Tributes for the late Rep. Jim Lloyd

The West Covina City Council adjourned its meeting Tuesday night in honor of former councilman-turned-congressman Jim Lloyd, who passed away Thursday in Florida.

Lloyd served on the West Covina City Council from 1968 to 1975 and immediately afterward was elected to Congress where he served three terms from 1976 to 1981. The centrist Democrat lost to upstart Republican David Dreier, who remains in office today.

In addition, Assemblyman Roger Hernandez, D-West Covina, was getting ready to adjourn the state Assembly in Lloyd’s honor.

Lloyd was a Navy pilot in World War II and Korea and also served as public information director of Guantanamo Bay in 1962 during the cuban missile crisis. He lived in West Covina with his wife, Jackie Vaughan Lloyd, until recently. Lloyd moved to Cameron Park, near Sacramento, to be with his son, Brian, 57, after his wife passed away last year.

Lloyd, 89, died after crashing his 2003 Acura on Scenic Highway in Pensacola. He was visiting his son, Seth, who is training to be a Navy pilot. Lloyd apparently sustained a massive stroke and lost control of the car. He died 11 days later. No one else was injured in the solo-car crash.

The story is one of the most clicked on stories I’ve written. I keep getting emails and phone calls about Lloyd, whom as far as I can recall, was the only West Covina council member to be elected to Congress.

Eileen Spiegelman, the former co-owner of Marty’s Restaurant, called me today and said she wanted to send her condolences to Lloyd’s son, Brian. She said Jim was “a very frequent customer.” She called Jim “a wonderful person.”

Marty’s Restaurant, formerly located at Vincent Avenue and West Covina Parkway, was a place where city hall types, judges and lawyers from the nearby courthouse would meet for lunch and dinner, she said.

She said Lloyd was a regular customer.

People can send letters and cards to Chris Freeland, deputy city manager, West Covina City Hall, 1444 West Garvey Ave., West Covina, CA 91793. There is no iinformation on any memorial service. Brian said his father would be buried at Arlington National Cemetery in the summer.

-steve scauzillo
@stevscaz/twitter.com
steve.scauzillo@sgvn.com

Mountain reservoir status

58123-COGSWELL DAM  half size.jpg

Friend and moutain biker from Monrovia, Brad, sent me the above photo he took Sunday (Jan. 29, 2012) of Cogswell Dam and reservoir. He took the west fork bike path to the reservoir.and shot this from a vantage point from above the site.

He asks why the water level appears to be way down. I don’t have an answer, except I know that rainfall totals this season have been down. They are at least 2-3 inches below normal. So perhaps there is less runoff flowing into the reservoir.

Cogswell is one of three reservoirs reachable by Highway 39. The other two are more visible and right off the highway: Morris Dam and San Gabriel Dam. The last time I drove past these two, a few months ago, it seemed like they had plenty of water in them.

Thanks Brad for this shot of Cogswell. ANd please pray for rain!

Kill redevelopment, kill cities

I could barely make out the words uttered from the man seated several rows behind me at Walnut City Hall.

“Corporate welfare,” I finally heard him say.

The two words were spoken just as Walnut City Councilman Tony Cartagena discussed a recent meeting with the Contract Cities Association on the topic of redevelopment.

The governor and the Legislature approved a measure wiping out all redevelopment agencies in the state. That means all 88 cities in Los Angeles County must end their redevelopment practices by Feb. 1 unless a bill by local state Sen. Ed Hernandez that gives cities until April gets approved.

Either way, the outcome is the same. Redevelopment will end. Period.

Redevelopment was an economic tool with which cities acting as redevelopment agencies would spur economic development by buy and put together parcels of land and sell them as a larger parcel to a developer, often at a discount. The development would benefit the city’s residents either directly or indirectly. A commercial shopping center would give residents more places to shop and often fill city coffers with sought-after sales-tax revenues to pay for services. This “tax increment” would flow to the redevelopment agency to invest in future projects, often low-cost and senior housing projects. Increment is the difference between the property tax value before improvements and after improvements. Counties and other agencies would bid for their share of the increment,

too, but a criticism has always been that school districts would lose out on their share of property tax increment.
There’s also some validity to the “corporate welfare” argument. Some cities would offer subsidies to, say, vastly rich Starbucks or Wal-Mart to put a store in. But I say that criticism is painting with a broad brush to vilify redevelopment when the guilty parties should have been exposed instead of the baby being thrown out with the bath water.

