asked how he could help me, I became aware of the distinction.

“I need some good binoculars to watch birds,” I told him.

A few days later I stowed in my car the new binoculars with my camera and my largest lens, plus a birding scope and my trusty Audubon book on birds of North America. My wife, Karen, and I set out for Morro Bay, in particular, the Morro Bay National Estuary, where shorebirds and birds of prey are abundant. In short, a great place for bird watching.

I’m always skittish when I say that’s the reason I went to Morro Bay or why I like hanging out at Hahamongna Watershed Park.

“My wife and I enjoy bird watching.” I always get looks like you’re somehow not as tough as that guy in front of me at the counter at Big 5.

But when I’m watching a bird in my scope, I’m lost in the moment for what seems like hours. I quickly forget about what anybody thinks.

A bird’s detailed plumage can fill up a painter’s palette. So many shades of blue, orange, red, black. That’s a world opened up to me only through high-powered lenses.

A bird’s behavior can be remarkable, curious, fascinating or mundane. In flight, each bird flies differently.

Studying birds as they flew helped Orville and Wilbur Wright design the first flying machine. As documented in the two-time Pulitzer Prize winner David McCullough’s inspiring book “The Wright Brothers,” Wilbur spent hours on the sands of Kitty Hawk, studying turkey vultures (he called them buzzards), gannets, hawks and eagles in flight.

“The reality of what birds could do —the miracle of birds — remained a subject of continuing importance of and fascination …” McCullough wrote. Sometimes people would watch Wilbur flapping his wings like a bird and laugh.

So I’m in good company.

I walked the strand that curls around Morrow Rock with a purpose: to see the peregrine falcon, the bird that tops all birds of prey. The king of kings in flight, capable of reaching speeds of 240 miles per hour. That’s right! That makes the peregrine falcon the fastest animal on the earth.

They eat other birds by snatching them out of the air. It’s called stooping. A peregrine strafes an area populated by shorebirds and then when it eyes its potential victim, descends into a vertical warp speed dive until bam! It literally connects with its dinner.

“I can take you to where they’re at,” said a man wearing shorts, a T-shirt and a warm smile.

I knew from the museum curator that the peregrines nest in Morrow Rock, a volcanic outcropping almost twice the height of the Statue of Liberty. Peregrines like high places. For stooping.

“There,” he said, pointing to a rock ledge near the top. I trained my scope on it and could clearly see the white-breasted bird with a black head and sideburns standing tall, peering over the bay like a king overlooking its kingdom. Then, as my wife was watching through the binoculars (the ones I bought at Big 5), it leapt into the air and was gone. Flying so fast, we lost sight of it over the circuitous shoreline.

I added a peregrine to my lifetime bird list. But more than that, I was slain by the experience.

To think we almost lost these birds. Not to hunters, but to farmers who used DDT, a pesticide eventually banned by the EPA. Now, according to Kimball L. Garrett, ornithology collection manager at the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County, they have been seen in greater numbers since the 1980s, sometimes on shore cliffs, often nesting in skyscrapers.

“I see them fly by the museum,” he said.

If they or their kind weren’t around for the Wright Brothers to examine, would we have manned flight today?

Steve Scauzillo covers environment and transportation for the Southern California News Group. He is the 13th winner of the Aldo Leopold Award for Distinguished Editorial Writing. Follow him on Twitter @stevscaz or email him at

Chu, Schiff question latest National Park Service plan

Chu, Schiff question the National Park Service study on San Gabriel wilderness

Posted:   04/14/2013 02:08:57 PM PDT
Updated:   04/15/2013 09:12:03 AM PDT


Morris Dam, one of the three major dams in the Angeles National Forest above the San Gabriel Valley foothills, is run by the Los Angeles County Department of Public Works and Flood Control District. Water groups were concerned the NPS proposal would affect water flows and groundwater percolation. The dams are in the Angeles National Forest and are not included in the National Park Service’s recommendation. (Courtesy photo)

Related: National Park Service recommends scaled down recreation area for San Gabriel River, Puente Hills

Rep. Judy Chu, the champion of a controversial proposal to carve a National Recreation Area out of the Angeles National Forest, the Puente Hills and the San Gabriel and Rio Hondo rivers expressed concerns over a final study that reduced the scope of the project, excluded the area’s most precious resource and awkwardly links the region to the westside of Los Angeles.

