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.

Real grass roots or just astro turf?

Pasadena Star-News report Alfred Lee has a profile running in Monday’s paper on Arcadia First!, an organization that is fighting the mall project proposed by developer Rick Caruso at the Santa Anita Park race track parking lot.

Here’s a sneak peek:

ARCADIA — Bernetta Reade knows her organization isn’t loved by everyone in town.

“There were people that would come up to me and point their finger at my face and call me all kinds of names,” she said. “It got personal. Some people took disagreeing with the project very personally.”

Reade is the executive director of Arcadia First!, an organization that has long worked to stop the upscale mall proposed by developer Rick Caruso at the Santa Anita Park racetrack parking lot.

It is made up mostly of Arcadia residents and business owners. But it is bankrolled by Westfield Corp. — which manages the Westfield Arcadia shopping mall next to the Caruso project, and has sued to stop it.

Reade herself is a paid consultant who lives in Reseda. That fact, along with the group’s association with Westfield, has led to its dismissal by some as an “AstroTurf” campaign.
“Fake grass-roots,” Mayor Robert Harbicht said. “There are a lot of people who have legitimate concerns. It’s just that Arcadia First! is essentially a front organization.”

Despite its high visibility, little is known about the group, which claims about 5,000 supporters. It will not disclose exactly how much money is given by Westfield, nor make public the names of all the members of its decision-making executive committee.

Tax returns filed by the group for the two-year period from October 2005 to September 2007 indicate the organization received $1.38 million in direct public support during that time — most of it, officials said, coming from Westfield, in addition to hundreds of other donors.

The group declared it spent about $425,000 on consulting fees; $372,000 on legal fees; $174,000 on printing and publications; $131,315 on postage and shipping; $39,330 on conferences, conventions and meetings; and $37,704 on advertising.

In addition to those revenues and expenditures, the organization declared it received in 2007 $1.2 million worth of donated “postage and printed material in support of community events and public hearings.” That was paid for directly by Westfield, Reade said, including the costs of citywide mailings of three different DVDs.

We see stuff like this all the time, where groups opposing big development projects get significant financial backing from the same business organizations that would compete with those developers….

What’s your take?

Judge ruling on Caruso project EIR today

When I worked at the Glendale News-Press, I spent a lot of time covering litigation between developer Rick Caruso (who has successfully built his Americana at Brand project) and General Growth (owners of the Glendale Galleria, who fought Caruso tooth and nail on the project, but to no avail).

It seems wherever Caruso goes, opposition follows.

In Arcadia, a project he is trying to build in the parking lot of the Santa Anita racetrack is also facing some hurdles, Star-News reporter Alfred Lee reports.

A judge is expected to decide today whether to modify or finalize a July ruling that found nearly a dozen faults in the city’s project EIR.

Arcadia takes on immigration compliance

Arcadia could soon require contractors to comply with immigration laws, Alfred Lee reports.

Compliance with migrant law urged
By Alfred Lee, Staff Writer
Article Launched: 09/03/2008 11:11:55 PM PDT

ARCADIA – In what amounts to a largely symbolic stand against hiring illegal immigrants, city officials are considering adding wording to future contracts that specifically requires contractors to comply with immigration laws.

The City Council unanimously voted Tuesday to draft language that could potentially be inserted into such contracts and preserve the city’s right to ask contractors for documentation of their employees at any point.

The move could be considered a token gesture, since the city already requires contractors to generally comply with all state and federal laws, including the Immigration Reform and Control Act of 1986.

But Mayor Robert Harbicht passionately argued that a stand needed to be made.

“This city has an opportunity to make a statement that we are not going to hire illegal aliens,” Harbicht said. “This particular thing is something that’s choking this whole region.”

The city attorney and city manager were directed to work on drafting the new contract wording, which will be brought back to council for a final decision.

The money tree

In the Arcadia arboretum, money does grow on trees. Well, those running it are spending money it like it does.

Fred Ortega reported this weekend that a county budget found that the Los Angeles
County Arboretum exceeded its operating budget by $1.5 million over the past three years.

Over a three year period, the $1 million annual budget was exceeded about $450,000 each year.

Among the findings was there was nearly $10,000 worth of expenditures that had nothing to do with arboretum purposes.

But the highlight of the story was that the chief executive officer, Mark Wourms — who didn’t return calls for comment — is leaving his position to take another arboretum position in Kentucky. 


Arcadia’s own ‘dynamic personality’ dies

A former Arcadia councilman died on Sunday, Kevin Felt reports.

ARCADIA – Four-time Arcadia Mayor Charles Gilb, who helped changed the face of the city by spearheading several key civic projects, has died, his family announced.

Gilb died Sunday at his Arcadia home from malignant melanoma. He was 83.

He had served on the City Council for 16 years, beginning in 1974.

“In Arcadia’s history there have been two dynamic personalities: one was Charles Gilb and the other was Lucky Baldwin,” said City Councilman Roger Chandler.