Cities, water agencies raise concerns about National Recreation Area proposal

Water agencies, cities raise concerns about Park Service proposal

More than 100 people attend meeting in San Dimas
SAN DIMAS – Powerful water interests and conservative members of cities in Los Angeles County raised numerous concerns Tuesday about proposed legislation that would grant the National Park Service power to manage portions of the foothills, Puente Hills, and San Gabriel and Rio Hondo rivers.

While plans to establish a National Recreation Area as a way to funnel more resources for recreation along the rivers and in the Angeles National Forest have been around for 10 years, this marked the first time these groups have publicly listed deep-seated concerns that stopped short of objections.

If the federal government were to block off portions of the river, either as a recreation area or as a scenic river designation, it would curtail water supplies to 1.6 million residents in the eastern part of the county, said Tony Zampiello, the executive officer of the Main San Gabriel Basin Watermaster, the court-appointed overseer of groundwater pumping and recharge. Zampiello also spoke on behalf of the San Gabriel Valley Water Association.

He said the association has retained an attorney to protect members’ water rights and said new recreation projects along the rivers could require water agencies to make up the loss of recharge water with expensive, imported water from Northern California that would cost $30 million a year.

“We have no objection to theĀ designation as long as it doesn’t impact water flows, water rights and water quality,” Zampiello said during a presentation at San Dimas City Hall. He and others spoke at a three-hour informational meeting hosted by the San Gabriel Valley Council of Governments.

More than 100 people attended the meeting. An overflow crowd stood in the back even after extra chairs were added to accommodate more people.

Since April, the NRA proposal has been losing steam. That’s when the U.S. Department of Interior and National Park Service released its recommendation to Congress for a scaled-down version of a long-proposed National Recreation Area overlaying local wild areas. It would include the San Gabriel Mountain foothills, the river areas south to Pico Rivera and the western Puente Hills but excludes the Angeles National Forest.

The recommendation, contained in the final San Gabriel Watershed and Mountains Special Resource Study, advocates an NRA of only about 50,000 acres, one-tenth the size of the 581,500-acre NRA proposed in “Alternative D” that encompassed nearly the entire Angeles National Forest in addition to the rivers and Puente Hills.

The larger plan is supported by a majority of residents who attended meetings from 2009 to 2012, 23 Southern California members of Congress, the county Board of Supervisors and the San Gabriel Mountains Forever group, a nonprofit coalition of residents, environmental groups and faith-based groups.

At the end of Tuesday’s workshop, San Dimas Councilman Denis Bertone, a longtime regional environmental voice, said the water agencies’ concerns need to be addressed.

“The Wilderness Society, the San Gabriel Mountains Forever group have some work to do with the water agencies,” Bertone said.

Glendora Councilwoman Judy Nelson addressed the group, saying she was concerned the NPS would mute the voices of local cities. Nelson said the NPS plan for governance of a recreation area “is not helpful to our ability to maintain local control.”

Nelson, and the city of Glendora, called for a governance body to be made up of “at least 50 percent of local government entities that lie within the designated boundaries of the San Gabriel NRA.”

She also called on Rep. Judy Chu, D-Pasadena, to allow local government to help draft the legislation. The proposal “could have more negative unintended consequences to our water rights, our businesses and to our recreation users,” Nelson testified.

Chu’s aide Brian Urias told the audience the congresswoman hopes to have a bill in late fall. “Nothing has been drafted yet. You could say the congresswoman is on a listening tour,” Urias said.

Rosemead Councilwoman Margaret Clark also expressed concerns about water shortages. She and Nelson agreed that Chu should not combine the issues of a NRA and a scenic river designation into one bill, but preferred separate pieces of legislation.

Others in attendance expressed concerns over the federal government taking property and requiring additional regulations for cities and businesses.

Belinda Faustinos, who spoke for the Trust for Public Land, said an NRA is not the same thing as a national park. With no federal land, the Park Service would not have any power over land-use decisions, nor would it add a single new regulatory requirement.

She said the proposal would bring in rangers, planners and other experts from the NPS to augment recreational sites, such as Pio Pico State Historic Park in Whittier, which is closed 90 percent of the time. “If the park service were to staff this, imagine the possibilities,” she said.

One thing all sides agreed on was removing any reference to the Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area. A linkage to the Santa Monica Mountains was soundly rejected by most who attended the meeting and by Chu, whose aide said Chu’s legislation would create an independent NRA.