Chu, a Democratic lawmaker from El Monte who for the last two years has taken the baton for this project from former La Puente-area Rep. Hilda Solis after she went on to serve as President Barack Obama’s Secretary of Labor, said she will hold roundtable meetings in the region as part of a quest to find out “what happened” to the original idea to provide a strong National Park Service presence in the popular forest. The purpose was to help an underfunded U.S. Forest Service better manage the Angeles, which receives 3.2 million visitors a year, the second-most visited national forest in the nation.

Instead, the NPS report reduced the scope from 581,500 acres to about 50,000 acres, and also called their proposal “The San Gabriel Unit of the Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area,” linking the San Gabriel Mountain foothills to a mountain region located at least 40 miles away and headquartered in Calabasas, well west of the 405 Freeway.

“The San Gabriel Mountains and Watershed have diverse characteristics and a unique ecosystem that does not exist anywhere else in the United States. They are distinct and far removed from the Santa Monica Mountains,” Chu wrote in a prepared statement released Thursday.

Burbank-area Rep. Adam Schiff also objected to the tie-in.

“I am concerned that creating a separate and noncontiguous unit of the Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area for this region will create logistical and administrative challenges,” he wrote in a prepared statement.

For example, the draft study refers to the San Gabriel Mountains as “the fastest growing mountains in the world” with unique ecosystems from riparian, to montane, sub-alpine and desert. The Mt. Wilson area was signaled out for its historical findings, namely where scientists first discovered the universe was expanding. The San Dimas Experimental Forest is a laboratory for discovering the relationship between mountains and precipitation and is also designated as a Biosphere Reserve by the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Yet, despite qualifying for a National

Map provided by the National Park Service, showing the area that would be part of the proposed National Recreation Area, a San Gabriel unit of the Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area. The new designation does not include the Angeles National Forest, as many environmental groups had recommended but would include foothills, Rio Hondo and San Gabriel River regions and the western portion of the Puente Hills. (Courtesy of National Park Service)

Recreation Area, it was left out. 

However, the opposite is true of the Puente/Whittier Hills. The study says the Puente Hills contains one of the “best remaining stands of California walnut-dominated forest and woodlands south of Ventura County.” Just off the San Gabriel River is the Pio Pico Mansion, where the last Mexican governor of Alta California was born.

Chu is referring to the Department of the Interior and National Park Service’s final report on the subject released Wednesday afternoon, which was markedly different than their draft proposals circulated from 2005 to 2012. The final report rejected Alternative D, which was preferred by the NPS itself until recently, included most of the Angeles National Forest and called for the NPS “to take a lead role in management of the partnership” with the USFS.

Instead, the final report only includes foothills from Pasadena to Claremont and into western San Bernardino County, and the urban portions of the San Gabriel and Rio Hondo rivers, mostly concrete river channels. The newly proposed National Recreation Area also would stretch from Duarte to Pico Rivera and includes the western portion of the Puente/Whittier Hills.

The NPS described the new boundaries as somewhat of a mishmash of doing nothing, Alternative A, whereby the U.S Forest Service would maintain sole management of the forest, and just creating a river-based NRA, Alternative C.

“That is a question in my mind. I want to know what changed. Why was there this hybrid that was chosen,” Chu asked. “I would like to know what happened. ”

The only way the two federal agencies can work together in the Angeles is through an obscure program called Service First Authority. The NPS said this is one way to move some NPS park rangers into the heavily used Angeles Forest areas such as the East and West Fork of the San Gabriel River.

But Chu criticized this management proposal. “That is an unknown,” she said. “I don’t know if that has ever been used on a project of this scale. Visitors need – and deserve – additional resources in the San Gabriel Mountains and Watershed, and I intend to do my part to ensure that happens. ”

She will be hosting townhall meetings to allow the public to ask questions of the NPS, as well as roundtables with stakeholder groups, she said. No dates have been set for the additional meetings.

Join Live Chat today (Mon) from noon to 1 p.m. on beach bonfire ban

at,… Are beach bonfires bad for your health? If you drive to Huntington Beach, Bolsa Chica, or Corona Del Mar State Beach and use the fire rings, let us know what you think about a ban proposed by the South Coast Air Quality Management District for Jan. 1, 2015?

