President Barack Obama is expected on Friday to announce an executive order declaring 346,000 acres of land in the San Gabriel Mountains northeast of Los Angeles as a national monument.
The designation will culminate a years-long effort by some activists and members of Congress, most recently Rep. Judy Chu, D-El Monte. Chu has proposed including more than 600,000 acres of the San Gabriel Mountains in a national monument.
“I am overjoyed and thrilled,” Chu said of Obama’s planned proclamation. “This is an historic moment for the Los Angeles area, and it has been a long time coming. The San Gabriel Mountains are a treasure, providing 70 percent of the open space for Angelenos and attracting more than 3 million visitors a year.
“But without providing adequate funding, the gorgeous woods and waters are marred by trash and graffiti while many trails have become dangerous and lack appropriate signage,” she said.
In an apparent effort to appease critics, however, Obama’s executive order is expected to exclude some areas, such as Mount Baldy and Wrightwood, where opponents feared they would lose access to pristine areas, the Los Angeles Times reported on its website.
“We are thrilled that President Obama is protecting the people and the San Gabriels,” said Robert Garcia of The City Project, an advocacy group that works to ensure access to parks to enhance “livability for all.”
“Healthy green space is an environmental justice, health and civil rights issue,” Garcia said. “We look forward to working with the president and the people, Congresswoman Chu, the U.S. Forest Service, the National Park Service and our diverse allies to make the dream of a healthy green San Gabriel Mountains and Watershed come true.”
The City Project has scheduled a community celebration for 3 p.m. Friday at Madrid Middle School in El Monte.
Obama is scheduled to make the announcement during an event at 12:40 p.m. Friday at Frank G. Bonelli Regional Park in San Dimas. The president is scheduled to arrive in Los Angeles at 2 p.m. Thursday for a discussion on the economy and an evening fundraiser.
White House counselor John Podesta told The Washington Post, “What we want to ensure, and what the president has focused on, is that all Americans, and the great diversity of Americans, both have the opportunity to access these important places and can experience them (in perpetuity).”
Opponents, including Assemblyman Tim Donnelly, R-Claremont, have blasted the proposed national monument, saying it would threaten public access to the land. He said original plans would have threatened the Mount Baldy Ski Resort and Burro Canyon Shooting Park.
Los Angeles County Supervisor Mike Antonovich has also criticized the proposal, saying Chu failed to gain support for the idea of a national monument in Congress and has now “bypassing” the public by encouraging Obama to act through an executive order.
Antonovich also pointed to a report he requested in September and in which county public works and fire officials expressed concerns about a monument designation on water resources, firefighting efforts, flood control facilities and roads.
“The list of issues is alarming,” Antonovich said. “We have been told repeatedly that this designation will have no impacts on county operations, yet our county departments immediately identified multiple areas of concern. We now have more questions than answers, and unfortunately, we will be unable to definitely determine the potential impacts of a designation prior to the president’s ill-advised executive order.”
The land is managed by the U.S. Forest Service, but critics contend the agency’s lack of adequate funding has led to problems such as mounting trash and crime. According to The Times, the national monument designation will mean the Forest Service will prioritize visitors’ safety and natural resources protection while making improvements such as signage, restrooms, parking areas and educational kiosks.
Obama has used his executive authority — avoiding a debate in Congress — about a dozen times previously to designate a monument.
— City News Service