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.

Weekend links

Live downstream from the Whittier Narrows or Santa Fe Dams? You have reason to worry, according to a new report.

Speaking of water, one of the areas most prominent local innovators for water projects died recently. Tim Jochem spent almost a decade as the general manager of the Upper San Gabriel Valley Municipal Water District.

California is leading the pack nationally when it comes to implementing federal health care reform, and has already passed legislation and allocated federal resources to do so.

Weekend roundup and a brief glimpse into the future

For those of you busy watching the World Cup over the weekend, I got your local news for you right here.

How the free environmental pass to the Industry Stadium is affecting others.

A state water agency approved a set of tough new environmental regulations for the Los Angeles River on Friday that cities say could cost them billions.

San Gabriel Valley officials met Friday with the top state assembly Democrat to discuss a budget proposal that could bring hundreds of thousands of dollars to local cities.

In the wake of the death last week of a 15-year-old girl, organizers on Friday for the second time called off an unrelated rave expected to draw 5,000 partiers.

As for what’s to come this week, San Dimas and Glendora both have city council meetings tomorrow.

On Glendora’s agenda
is a request to change the City Clerk’s administrative assistant position to Deputy City Clerk and increasing the position’s salary by about $11,000 a year. The city hopes this can help to innovate and better services from the department.

The San Dimas City Council and Planning Commission are having a joint meeting to discuss the ongoing City Hall renovation project and the potential NJD Project Development in the northern foothills.

Two final items of note. Congratulations to my all time favorite baseball player Tim Salmon. Salmon, who has the most career home runs at 299 without ever appearing in an All-Star game, was the MVP of the All-Star Celebrity Softball Game in Anaheim Sunday.

Secondly, for your viewing pleasure and to stay fresh on Internet lingo, this is so double rainbow.

Email: | Twitter: @dgtedford @sgvtribune | Facebook: SGVTribune

Valley news over the weekend

Lots of local government stories over the weekend, both by the Trib and even the Times, which featured a story about El Monte.

Valley County is hiking its rates for water users in Irwindale, Azusa, West Covina and Baldwin Park. Read more.

The owners of the indoor swap meet, Covina Mini Mall, finally came forward and agreed to fix 39 code violations. Read more.

Is horse racing dead? Not yet, but just about. Read more.

Monrovia City Hall will remove brush from public property, much to the relief of the residents, who were previously told it was the responsibility of homeowners. Read more.

The late Thelma Powell, whose husband opened Powell Camera Shop in Covina in 1952, was “one of those sweet little ladies,” writes Martiza Velasquez. Read more.

Overhaul of the 10 and 605 freeway interchanges could start a year earlier than expected. Read more.

Public safety in El Monte could take another hit, only this time around, its the fire fighters. One of the city’s four fire stations could be closed as a result of a growing deficit. Read more.

Meanwhile, the LA Times writes an overview this weekend of El Monte, its history, and how the city has been hit especially hard by the recession. Read more.

Monterey Park officials scratch head wondering why bus ridership is falling in their city as it climbs everywhere else. Read more.

Fellow loses premier post on MWD

For those who care about water news, here is an update that some may find interesting:

At the first board meeting with Director Al Contreras taking over as President, the Upper San Gabriel Valley Municipal District board voted 3-1 to replace Tony Fellow on the board for the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California. Fellow was the vice chairman and was Chairman Timothy Brick’s right-hand man.

Fellow was replaced with Bill Robinson, who has served as 20 years on the Upper District but never on the MWD. Fellow served 16 years on the MWD, and has been on the Upper District for 18 years.

President Contreras said he wanted to give the other people on the Upper District a chance to serve on the different boards. But some think that the move just shot Upper District and the San Gabriel Valley in the foot when it comes to water issues.

As Brick put it, “This is all politics. But now Upper District will have to get in the back of line.”

Weekly Leftovers installment…

In the spirit of the New Year, this week’s Leftovers column looked at the “Top 5” news stories based on reader comments and interest on the blog:

It’s 2009 and there’s no telling what tidings the new year will bring our local cities. But before we dive in, let’s take a look back.

Here’s a list of five stories that garnered the most comments and interest from blog readers in 2008 (in no particular order):

*In May, accusations surfaced that El Monte Mayor Ernie Gutierrez showed up at a sister city event drunk and shouting vulgarities. The allegations kicked up a whirlwind in City Hall, and criticism from residents who questioned Gutierrez’s ethical standards as an elected officials. An in-house investigation cleared Gutierrez of the allegations.

But soon after, the mayor was arrested on allegations he was involved in a domestic argument with someone he was dating — and not his wife. Charges weren’t filed, but some City Council members expressed disappointment over the incident. Gutierrez eventually was removed from a commission over the arrest.