Cartagena said so Wednesday night.

“Instead, they should have gone after the ones that abused it,” he said.

Cartagena is correct. Walnut, a contract city, does not spend millions on its own police and fire departments that ring up high personnel (read: retirement pension) costs. It and others turned to redevelopment wisely to build public projects. They’d often save money for years to do so. It’s why Walnut is recognized as one of the best places to live in the country.

“Our senior center. The Walnut-Diamond Bar Sheriff’s Station. The library. Equestrian trails,” he said, going through a quick list, all financed through redevelopment funds.

When I was a cub reporter in the early 1980s, Ontario did a good job with redevelopment of Euclid Avenue, a main thoroughfare that needed a facelift. Later, I covered Fontana and it used redevelopment to lure the developer of Southridge, a mega tract-home development. The city’s explanation was empty land was “economically blighted.”

Rightfully so, the Legislature tightened up the law and ruled out “economical blight” as empty land. Later, Diamond Bar, an upper-middle class city, tried redevelopment of a shopping center and the case ended up in court. Again, the court said the city did not have enough blight for redevelopment.

So, yes, there have been abuses. There have been patches applied. But more importantly, we can point to the redevelopment success stories: Old Pasadena, Old Town Monrovia, Main Street in Alhambra (though in my view, still a work in progress), San Diego’s Gas Lamp District. And there are many smaller successes, such as affordable housing projects and restoration of historical buildings for reuse.

As Walnut Councilwoman Mary Su noted, the state is looking to create a new type of economic development tool for cities to use. All while cities hand out pink slips to redevelopment employees – a bad move in a struggling economy.

No, banning redevelopment was not about getting rid of corporate welfare. If it was, we’d have closed the loopholes in our country’s tax code that allows many corporations to pay zero taxes.

It was all about money. It was just a way for Sacramento to get its hands on more money to pay for social services and state pensions. So Gov. Brown hit up the oft-criticized redevelopment tool – a soft spot in local governments – to accomplish that goal.

I don’t believe schools will see a windfall. In fact, the state budget calls for more cuts to schools unless residents vote in a half-cent sales tax and approve higher taxes on wealthier Californians.

What I see is economic vitality fading in the San Gabriel Valley, where smaller cities need every tool they can get to re-make themselves. I hope they find a new way.

Steve.scauzillo@sgvn.com

626-962-8811 ext. 2237

@stevscaz/twitter.com

Being grounded amid the temporary trees

NORMALLY, you don’t think of rows of potted plants parked on a paved strip as open space. Ditto for a golf course, a baseball field, volunteer willows behind a dam or commercial nursery plants thriving beneath high-tension towers.

But they are. In fact, some cities mark these down as official open space in their general plans.

And they’d be correct.

In a county with 10 illion people, where rows of rooftops and hundreds of thousands of acres of steaming asphalt dominate the landscape, these oxygen-producing, carbon dioxide eating postage stamp lots — temporary in nature — are sometimes all we get.

So, you shouldn’t wonder why people try to hold on to them like a miser does his last nickel.

Last week, I reported on yet another nursery packing up its plants and going home. Norman’s Nursery, a wholesale outfit since 1949, has cleared out a mile-long strip of trees and ornamentals that were packed along the Santa Fe Dam on the border of Baldwin Park and Irwindale. For 20 years, your eye went to the green junipers, the date palms, the ornamental elms.

The trompe l’oeile visage said they were planted there. Like an urban forest. Instead, they were as real as the lollipop forest of the kids’ game Candyland.
Today, that greenbelt is gone. And others could be next.

I don’t deride people for becoming attached to such temporary greenery. To the contrary, I get angry when nobody cares. not hugging a tree is the sin.

The issue of open-space-that’s-not-traditional open space exploded onto the pages of the Pasadena Star-News in 2007 when residents of East Pasadena fought to stop Edison from parlaying leases under their wires into permanent developments, such as those ugly self-storage buildings. The idea originated with the California Public Utilities Commission. But like a downed power line sparking a fire, it blew up in their faces.
“They thought it was a way to reduce rates but it hasn’t worked out that way. It’s causing public concern about global warming and building on potentially useful recreational or passive open space,” said one opponent back in 2007.

