CALIFORNIA PUBLIC LANDS ACT THAT WILL BETTER PROTECT THE SAN GABRIEL MOUNTAINS, ADDRESS EQUITY ISSUES
Posted on 27 July 2020
By Rob Morales and John Monsen
As the US copes with the fallout of the COVID-19 pandemic, it is clear that outdoor access plays a huge role in boosting physical and mental health. Two important outdoor resources for park-poor Angelinos are the San Gabriel River and the San Gabriel Mountains. Located in the Angeles National Forest and San Gabriel Mountains National Monument, the range is a recreational oasis for over 3.5 million people a year. Our backyard national forest features a unique chaparral ecosystem that covers 700,000 acres, providing vital habitat for hundreds of species and drinking water for area cities.
While Southern Californians enjoy some of the best public lands in the country, many communities—especially communities of color—do not have the ability to reach these special places. The California Public Lands Act, now before the US Senate, would help better protect important California public lands and enhance access to them. The bill spans three regions: Northwest California, the Central Coast, and the San Gabriel Mountains. The Angeles Chapter Forest Committee, other Chapter volunteers and the Sierra Club National Field staff in Los Angeles have been collaborating for over a decade to advocate for proposals now in the Act.
One Sierra Club objective is the establishment of a 51,000-acre National Recreation Area (NRA) south of the San Gabriel Mountains National Monument, starting in the San Gabriel Valley foothills and continuing south from Azusa along the San Gabriel and Rio Hondo river corridor towards Whittier Narrows (see map). It ultimately swings east toward the Cleveland National Forest in Orange County. The Santa Fe Dam and Whittier Narrows Recreation Areas will be within its boundaries. The NRA will not impact zoning on land within it.
The California Public Lands Act includes the addition of a National Recreation Area flanking the San Gabriel River indicated in brown and expansion of the National Monument boundary to the dark green line. New and expanded wilderness is marked in orange and protected rivers in blue.
Managed by the National Park Service (NPS), the federal public land agency with the best resources and track record for interpretive services, the NRA will protect a vital wildlife corridor between the San Gabriel and Santa Ana Mountains, incorporating the vital Puente-Chino Hills corridor into its design. The NRA will offer nature education and community engagement especially beneficial to adjacent park-poor communities like Duarte, El Monte, and Covina. There will be many opportunities for collaboration between grassroot community organizations and federal land agencies like NPS. As it develops it will provide more places to walk, jog, bike, picnic, or enjoy other outdoor recreation.
Ultimately, we want to see the NRA and the East Fork of the San Gabriel River reachable by public transit from the Azusa Gold Line Station and the El Monte Transit Center. Partly at the Sierra Club’s urging, connecting the San Gabriels to transit was recently established as an objective of the San Gabriel Mountains National Monument by the Forest Service, the agency that manages it. There are also efforts afoot to connect Gold Line Stations to Mt. Wilson and the Sam Merrill Trail at the north end of Lake Street in Altadena. In the long run we hope to reduce vehicular traffic in the San Gabriels.
The National Recreation Area proposal is part of the California Public Lands Act (S.3288) passed in the House of Representatives on July 21, 2020 as an amendment to the National Defense Authorization Act. This strategy makes it more likely to pass in the Senate, which is the bill’s next stop. The Act would also expand protected Wilderness areas in the San Gabriel Mountains by 31,069 acres and designate 45.5 miles of Wild and Scenic Rivers in the San Gabriel Mountains. These are long-standing Sierra Club Forest Committee goals.
Nearby Nature Volunteers and youth from Kid City Hope Place on a hike in the San Gabriel Mountains National Monument. Nearby Nature is a national Sierra Club program. Photo credit: Roberto Morales.
The Act would complete the San Gabriel Mountains National Monument by adding 109,142 acres to it. Established by President Obama in 2014, the expanded Monument will include almost all of the historic San Gabriel Mountain range. The Monument addition is located in the Angeles National Forest east of Santa Clarita and north of foothill cities from Sylmar east to Pasadena, Altadena, Sierra Madre and Monrovia. Even in an era of austere public land budgets, the existing Monument is already having a positive effect with new efforts underway to improve species protection and recreational conditions for the highly diverse visitor base of the East Fork of the San Gabriel River (called “Cattle Canyon,” the project’s original name, on the map).