@stevscaz (

Would love to hear your comments,

Do you support ban on beach bonfires?

The smoke from beach bonfires drifts into Charles Farrell’s Balboa Peninsula home and crashes on his bed like a drunk partygoer.

“The soot lingers inside my home for days. It’s everywhere, including your bedsheets. When I go to work, people think I’ve been smoking,” he told a panel of managers from the South Coast Air Quality Management District Thursday. While Farrell spoke in favor, a majority spoke against the air district’s proposed ban on beach fires along the Orange and Los Angeles county coastlines during a spirited informational hearing held at its headquarters.

The four-county air pollution agency officially will take up the ban May 3 as part of an amendment to an existing rule curtailing particulate pollution. The AQMD is also tightening a rule regulating wood-burning fireplaces from inside people’s homes that could result in between 10 and 20 “no burn” days each winter – more than double the number declared this past winter.

Though no decision was made Thursday, the AQMD top staff got an earful from both sides. Mostly Newport Beach residents favored the ban, while the city and business community of Huntington Beach strongly opposed it on the grounds it would end a treasured family tradition and also take a bite out of tourist revenues. Huntington Beach predicts it would lose $1 million in parking fees alone if people can’t come to the shore and enjoy a hot dog and some s’mores around a beach campfire.

Also in opposition was the state Department of Parks and Recreation, which said the state budget would suffer from lost revenues.

“Nothing is cast in stone,” explained Laki Tisopulos, AQMD assistant deputy executive officer, hinting that the agency could soften its rule. The AQMD is considering replacing wood-burning pits with propane-fueled fires that burn much cleaner, said Barry Wallerstein, AQMD executive officer.

The draft amendment bans open fires in backyards and wood-burning fires at beaches in order to protect public health. Wood-burning fires produce air quality near homes with twice the average number of particulates. Of concern are the smaller particulates or PM 2.5, which can enter the lungs and cause disease, asthma, cancer, even premature death, according to the AQMD and scientists.

“I’ve seen many of my neighbors suffering from lung diseases, lung cancer, emphysema and asthma,” said Barbara Peters of Corona del Mar, who lives 500 feet from 27 fire rings.

Yet despite pleas from beach residents, many said it is far more damaging to end a long-standing Southern California tradition enjoyed year-round by millions.

In Los Angeles County, the AQMD lists 90 fire rings at Dockweiler State Beach in Playa del Rey and nine rings in San Pedro beaches. Most of the impact would be felt by those using Orange County beaches. For example, the ban would prohibit the popular nighttime ritual at 182 fire rings at Bolsa Chica State Beach, 200 at Huntington State Beach, 130 at Huntington Beach City Beach, 33 on the Balboa Peninsula and 27 in Corona del Mar in Newport Beach.

“Surf City USA without fire rings would be like saying no more Mickey Mouse at Disneyland,” said Barbara Delglaze, a 40-year Huntington Beach resident and real estate broker.

The city of Newport Beach had sought permission to remove its fire rings from the Coastal Commission after getting complaints about smoke from residents. The commission favored keeping the fire pits as an inexpensive activity for low-income residents who visit the beach but officially postponed a decision until June, saying it wanted to see what the AQMD board does.

Brian Ketterer, superintendent of the Orange Coast District for the state Department of Parks and Recreation, said the ban would be felt at San Clemente and Doheny state beaches, where beach fire pits are an integral part of the camping experience.

“An open campfire is a family tradition,” Ketterer said, something that has brought people together at state parks for 150 years. “Sitting around a campfire, watching the dancing flames is mesmerizing. It has a calming effect,” he told the panel, calling a ban on wood-burning beach fires “short-sighted.”

Wallerstein proposed natural gas or propane-burning fire rings. “Where you can simply connect your propane tank to it,” he said.

A spokeswoman from Huntington Beach said using propane tanks instead of wood is not a safe alternative. She told the panel the city’s fire department sees a danger in several hundred tanks of propane on the beach per night.

Gov. Goes Green

Do you agree?
The governor goes green with two huge projects: completing high-speed rail from LA to SF and building twin concrete canals in the Delta to bring more water south.

What do you think of these projects?


Steve Scauzillo: Can Gov. Brown make old things new?