The good news was, Persson’s Nursery, and Present Perfect Nursery, both in East Pasadena, were saved for the time being. The bad news: In August 2011, Persson’s closed down shortly after its owner died of cancer. Today, what’s there — an empty lot — is what many — including new Pasadena Councilman Gene Masuda — tried so hard to not let happen.

In West Covina, residents rightfully want to stop a four story, 55,680-square-foot “office condo” project on West Covina Parkway that would kill 100 trees. Worse, the project would threaten the urban green space that surrounds the West Covina regional branch library and West Covina City Hall complex.

These places are these residents’ giant sequoias. They are their redwood forest. Their Yosemites. Because they are the ones who walk among these planted trees hoping for a slice of solitude, a fleeting vision of purity.

Psychologists advise patients with anxiety or panic disorders to plant their feet firmly on the ground. It’s a technique called “grounding.” The simple act communicates to the patient he or she is strong, safe, that the bad things he or she predicts will take place will not.

Grounding is best done in the outdoors, where man-made stimuli are shut out. Where the reality of standing on the earth and feeling a cool breeze make the anxiety go away, at least for the day.

We can’t let the green spaces fade to gray, even the temporary ones.
And if we can’t stop it, then perhaps we can plant others. Because when they’re all gone, where will we go to become grounded?

If wishes could come true in 2012

ON Christmas Day, people exchange gifts. During Hanukkah, celebrants light candles and also give gifts for eight days. Boxing Day — Dec. 26 in England and Canada — is traditionally when folks exchange gifts or “open the alms box” for the poor.

Here on the opinion page, we’ve had an on-again, off-again tradition of giving gifts — more like wishes — to our local cities for the new year, 2012. We have a little fun with it. Tell us if you agree with our gift choices (letters.@tribune@sgvn.com; letters.star-news@ sgvn.com; letters.wdn@sgvn.com):

After this month’s windstorm, we wish all cities a much better Emergency Operations Center filled with flashlights, chippers, chainsaws and lots of diesel- powered generators.

For all the folks of the San Gabriel Valley who lost power in the great storm of 2011, an emergency supply kit. You know, to get ready for the next one.

For Southern California Edison, an emergency plan.

For Pasadena, a Rose Bowl construction project whose funding gap isn’t always getting wider.

For Majestic Realty’s Ed Roski Jr., an NFL football owner in a boring small market who is suffering from an incurable case of California Dreamin.’

For Diamond Bar, with a new library and a new City Hall opening in 2012, donating their wish to a city that needs it.

For La Puente, a successful development of the old bowling alley property.

For El Monte, a Walmart. Really.

For Arcadia, something, anything, that can be built in the gigantic parking lot of Santa Anita Park.

For Temple City, we’ll stick with our perennial wish for the Camellia City: a completed retail development on the northeast corner of Rosemead Boulevard and Las Tunas Drive. (See, we didn’t say the word “Piazza.” Oops.)

For Montebello, someone to spin the Earth backward several years so their financial problems and bad loan decisions would go away.

For the staff, parents and mostly the students of the Hacienda La Puente Unified School District, which will be the first in our area to begin an early start school year, a unseasonably cool month of August.

For Whittier, the redevelopment of the 75-acre Fred C. Nelles site, which is now in jeopardy with Thursday’s redevelopment decision in Sacramento.

For Walnut Valley Unified, a safebox for their SAT tests.

For Glendora, a redeveloped Route 66.

For the bicycle riders in the area, a black gold necklace, as in a paved “Emerald Necklace,” that connects the Rio Hondo River Bike Trail with the San Gabriel River Bike Trail, so riders don’t have to ride on the streets to complete the loop.

For hikers, hunters, off-roaders, birders, horse riders, or just anyone who has scratched her or his head when trying to figure out where a trail leads or how to reach the river from a street: A coordinated, well-signed, fully funded recreation management plan run by the National Park Service.

For Azusa, and the Rivers and Mountains Conservancy, a benefactor who can catch the vision for the River Wilderness Park.