*Three Valleys Municipal Water District member Xavier Alvarez was found guilty in July of violating the Stolen Valor Act of 2005, which makes it a crime to lie about receiving certain medals.

He was sentenced to three years probation, and was fined $5,000 for falsely claiming to be a Medal of Honor recipient.

Alvarez continues to sit on the board and faces more legal trouble. He faces three felony charges for grand theft of personal property, insurance fraud and misappropriating public money.

*South El Monte Mayor Blanca Figueroa recently received international acclaim when her colleagues voted to ban her from working in her City Hall office past 11 p.m.

Figueroa has a habit of working late — sometimes as late as 3 a.m. — and some of her colleagues have accused her of living her in office.

She’s denied those claims, but does admit to making the office her own. She decorates it with accolades, photos, beta fish, plants, a plasma television and snacks.

*A Montebello trash contract dispute that already was getting a lot of attention took an interesting turn when a group leaked documents detailing City Councilman Robert Urteaga’s criminal history on the Internet.

In 1998, he pleaded no contest to grand theft of personal property totaling $30,000, according to court documents.

Urteaga said his conviction dated back to his years as a UCLA student when he was 21. Putting himself through school, he took up sports gambling to make extra money. He said he was remorseful.

*Baldwin Park school board member Sergio Corona
is serving three years probation for a misdemeanor charge stemming from his May arrest.

The board’s youngest member pleaded guilty in October to resisting arrest and obstructing a police officer. He was sentenced to one day in jail, fined $150 and was ordered to pay $100 in restitution fees, she said.

Corona, 34, was Tased and arrested on May 22 after allegedly breaking the windows of a home on Sandstone Street while shirtless and sweaty.

Following the incident, Corona then faced a myriad of criticism from parents and City Council members, especially over initial police reports that said Corona admitted he had smoked methamphetamine and marijuana the night he was arrested.
Subsequent toxicology reports did not support those allegations and Corona denied the claims. He did, however, say he took “full responsibility” for the arrest.

$100,000 water director to be sworn in tonight

Former Central Basin Water District Director Charles Trevino will be sworm in tonight as the Upper San Gabriel Valley Municipal Water District director at its office in El Monte. The event is basically just for Trevino’s supporters, friends and family. Trevino replaces long timer Frank Forbes, who served on the board for nearly 16 years.

Trevino, who resigned from the Central Basin water board in 2003, is the same candidate who stated he was prepared to raise up to $100,000 to get elected, acccording to a story I wrote on Sept. 27, 2008.

“Money is always a key factor in anything political,” said Charles Trevino , who as of June collected $39,000 and is the top fundraiser among the candidates running for the El Monte-based Upper San Gabriel Valley Municipal Water District. “I am prepared to spend between $80,000 to $100,000 if I have to.”

When the campaign records become available in January, we’ll just have to see how much it really took him.

Weekend update

Few stories of interest spotted here and there:

Rowland Heights efforts for cityhood failed, for now. Read here.

El Monte hopes that its more than $43 million transit village will come to fruition. Read more.

Three Valleys Water Board Director Xavier Alvarez is facing three felony charges. His arraignment was postponed on Thursday. Read more.

After a year hiatus, the Covina Christmas parade returns tonight beginning at 6:30 p.m. Read more.

Moe still missing. Read more.

Surpising election results

There were some suprising results out of the water district elections. Three incumbents were ousted from their seats:

Three Valleys Municipal Water District
John Mendoza Votes: 7,833 Percent : 55.52
JW “Fred” Lantz Votes: 6,315 Percent: 44.48 (Incumbent)

Mendoza was also running for Pomona City Coucil. Lantz served on the board since 2000.

Upper San Gabriel Valley Municipal Water District, Division 2
Charles Trevino Votes: 15,615 Percent: 44.45
Clarence Wong Votes: 9,214 Percent: 26.23
Frank Forbes Votes: 7,138 Percent: 20.32 (Incumbent)
Arthur Munos Votes: 3,165 Percent: 9.01

Incumbent Frank Forbes, 84, sat on the board for 16 years. Trevino previously served on the Central Basin Water District and now works for the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California.

Upper San Gabriel Valley Municipal Water District, Division 2
Ed Chavez Votes: 18,653 Percent: 53.04
Leon Garcia Votes: 12,221 Percent: 34.75 (Incumbent)
Lizet Angulo Votes: 4,297 Percent: 12.22

Leon Garcia, who was appointed to the board in 2005 and then was elected in 2006, was ousted by former Assemblyman Ed Chavez.

To get final election results, go here.