Posted:   01/26/2013 06:16:04 AM PST
Updated:   01/26/2013 07:43:24 PM PST

GOV. Jerry Brown likes to quote the Bible.In his state of the state speech Thursday, he cautioned spend-happy legislators citing the Egyptian Pharaoh’s nightmare of over-fed cows being devoured by the starving cows. The Book of Genesis story demonstrates how quickly famine can follow plenty.

When I heard that, I immediately thought of a New Testament principle, one that says old things become new with faith. It’s a metaphor for Jerry Brown, himself approaching the end of his political career yet a man possessed with leaving a legacy.

But it is also about the projects as much as the man. He’s pushing two old ideas to cleanse the air of emissions and boost the Golden State’s economy.

First and foremost, the new/old Brown wants the state water agencies (the ratepayers, that’s us) and the taxpayers (that’s us, too) to pay for a $14 billion twin-tunnels project in and around the Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta that sounds very similar to his father Pat Brown’s old Peripheral Canal idea defeated by voters in 1982.

The new/old idea will bring a reliable supply of water from Northern California to thirsty L.A. and San Diego and also to the San Gabriel Valley and Inland Empire cities that don’t have wells or need imported water to supplement well water.

It’s costly, but an idea that water agencies love. There’s nothing more satisfying to water managers than a reliable water supply. It means they can sleep at night.



second project on a list of investments in California infrastructure is the much maligned high-speed rail, a super-fast train that would whisk passengers from Los Angeles to San Francisco in 2 hours 40 minutes. A 432-mile electrical alternative to emissions-spewing automobiles that would cost about $68 billion.Brown wants to make old things new. There’s nothing older than the fight over water in the Golden State. It precedes the skirmishes over gold. Add to that the viewpoint from a typical Northern Californian that goes something like “take our water and give it to people in Los Angeles and San Diego over my dead body” and you know what I’m talking about.

Even the reasons for the new project, something the big folks at Metropolitan Water District support and call the Bay Delta Plan, are old: to ensure a reliable water supply in the event of a major earthquake and to protect the species swimming in the Delta. Oh, let’s not leave out the No. 1 reason for all of this canal talk: Water for California’s $27 billion agribusiness.

Was it serendipitous or good timing on Brown’s part that while he gave his speech, an obscure panel appointed by the Legislature to iron out California’s water problems was meeting that same day, a few miles away.

Brown, the Democratically-controlled Legislature and the Delta Stewardship Council will be working together on rules and plans for this project, for water conservation and environmental stewardship. Look for the Council’s final Delta Plan to be released sometime in the spring.

Meanwhile, his other old idea – a train – has been around ever since the Golden Spike connected the First Transcontinental Railroad in 1869 in Utah and industrialized the West.

Even their high-speed, electrified cousins have been around in Japan and Europe for decades. Now, one is being built in Morocco.

California, the land of innovation, is behind the times. It’s been a slow march for commuter trains and light-rail trolleys (read: less-polluting electric ones) to reach suburbia, where our single-car commuters pollute the air from 6 a.m. to 9 a.m. and 4 p.m. to 7 p.m. every weekday.

I’m for the future, so I’m for both a fast train to `Frisco and a more reliable water supply. Maybe we can sell these ideas to Hollywood as a kind of “Back to the Future” theme.

The only question is whether the rest of the state will buy into it.

That would take a New Testament kind of change of heart that would come from each Californian to support new infrastructure and invest in new job-creating projects like Californians did in the 1950s and 1960s.

The answer, as the Bible says, lies within.

Steve Scauzillo covers the environment and transportation. He’s the current recipient of the Aldo Leopold Award for Distinguished Editorial Writing from The Wilderness Society. Follow him on Twitter @stevscaz/ or email him at


Storm drain fee hearing’s silver lining

Normally, when you find yourself stuck at a 5-hour public hearing, listening to 200 speakers, it gets  tough.

That happened at the Board of Supervisors meeting last Tuesday. The meeting was long, the place was freezing, I sat from 9:45 a.m. until nearly 5 p.m. — no lunch break, not even a water break.

But the speakers were interesting. And the topic is fascinating to me (you can go to and search for “storm drain” or “urban runoff” to see the past stories I’ve written on the topic).

But best of all, Supervisor and Chairman of the Board Mark Ridley-Thomas was a study in how to keep order and do it gtacefully. He was also a master at conducting a public hearing.