For all of you, a healthy and prosperous new year.
Keep reading. And resolve to write a letter to the editor in 2012!
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Caltrans wants to shed responsibilities for Highway 39

By Steve Scauzillo, Staff Writer

After announcing three months ago it was dropping plans to reopen the long-closed upper portion of Highway 39, Caltrans is now pursuing plans to legally abandon the highway used by millions to access the Angeles National Forest.
Saying the cost of maintaining 27 miles of winding, mountain highway north of Azusa known as State Route 39 was too high, Caltrans has begun shopping it around to other government agencies.

“Now we are looking with our attorneys into how we can abandon this responsibility,” said Ronald Kosinski, deputy district director for environmental planning in District 7, which includes Los Angeles County.

“It is of minimal value to the state of California to keep pouring money into it (Highway 39),” Kosinski said.

The routine cost of maintaining the existing highway is $1.6 million per year, he said.

Kosinski said Caltrans met on Dec. 16 with the U.S. Forest Service and the state Department of Fish and Game to discuss different options.

“The county says they don’t believe they can operate it. We’ve also talked to the Forest Service,” he said.

Queries sent from this newspaper to these agencies were met with quick responses.

“We’ve received no formal notification of this idea from Caltrans management, so we cannot comment on it,” said John D. Wagner, assistant public information officer for the U.S. Forest Service.

Michael Cano, transportation aide with Supervisor Mike Antonovich,
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whose region includes the foothills leading up to the forest and the Antelope Valley, also said neither the supervisor nor anyone at the county had seen or heard any formal request to take over responsibilities for Highway 39.

“There is not a compelling reason for the county to want to assume control of it,” Cano said.

Longtime cabin owner and environmental activist Glen Owens was dumbfounded over what some are calling a Caltrans trial balloon.

“Why would a state agency try to shirk its responsibilities and then think another government agency would take those over?” asked Owens, a Monrovia planning commissioner. “They just can’t pick and choose what to maintain and what not to maintain.”

Access to the forest trails and the wild parts of the San Gabriel River is critical to a plan being considered by the National Park Service to include the forest as a National Recreation Area co-managed by the NPS. That issue may end up in Congress next year.

Some said that Caltrans’ idea to legally abandon responsibility for the highway proves that the NPS needs to step in before things get worse.

“If the state does abandon it, and no one else picks up the maintenance costs, the risk is it (the road) could get shut down,” said John Monsen, environmental consultant and a Tujunga resident.

Kosinski said other parts of Highway 39, in Orange County and through Covina and Azusa, have been or still could be abandoned to those cities. Likewise, cities such as Long Beach, Pico Rivera and Temple City have taken responsibility for State Route 19, also known as Rosemead Boulevard, after the state relinquished responsibilities.

Cities did this for numerous reasons, including adding median projects or for incorporating retail redevelopment. Temple City is planning a new dedicated bikeway for the southern portion of Rosemead Boulevard.

State Route 39 stretches 40 miles from Orange County as Beach Boulevard, through the San Gabriel Valley as Azusa Avenue and into the forest, connecting Southern California residents to thousands of miles of hiking trails, offroad vehicle riding areas and numerous campgrounds. It is also a route for county workers to three key mountain reservoirs.

The road stops at the 40th mile marker at Snow Spring, a steep, rugged region about one mile north of the turnoff to Crystal Lake. Highway 39 once continued to Angeles Crest Highway near Wrightwood, but that has not been the case since 1978, when a major slide wiped out the road. Recently, Azusa businesses, cabin owners and some environmental groups lobbied for repairing the 4.4-mile section. They say having full circulation into Wrightwood and its ski areas, and into the high desert and La Ca ada Flintridge area, will bring more shoppers to the foothill cities of the San Gabriel Valley.

Despite pleas from business owners, cabin owners and at least one member of the state Assembly to reverse itself, Caltrans has dug in its heels and is basically saying it will never complete the 4.4-mile gap project.

“They are backing out of what they said they were going to do,” said Tony Glassman, safety manager at California Amforge Corp. on North Vernon Avenue in Azusa.

Caltrans and the Forest Service completed an Environmental Impact Statement in 2009 for the project. It held public hearings in Azusa. Many thought the money – about $32 million – was in hand.