The California Public Lands Act would have impacts across California, protecting and increasing access to more than 1 million acres of public lands and well over 500 miles of rivers. The legislation incorporates three bills into one legislative package that includes the San Gabriel Mountains Foothills and Rivers Protection Act authored by Rep. Judy Chu (D-Pasadena).
The Act is now being championed by California Senator Kamala Harris and cosponsored by Senator Dianne Feinstein. The bill will be coming up soon for a vote in the Senate where it actually has a chance of passage if we put enough constructive pressure on Congress.
In a University of Southern California study, researchers found that young people in “low-income and concentrated poverty areas as well as neighborhoods with a majority of Latinos, African Americans, and Asian-Pacific Islanders, have dramatically lower levels of access to park resources than White-dominated areas of the city.” More than half of LA County’s youth population is Latinx. “The Sierra Club must boldly address inequity in access to open space,” said Liliana Griego, a member of the Forest Committee management team and Chapter ExCom. “Helping pass the California Public Lands Act is an important step in the right direction.”
The Council of Mexican Federations (COFEM) in Los Angeles joins the Sierra Club in supporting the California Public Lands Act. COFEM seeks to establish a unified voice to improve educational, health, social, and political conditions for Latino immigrants. Photo credit: John Monsen
The Sierra Club was a major force behind the 2008 launch of the San Gabriel Mountains Forever (SGMF) campaign, now Nature for All, which quickly became a regional player in the push for equity, access and protection for the San Gabriels. Nature for All is working hard to pass the California Public Lands Act. SGMF was unusual in that it featured an intentionally diverse coalition of community groups that over the years has included the City Project (civil rights), the Council of Mexican Federations (COFEM) and the Asian Pacific Policy & Planning Council (A3PCON). The groups have an equal voice alongside traditional environmental groups like the Sierra Club and the Wilderness Society. The twin focus on conservation and environmental justice has always been conceived of as synergistic, which is perhaps a model for the Angeles Chapter.
Current National Field Office efforts include coordinating with the Forest Committee and chairing Nature for All (N4A). The focus is on breaking down the barriers youth and families face when it comes to getting outside. It also prioritizes developing the next generation of environmental stewards through N4A’s Leadership Academy program and by providing Sierra Club Outdoors certified outings, leaders training opportunities and Wilderness Travel Course scholarships.
Please join the Forest Committee, the Sierra Club National Field Staff, Sierra Club volunteers, Nature for All, the Council of Mexican Federations and many others in helping us pass the California Public Lands Act!
Rob Morales -- Roberto Morales is the Sierra Club’s Sr. Organizing Representative for the National Our Wild America Campaign and is also the current chair of the Nature For All Coalition. He manages the Sierra Club’s Outdoors For All Campaign, which is working with young people to facilitate their connection to the outdoors, create diversity within the environmental movement and build the next generation of environmental stewards for our planet. Prior to this position Roberto was working with the US Forest Service as a youth programs coordinator and Youth Conservation Corp Crew Leader. Roberto is originally from Guatemala and of Mayan descent.
John Monsen -- John is President of JFM Consulting which is working to stop the Cadiz water mining project. An active Sierra Club California and Chapter volunteer, he has long been Co-Chair of the Angeles Chapter Forest Committee with friend Don Bremner. They were recipients of the Chapter’s Extraordinary Achievement Award in 2017, partly for work to establish the San Gabriel Mountains National Monument. John was a Regional Representative for the Sierra Club in Los Angeles for seven years (2003-2010) where he helped launch San Gabriel Mountains Forever (now Nature for All) in 2008 with colleagues Bill Corcoran and Juana Torres. It has been John’s pleasure over the last five years to team up with Rob Morales to, among other things, improve forest access for all, promote the East Fork project and defend our national monuments from the Trump Administration.
The Angeles Chapter of the Sierra Club welcomes your participation in its century of involvement in the enjoyment and protection of our planet's environment. The Angeles Chapter spans Los Angeles and Orange Counties in Southern California, with an extensive program of hikes/hiking, national and international travel, local conservation campaigns, political action, and programs for people of all ages.