The Los Angeles City Council approved a resolution Wednesday to support a federal legislative package aimed at protecting more than 1 million acres of public lands in Los Angeles, Northwest California and the Central Coast.
The Protecting Unique and Beautiful Landscapes by Investing in California (PUBLIC) Lands Act, introduced by Democratic Sen. Alex Padilla in May 2021, would designate an additional 600,000 acres of California land as wilderness, including 30,000 acres in the San Gabriel range, as well as more than 853 miles of California streams as new wild and scenic rivers, including 45 miles in the San Gabriel area.
One of three bills within the package, the San Gabriel Mountains Foothills and Rivers Protection Act, would expand the San Gabriel Mountains National Monument by more than 109,000 acres to include part of the western Angeles National Forest. It would also create a National Recreation Area along the San Gabriel Valley foothills and the Rio Hondo and San Gabriel River corridors.
That bill aims to increase equitable access to public lands for the 17 million people in the Los Angeles County area, which is one of the most park-poor, densely populated and polluted areas in the nation.
“Despite the proximity to natural lands, many people in Los Angeles lack adequate access to open spaces for recreational opportunities,” the City Council resolution, introduced by Councilmen Paul Koretz and John Lee, reads. “The PUBLIC Lands Act is guided by input from local communities and the scientific community, and advances the goal of conserving 30% of public lands and waters by year 2030.”
The package has already passed the U.S. House of Representatives and was championed by Rep. Judy Chu, D-Pasadena, who said “the Los Angeles area is one of the most park-poor areas of the country, despite the presence of the gorgeous rivers, forests, and mountains of the San Gabriels right in our backyard.”
“House passage was the first step, and now I am grateful to Senator Padilla for working to advance the San Gabriel Mountains Foothills and Rivers Protection Act through the Senate and to President Biden’s desk,” Chu said last May.
The Senate bills were co-sponsored by California’s senior senator, Dianne Feinstein, also a Democrat.
“From lush forests to majestic deserts to scenic coasts, California’s iconic landscapes have few rivals,” Feinstein said at the time. “In light of climate change, our growing population and challenges to the flora and fauna, protecting these special places is even more important. I’m pleased to partner with Senator Padilla on this effort and look forward to working with our colleagues to pass this bill.”
The Northwest California Wilderness, Recreation and Working Forests Act would protect about 262,000 acres of public lands by designating them as wilderness, as well as 379 miles of rivers. It would also restore forest and fish habitat and aid the cleanup of lands and waters that have been impacted by trespass marijuana grows.
According to Padilla’s office, that bill would also help wildfire resiliency in the northwest region by requiring federal agencies to develop coordinated fire management plans with input from communities.
The final bill, the Central Coast Heritage Protection Act, would designate 288,000 acres of public lands in the Los Padres National Forest and Carrizo Plain National Monument as wilderness, along with 159 miles of streams as wild and scenic rivers. It would also establish a Condor National Scenic Trail for 400 miles from Los Angeles to Monterey County, enhancing equitable access to the Los Padres National Forest.
“The Central Coast is home to some of the most beautiful public lands in America. It’s up to us to be good stewards of the environment and the Central Coast Heritage Protection Act will conserve over 250,000 acres of public land for future generations to inherit and enjoy,” said Rep. Salud Carbajal, D-Santa Barbara, who led the Central Coast bill in the House of Representatives.
“It’s crucial that we act now to permanently protect the great outdoors, which provide invaluable local watersheds and opportunities for outdoor recreation that support our health and our economy,” Carbajal said last year. “I thank Senator Padilla and Senator Feinstein for their leadership in this important fight to preserve our public lands.”