An article dated October 2008 in a Caltrans in-house newsletter says the project would be started in fall 2010. “Neither rain, nor sleet, nor snow, etc. can keep District 7 from opening up this challenging route,” was the subtitle.

In the article, Caltrans officials said they had plans to rebuild the damaged portion of 39. “`This might seem like a lot of work just to maintain an impassible highway, but it’s an obligation Caltrans must fulfill,”‘ said Damage Restoration Coordinator Bill Varley. “`The district has a long-term commitment to this highway.”‘

But it appears Caltrans had no intention of completing the project. According to the California Transportation Commission, Caltrans never “delivered the project” to the Commission. Meaning, a formal request for the $32 million was never made.

Kosinski said a big portion of Caltrans’ decision not to pursue was based on the possibility the project would hurt or kill the fragile Nelson’s bighorn sheep that live in the area.

The environmental impact statement from 2009 says the sheep are a concern, but not an insurmountable problem.

“Consultation with U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service or National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) is not required as there will be no effect to any species listed as Endangered, Threatened or proposed as Endangered or Threatened under the Federal Endangered Species Act with the implementation of the proposed project,” read the report.

However, since the Forest Service considered the sheep a “sensitive species,” the issue was examined in connection with the reopening of the road to Angeles Crest Highway.

The status of the sheep under the California Endangered Species Act (CESA) was in question. “After a detailed review of the CESA and the Code, Caltrans understood that the San Gabriel Mountains population of Nelson’s bighorn sheep was not afforded protection under CESA or the Code,” said the Jan. 23, 2009 report signed by Kosinski.

The report stated that Caltrans wanted “concurrence” that the sheep population where the road would be rebuilt met federal exemption criteria “and therefore was not fully protected.”

“The population in the San Gabriel Mountains, a transverse range, is not listed as threatened or endangered under the Federal or California Endangered Species Act,” the environmental report concluded.

The report said there are about 300 sheep in the area of Highway 39, down from a high of 500-600 in the 1980s. At the project site, biologists estimated about 10 sheep existed.

Kosinski last week said the reopening project was scrapped because the state doesn’t have $32 million to $40million to complete it. He also said completing the road to Angeles Crest Highway “would be bad for the environment” and said the sheep must be protected.

While Monsen agreed with the decision not to reopen the highway at Snow Spring, he was not in agreement with Caltrans abandoning the mountain highway entirely and predicted a wave of outrage at such an idea.

“People here are not too happy about the position we are taking,” said Kosinski, saying there were those even within Caltrans who disagreed with both decisions.

steve.scauzillo@sgvn.com

@stevscaz/twitter.com

626-962-8811, ext. 2237

San Gabriel River magazine now on website

So many people have asked me for a copy of our special report: The San Gabriel: A River on the Edge” (originally published Aug. 27, 2000) that I’ve lost count. The problem was, it had sold out and there were no more hard copies to give out.

Now, we have a digitized copy for you all to see. It is on our web site. Or you can click the link and it will open up the PDF. Hint: You need to click “Full Screen” and then the (+) to zoom in on the text in order to read the stories and see the photos best. It is worth the effort!

Also, the articles are still quite relevant. Even more so. The U.S. National Park Service is considering making the San Gabriel River (and the Angeles National Forest and a large swath of the Puente Hills) a National Recreation Area (or NRA). It would come under the U.S. National Park Service. The next meeting on the topic will be 7 p.m. on Tuesday, Nov. 15 at Cal Poly Pomona. I’ll see you there.

Do you support a National Park Service in the SGV?

More than 700,000 acres of the San Gabriel Mountains, River and Valley and Puente Hills were deemed nationally significant and therefore suitable for inclusion in the National Park system, according to a report released Monday by the U.S. Department of Interior.
The Draft San Gabriel Watershed and Mountains Special Resource Study concluded that the mountains and the Puente Hills met the criteria for a national designation and that all or portions could come under federal protection and management if approved by Congress.

The study could pave the way for part of the region being named a National Recreation Area – a designation environmentalists and community health advocates have been pushing for for years.

“We are exploring ways we can conserve this important landscape and improve recreational opportunities for the community…” said Department of Interior Secretary Ken Salazar in a prepared statement.