Bertone, part of the SGVCOG’s new ad hoc committee on the recreation area, said the committee will develop a report with recommendations to the governing board. Its first meeting is slated for 6:30 p.m. Aug. 12 at El Monte Community Center, 3130 Tyler Ave.

Hacienda Heights/La Puente school board called ‘racist,’ self-serving in public report

Report gauges the district strengths, weaknesses in an effort to recruit a new superintendent
By Steve Scauzillo, Staff Writer
@stevscaz on Twitter

In a raw, highly critical report, parents, staff and teachers lashed out at the Hacienda La Puente Unified School District school board, some calling them “racist,” disrespectful to the community, and at times basing their decisions on personal agendas, favoritism and friendships instead of what is best for students.

The report, released over the objections of one board member Thursday night at a special school board meeting, is part of a process taken by the board to help it choose a successor to former superintendent Barbara Nakaoka, who retired after 42 years with the district on June 30.

The report, tabulated from 17 hours of meetings of anonymous comments from 199 people, said the next superintendent would have to try to tame an often divided, politically charged board that has “hidden agendas” by standing up to the board and saying “no” when he or she is right.

Filling the shoes of Nakaoka, 65, who did not attend the meeting, is a tough task. The report said some wanted the next superintendent to be a lot like her. A majority of one group suggested the board choose “a Nakaoka clone,” or someone with a breadth of experience in the classroom and as an administrator but who is “visible,” “friendly” and will “put her foot down” when needed.

The participants were described as passionate, involved in the district, and even “angry” at times, said the consultant.

“When you do this, it won’t make anybody happy,” said Frank Cosca, president of The Cosca Group, which conducted the meetings and produced the initial report for the board. Cosca’s agency was paid $26,000 to gauge what the community and the board wants in a new superintendent, and to recruit candidates.
The report listed many district positives, leading with a fiscally sound management approach that produced zero furlough days, a diverse district and staff, dedicated teachers and high academic achievement. HLPUSD’s average API score is 814 (out of 1,000), considered excellent. The board’s priority goal is to stem the flow of students from the district and address declining enrollment. Sometimes, parents send their children to Troy High School in Fullerton, a magnet school that recruits the cream of the crop from the eastern San Gabriel Valley. The board wanted a superintendent who “understands the role of the board and is not afraid to speak up and give the board advice.”

The board addressed a key issue that has plagued the two-cities district for decades: the divide between schools in La Puente and in Hacienda Heights. Commenters in Groups 7 and 10 wrote the board favors Hacienda Heights over La Puente and doesn’t provide equal programs at all high schools, according to the report. A majority of commenters in Group 7 wrote the board shows “racial favoritism/bias” when deciding on school staffing and projects.

After Board President Jay Chen insisted names be redacted, to which Cosca reluctantly and only partially agreed, the report mentions criticism of Los Altos High School leadership but specific names were removed. However, one group in the report, talking about racial bias, said Chen promoted college preparatory workshops and advertised to schools that excluded La Puente High and Workman High, something Chen said was not true.

“I held the last two college workshops in La Puente,” he said Friday. Chen said while a workshop in 2010 was held at Wilson High School, he held workshops in 2011 and 2012 at La Puente High, and one in 2009 at Workman High.

During the meeting, he called the issue a “perception problem,” but later made it a priority of the new superintendent to create a “one district sense of unity rather than a north-south divide.”

A small group in the audience reacted when Chen made his comments. One of them, Gilda L. Ochoa, a professor of sociology and Chicano/Latino studies at Pomona College who lives in La Puente, said many in the Latino community are deeply concerned about the divide. She said it starts at the top — three of the five board members are from Hacienda Heights.

“I am concerned on a number of levels on the issue of inequality. The school district is very unequal,” Ochoa said after the meeting. “There is more attention to Hacienda Heights than La Puente. They say it is a perception. It is not perception, it is reality.”

Recruitment letters will go out after being approved by the president and vice president of the board. Those candidates from within the district will no longer be treated differently as originally proposed by the board. The board ruled they, too, must submit resumes, as outside candidates.

Another change to the process came after Cosca raised concerns that board members and staff were calling him in an effort to influence the process. The board agreed not to call Cosca with concerns unless a member had a question. “No board member should be contacting you guys; no staff members should be contacting you guys and influencing the process,” said board member Anthony Duarte.

Chen said Costa and him had phone conversations about redacting the report to protect employees. Chen was disappointed in the report, calling it a regurgitation of comments without much analysis. “This isn’t about people airing grievances about employees. This is about finding a superintendent,” he said.