It was one of the best run public hearings I’ve been to. And that is saying something since I’ve been covering local news for 32 years in four counties.

Anyway, the Board said the storm water cleanup fee needed more time. Zev said it “was not ready for prime time.” They asked for numerous revisions from the Department of Public Works and County Counsel. It should come back before the Board of Supervisors March 12.

You can click on the link below and read my column about Ridley-Thomas.





Keep criminals out of our Angeles National Forest

Make our forest a park; criminals, keep out

 Give us your murderers, arsonists, your body dumpers, your candle- burning and chicken-sacrificing cultists, your transients, your pot growers, your illegal barbecue lighters, hordes of litterers …

That crazy talk might as well be inscribed on the entrances to the Angeles National Forest.

Better still, just stretch yellow crime scene tape around the whole 677,000 acres and be done with it.

The forest has become a playground for criminals, evildoers who seemingly arise out of an Elmore Leonard novel. It’s the go-to place to dump a body, commit a crime, grow acres of marijuana, sacrifice a few chickens for the gods, light some candles or illegal campfires and burn the place down or just trash the place with beer cans and diapers.

Just Wednesday, the coroner and homicide detectives were probing a shallow grave found in the forest near Sunland. No remains were found, but leading to the hole were drops of blood, burnt cloth and chicken bones. “Signs of a possible religious ritual,” said news reports.

No body, thank God. But remember, it was cultists with candles practicing animal sacrifice who started the massive Curve Fire in 2002 that destroyed 72 structures and burned 18,700 acres. Many forest lovers lost their cabins in that fire above Azusa. The forest forever changed when those responsible citizens who were the eyes and ears for a thinly staffed Forest Service were no longer there.

At that time, our paper reported investigators were looking for “a satanic cult or a group of `witches’ that are regularly seen in the forest lighting candles and cutting off chicken heads.”

Don’t forget that the Station Fire, the largest fire in the history of the Angeles, established in 1892, was intentionally set by an arsonist on Aug. 26, 2009. The crime is murder, because two firefighters lost their lives fighting the massive blaze.

But who cares about most of the crooks in the hills, right? After all, this vast wild land surrounded by 18 million urban dwellers is, as advertised by the Forest Service itself, “The Land of Many Uses.”

Wrong. Many do care. Many fishermen, hikers and responsible off-roader groups care so much they pack out trash after each visit. Unfortunately, the vast Angeles National Forest suffers from an identity problem. Too many uses, too few watchers.

Rest assured that the good people of the Forest Service, who now work in a new modern headquarters off the 210 Freeway in Arcadia, agree that body dumpers, murderers, arsonists and cultists are not the kind of uses Teddy Roosevelt had in mind when he established the first protected forests in the United States.

But unfortunately, these evil folks just keep on going up there to commit crimes.

Former Star-News reporter Howard Breuer covered the case of the Pasadena pediatrician who strangled his lover with a Snoopy necktie in – you guessed it – the San Gabriel Mountains.

The Hillside Strangler dumped a body in the Angeles.

One Yelp commenter writes, “Is it just me or is the Angeles National Forest the epicenter for dumbass hikers or killers looking to dump bodies? I say shut it down and request id before entering.”

Cary C writes on an Internet site: “I had to go out there a couple of months ago for a site visit on one of my cases, and the stories the field personnel that live up there were telling me about the body dumping, etc., were scary and creepy.”

Criminals are soiling the reputation of my forest. A place I hike every chance I get for the solace it brings and for observing God’s living creation. John Muir described the Angeles as having a rugged beauty with unexpected meadows bursting with surprising flowers and breathtaking waterfalls. I understand Cary C’s passion, but that may not be the best solution. There is a movement underway by the Sierra Club, the Wilderness Society and San Gabriel Mountains Forever to bring in the National Park Service to create a National Recreation Area around most of the forest and the San Gabriel and Rio Hondo rivers. The plan would augment the under-resourced Forest Service by adding additional recreation guides, experts and nature interpreters.

The place needs new signs and a new identity. More like Yellowstone or Yosemite. It needs to be a park.

Now is the time to open a dialog about re-claiming the forest for legitimate, peaceful uses.

Your ideas are welcome.

Will you use recyclable cup at Starbucks?


Steve Scauzillo: Starbucks now asks `Paper or plastic?’