Environmental groups rejoiced at the news, saying the recognition from the Department of Interior could lead to more rangers, improved facilities and infrastructure, and better access to green space for Whittier and San Gabriel Valley area residents.

“It is a big, big deal. We couldn’t be more delighted,” said Bob Henderson, a Whittier city councilman and chair of the Puente Hills Habitat Preservation Authority.Henderson’s group supported the effort back in 2005 when the study was just getting under way. By bringing in the National

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Park Service, the Puente/Whittier Hills would have better maintained trails, more trail guides and maps and other service improvements, he said.
The study suggests three different alternatives for how to include the region in the National Park system. The first one, Alternative A, simply would make the San Gabriel Mountains a National Recreation Area.

Alternative C would focus on the San Gabriel River and its watershed, improving recreational and educational opportunities along the river and creating a model for a new national park.

The final alternative – Alternative D – would envelop the most acreage and would include the mountains, the rivers and the Puente Hills, as well as urban communities in the area, as part of a National Recreation Area.

Alternative B was eliminated.

In all three, the U.S. Forest Service would still manage the Angeles National Forest. But the new NRA would be managed through a collaborative effort led by the National Park Service, along with the Forest Service and other agencies and organizations with land interests.

The National Park Service concluded the final alternative would be the “environmentally preferable alternative,” said Daniel Rossman who’s with San Gabriel Mountains Forever. The group is made up of conservation groups, faith-based groups and business owners.

Claire Robinson, president of Amigos de los Rios, an Altadena-based group that has built new parks in El Monte, said Alternative D will include poorer communities and denuded areas in need of repair, such as those located along the concrete-lined Rio Hondo River.

“The NPS is shifting its focus to include urban areas,” Robinson said. “That is a huge paradigm shift which we wholly embrace.”

Henderson and Robinson pointed out the study does not recommend condemning private land.

“There is no taking of private land. It is leveraging 95 years of National Parks Service experience,” she said.

The effort began in 2003 when then Rep. Hilda Solis, who grew up in Bassett and would play in the Whittier Narrows and along the San Gabriel River’s edge with her family, introduced federal legislation with Sen. Barbara Boxer to study making the local mountains and rivers a National Recreation Area. It received a huge boost in 2010 under President Barack Obama’s America’s Great Outdoors initiative when many residents turned out for public hearings.

Solis on Monday encouraged residents of the region to attend public meetings on the draft study planned for this month and next to “share their feelings, so we can ensure that future generations can enjoy this national treasure for years to come.”

A hearing will be held Oct. 29, from 1 p.m. to 3 p.m., at the El Monte Senior Center, 3120 N. Tyler Ave. Another public hearing will also be held Nov. 15, from 7 p.m. to 9 p.m., at Cal Poly Pomona’s Agriscapes Center, 4102 S. University Drive, Pomona.

Other hearings will be held in Santa Clarita, Palmdale and Tujunga.

After the hearings Salazar will present a recommendation to Congress for approval.

steve.scauzillo@gmail.com
626-962-8811 ext. 2237

Saving our state parks: Vote with your feet

Our state parks are under siege.
Starting Oct. 1, about 70 will close permanently. Cuts in state budget amount to $11 million this year, and another $11 million next year.

So I decided to visit one of the nearest state parks to the Valley, Chino Hills State Park. If more people would visit the parks and yes, pay the fees, there would be more money available for their upkeep. As it is, Chino Hills State Park will undergo a service reduction starting Oct. 1. It will only be open Friday, Saturday, Sunday and Mondays. What a shame.
A new bill, AB 42, will allow the state to sign off on contracts to help upkeep and manage the parks with nonprofit organizations. That may provide some long-term help. But in the short term, it will take citizens to save their parks from non use, from closures and from reduced hours of operation.

“Many of these parks were protected because citizens stepped up, ” said Elizabeth Goldstein, president of the nonprofit California State Parks Foundation. “The only choice to save these places is for citizens to step up again.”
Below are some photos I shot during my tour of Chino Hills State Park on Wednesday
But first, my The Green Way column which ran and was posted on Sept. 25, 2011:

The best way to show support for your state parks is to visit them, says the Los Angeles Conservancy. A $22 million cut in the state parks budget means that 70 parks will be closed starting Oct. 1 through July 2012. One could say the Legislature didn’t show much support. One of those is Pio Pico State Park in Whittier along with other historical parks, hence the Conservancy’s interest.

But state park closures are our fault because we don’t support them. We’d rather complain about the smog or the traffic instead of enjoying nature. If we did visit them more often, the state would have a harder time closing them. In short, the parks would have a lobbying group. The hills and trees can’t speak for themselves.

When is the last time you visited a state park? And no, don’t count a state beach. Don’t know? Here’s another question: Where is the nearest state park?

That would be Chino Hills State Park. If you’ve never heard of it or never been there, you’re not alone. But you are missing out on a feast of nature located less than a half hour away.

There’s still time to change that, although time is literally running out. Starting Oct. 1, Chino Hills State Park will no longer be open seven days a week. State cutbacks require it to close on Tuesdays, Wednesday and Thursdays.

“You used to say, `I want to go to the park’ and be able to do it. Now, that won’t be true anymore and that is so sad,” said Ron Krueper, district superintendent
for the state parks’ Inland Empire District. Krueper and Claire Schlotterbeck, co-founder of Hills for Everyone with Dave Myers back in 1980, the group that created the park, gave me a tour Wednesday morning.

Established in 1984, it is one of the newest state parks and is located between the 57 Freeway and the 71 Freeway, north of the 91 Freeway. To reach the main entrance take the Soquel Canyon Parkway exit off the 71, follow signs to Elinvar Road and Bane Canyon Road. The western entrance is off the 57 – take Lambert Road exit in Brea and go east until you see the park’s brand new Discovery Center on the right just beyond Carbon Canyon Regional Park. From here, you can hike, mountain bike, bird watch or just sit amid the five different ecosystems: grasslands, riparian (creekside), chaparral, coastal sage scrub and oak/walnut woodlands.

From the Soquel Canyon Parkway entrance, you drive a dirt road for about 1 1/2 miles. That will bring you to the 20 campsites with full bathrooms, showers and an old barn which will soon be used for educational programs. They are first-come, first served and not listed on the state’s Reserve America website. The area includes a horse camp for equestrians. This portion of the park – the old Rolling M. Ranch, was donated by the owners of El Rancho Markets.

“The park is the result of the most complicated set of acquisitions in state park history,” said Schlotterbeck. What started as 2,600 acres has grown into more than 14,000 acres of golden hills and shady canyons that stretch 31 miles from the Santa Ana Mountains to the Whittier Hills.

On my three-hour tour, I saw three snakes: gopher, racer and rattler; plenty of cottontail rabbits; two red-tailed hawks hunting in tandem; a cooper’s hawk on a burned-out walnut tree and took in a vista atop San Juan Hill (1,781 feet) that was shared by man and beast.

“When you’re in the park, you can say `Hey, am I still in Southern California?,’ said Krueper. “Because you don’t see the buildings or the people.”

You could say the best thing about Chino Hills State Park is what you don’t see.

On top of San Juan Hill, the 360-degree vista starts southeast at the Cleveland National Forest, with the Santa Ana Mountains, then after a 90-degree turn the Puente-Chino Hills appear, painting the foreground against the taller San Gabriel Mountains backdrop.

On the hill, high-tension wires crackled in the cool air. A wild gourd plant spilled onto the dirt road like the fringe of a lap blanket. But the view of classic California hills dominated.

Later, as we sat under a pepper tree near the old barn, our eyes again were drawn to those oak-and-walnut speckled hills. Our ears, to nothing.

“Just listen to that silence,” said Schlotterbeck.

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88-cent Whopper Day (8/8)

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This Burger King in Baldwin Park participated in the 88-cent Whopper day today, Aug. 8 or 8/8. The line for the drive-thru was not the only thing that wrapped around the building. Inside, the line of diners looking for a lunch deal snaked from the front of the restaurant down the back dining area and nearly out the door.

I was sitting there, checking my phone, noticing how the Dow (stock market) was dropping by 500 points and thinking, is this a sign of the times?

The Burger King off San Bernardino Road in unincorporated Covina also had a line of cars out of the parking lot. The 88-cent promotion and the Wall Street drop on the same day? I don’t think BK planned it that way. But in today’s economic climate, everyone is looking for a deal.