Posted:   01/05/2013 06:17:38 AM PST
Updated:   01/05/2013 06:18:48 PM PST


This undated photo provided by Starbucks Corp., shows a reusable cup. Starbucks Corp. is rolling out a $1 reusable plastic cup at its cafes starting Thursday, Jan. 3, 2013. The Seattle-based coffee chain already gives customers a dime discount each time they bring in reusable cups for refills. Now it’s hoping the new cups — which bear its logo and resemble its white paper cups — will increase the habit. (AP Photo/Starbucks Corp.)

Carol Keefer likes her Starbucks soy mocha with whip.

But after finishing the delectable coffee beverage, she feels guilty about tossing the paper cup in the trash because it messes with the environment, not to mention her conscience.

Well, Keefer doesn’t have to feel guilty anymore. On Friday, she ordered her coffee drink at the Irwindale Starbucks in a sturdy plastic cup, which she can return next time and have it re-filled. Starbucks will even rinse it in hot water and give her a 10-cent discount each time.

Other users are reporting the cup can withstand about 30 runs through the dishwasher. And according to the barista I spoke with, it can be recycled. “Take it down the street to that recycling center,” she said, referring to Allan Company, 14618 Arrow Highway.

The whole program is new. It was rolled out Thursday by the coffee-giant and is getting high marks from customers.

“Yeah. I hated having to throw those cups out every time. So, this is cool,” said Keefer, showing me the plastic cup before the manager threw me off the premises.

Starbucks, according to their website, wants to reduce its mountain of paper cups by selling more coffee in reusable plastic cups. Something about reducing their carbon footprint, a noble goal indeed.

Let’s look at the numbers.

The Seattle-based coffee chain, the world’s largest coffee shop operator according to Bloomberg, produces about 4 billion cups each year across the globe. Can you say landfill crisis?

The company hopes the reusable cup will raise the percentage of sales in non-throwaway containers to 5 percent by 2015, from 1.9 percent in 2011, Bloomberg reported.

Already, sales of coffee in the reusable plastic cups went up 26 percent in test-market stores in the Pacific Northwest in November compared to the previous November, according to company spokesperson Jim Hanna.

For customer John Ceyla of West Covina, the promotion is nothing new. He admits to owning “about 15” Starbucks travel mugs that he hands to the barista for a new fill up (well, not all at once!) every morning. Lately, he’s partial to the stainless steel variety.

“I don’t like the paper cups because the coffee gets cold too quickly,” he said in between sips from his well-used silver and black tumbler.

I’m going to ask the barista to put my grande skinny vanilla latte in one of those reusable cups next time, I said to myself.

I repeated my good intentions to Sara Vida, who was sitting in a darkened corner tapping away on her laptop. She agreed the reusable plastic cup was worth trying.

“It relieves waste. And it makes people more aware. The more trash we are creating the more we are dumping into the landfill,” Vida said.

See, that manager should hire me, not toss me. In a few short conversations, I made customers cognizant of the chain’s green promotion, something for which I did not see a sign anywhere.

Nine out of 10 customers didn’t know about the plastic cups until I told them.

But assuming they know now, will they remember next time?

Ah, that’s the rub.

It’s one thing to market the heck out of a green idea. Why? Well, it boosts the company’s image and it may help the environment, too.

But it will only work if the customer remembers to bring back the plastic cup. Acting green means altering our habits, even impulsive acts like stopping for a soy mocha latte at the Starbucks drive-thru.

For example, how many times have I forgotten to bring my cloth bags into the supermarket or the Trader Joe’s? I’m ashamed to say it’s about 50 percent. It’s still not ingrained.

If the store is located in an unincorporated part of the county, you must go bagless. There is no paper or plastic choice; you must bring cloth bags, period. (I know from personal experience).

Some ladies said they aren’t going to remember to carry their Starbucks cup. Besides, it won’t fit in their purse. And us guys, we can barely remember our car keys.

“That is the hardest part. Thinking about it,” Vida said.

Being green takes effort. Do I hear a New Year’s resolution in the making?

Homeless man in West Covina known by residents

Thanks for all your responses on the column I wrote about the homeless man I encountered in West Covina in Eastland shopping center who refused cash and food.

Here is what Barbara wrote to me in an email:
I read your article in the Tribune yesterday. That dear man has been in that spot for at least 4 years and before that was on the bus stop bench on Barranca right before the 10 east on ramp. A couple of years ago I asked him if I could buy him some food. I don’t remember if he spoke or just shook his head no. I thought maybe he just wasn’t hungry at that time so I offered to buy him a gift card for food. No again.
If you find out his story, please let us your readers know.

And what Steve Barad wrote:

just read this article and had to reply. i had almost the exact same experience outside the olde world deli a month or two ago. before i entered the store, i saw this old black man standing over a shopping cart seemingly taking inventory of his empty soda bottles and cans. even w/the heat, he seemed to be wearing a black (or dark colored) winter coat.

i placed my order and ordered a ham & cheese w/a soda to give to the man. when i took the food to him he refused it by nodding “no”. i tried to offer it to him a few more times and he kept saying no. i finally tried to just give him the soda and he refused that by shaking his head and pointing to his chest. i finally gave up.

whether or not it’s the same man, something is wrong w/a society that can allow a person to go through what this man is going through. civil rights to be left alone be damned. he should be off the streets. between the economy and the ever growing acceptance of “ive got mine, screw the rest of humanity,” i feel this problem will only get worse.


steven l. barad

I would have to believe that the agencies in the East San Gabriel know about this man. Has he refused help? And what then does that mean? Must he just get sick and die out there in the exposure?

If you missed my column (Opinion pages, San Gabriel Valley Tribune, Whittier Daily News, Pasadena Star-News) I’ll repeat it here for you. But if you have any comments or suggestions, email me at:

Steve Scauzillo: Homeless plus heat equals despair

Posted: 08/30/2012 01:56:23 PM PDT

I walked by a homeless man in West Covina and offered him cash, and he wouldn’t take it.

Let me say that again: He turned down cash.

I reached into my wallet and pulled out two singles and handed them to him. He just shook his head.

Flabbergasted, I instead offered him my combination chicken and beef bowl with mixed veggies that I had just purchased from Waba Grill.

I mumbled something like this: “Um, OK. Well, are you hungry? I have this.”

Again, he waved it off with a shake of the head.

I was frozen there for 10 seconds on the hot sidewalk on the backside of the Eastland Shopping Center. He stood silent in the 100-degree heat, oddly covered in clothing up to his neck, a shopping cart filled with plastic bottles and other stuff separating me from him.

As I walked past him to my car, started it up and turned on the AC, my mind raced with questions. Is he OK? Why did he refuse my money? My food? And why does this make me feel bad?

It’s been two days since the encounter and I haven’t been able to think of anything substantial since then.

I called my friend the Rev. Andy Bales, chief executive officer of the Union Rescue Mission in Skid Row. We once worked together at Lake Avenue Church in Pasadena – he the minister of outreach and me on a congregational lay committee trying to reach out to the poor in the San Gabriel Valley. And yes, that included what Bales calls his “homeless friends.”


Bales has worked with the homeless for 25 years. He is an expert on the topic and I can say with certainty he’s encountered every possible situation.

Except this one.

“I’ve never had that happen to me. I don’t remember anyone turning down food or money, especially money,” Bales said Thursday.

I started like a journalist, going down the options. Is he a fraud? You know, like those guys on the off-ramps of the 210 Freeway with the cardboard signs?

“No, a fraud would’ve taken your money,” Bales said. “That’s why I don’t normally offer money.”

I got caught up with Andy, who is recovering from some major health issues, and then I could hear him scratching his head, figuratively, of course, pondering my question.

He was stumped.

“I can’t figure out why,” he said, softly.

Then he had a theory. Maybe this man was so discouraged that he was giving up. I remembered that I walked by him once and ignored him, and the second time is when I offered him cash. At no time did he ask me for money. He never panhandled.

Those guys in Downtown L.A., or even parts of Pasadena, usually have a line: “You have any spare change?” Or sometimes it’s: “Hey, can you spare me some bus fare?”

This guy looked tired, his lips encrusted in a white film. He barely moved. Yet he stood. His sad eyes staring out onto the street.

“At what point does a person reach such despair that he is dismissal?” Bales asked, rhetorically.

Bales said he often helps homeless people find temporary shelter at the Union Rescue Mission, at 545 S. San Pedro St., L.A., CA 90013.

Many individuals and families are referred to him from case workers and nonprofit agencies operating in the San Gabriel Valley.

Just the day before, a case worker named Clarence had called and said a young mother and her three young children needed a place to stay. Andy took them in.

The flow of homeless from our region, where few beds are available, to Skid Row is a common occurrence. “It is happening all the time,” Bales said.

July was a record month for homeless people sheltered at the Union Rescue Mission, he said. The number reached 900 by the end of the month, he said.

What can we do when we encounter a homeless person?

Bales spoke some simple advice. Next time you see him, don’t offer him money – offer him your friendship.

“Find out his story,” Bales said, “rather than trying to offer him something.”

# # # # # # # # # # # #

Put moratorium on metal recycling

WHEN is recycling not a good thing?

Answer: When it is a crime.

Lately, too much recycling activity is against the law.

I’m talking about the rash of copper wire thefts that have left ballfields, streets, parks, schools and even churches in the dark.

Just recently, someone stole a 62-year-old brass bell from a church in Pico Rivera worth $5,000. In February, a transient caused $18,000 in damage to Pompei Memorial Sports Park in Glendora by stealing the wire from the light poles. The Hacienda La Puente Unified School District reported copper wire thefts from five schools from November 2011 to January. Each theft cost the district between $5,000 and $15,000. South Pasadena said someone was stripping the wire boxes beneath its stop lights of copper wires. In December 2007, a thief stole 85 bronze markers off graves at Rose Hills Memorial Park and tried to cash them in. I could go on and on.

I blame the metal recycling industry. Too many scrap-metal dealers are doling out cash to thieves who are junkies and gang members who cash in these precious metals at recycling centers, which turn around and ship the load to China.

A 2008 law requiring these phony recyclers to show a driver’s license isn’t working. As we all know, these can be forged. The law also prohibits cash payments but the thieves found a loophole by redeeming the metal in less than $20 increments. Smaller amounts were not covered by the law.

In the last


four years, the crimes only increased along with the price of metal on the commodities market. Law enforcement can’t keep up with the crime wave. Financially strapped cities and schools are paying through the nose.
Last week, the Legislature passed two new laws restricting metal recycling. One prohibits a so-called recycler from getting cash for a fire hydrant, manhole cover or backflow device. Gee, did we really need a law for these scrap-metal dealers to realize that those items were ripped off?

What’s the conversation that goes on. “Is that your fire hydrant? Really, you make ’em? Oh, OK. I’ll give you a hundred bucks for it.”

A second bill, by Assemblywoman Wilmer Carter, R-Rialto, and now on the governor’s desk, would prohibit those $20 cash payments.

These seem like afterthoughts and Band-Aids. It is like fighting Hitler’s army with pop guns.

What the Legislature didn’t do was pass the best bill. That one was by Assemblywoman Norma Torres, D-Chino. Her bill would have required scrap metal dealers to pay by check and the dealers would have to mail the check to the “recycler’s” home address. Have a P.O. box? That wouldn’t be acceptable, explained Francisco Estrada, chief aide to Torres. A check would assist law enforcement in catching the thief, if the metal was proved stolen.

After the Assembly adopted the bill by a 73-1 vote, Torres expected it to make it through the Senate. But it was derailed by a 4-4 vote in the Senate Business, Professions and Economic Development Committee.

Local Sen. Ed Hernandez, D-West Covina, was one of the surprising “no” votes.

“It was a real simple change in the law,” Estrada explained. “If we would’ve gotten it to the floor of the Senate we would’ve been successful.”

The metal recycling lobby can be a powerful force. So powerful that such attempts at slowing down this lucrative but illicit trade have been weak at best. Torres’s bill was supported by local law enforcement and school districts, eager for the Legislature to do something.

It’s a problem that the environmental community has been silent on. Why haven’t they spoken up? Recycling is getting a black eye and yet, they remain mute.

I’m proposing a moratorium on all metal recycling until the Legislature and the recycling industry takes this crime seriously.

Let’s stop the boats to China until our house is in order. Cutting the money changing is the only way to get the attention of the metal recycling business.

Now, who will have the guts to get this done?

Steve Scauzillo covers the environment and transportation. He’s the current recipient of the Aldo Leopold Award for Distinguished Editorial Writing from The Wilderness Society. Follow him on Twitter @stevscaz/ or email him at