President Obama was asked by a local congresswoman to exercise his executive powers to declare 600,000 acres of the San Gabriel Mountains a national monument, a unilateral action that would bypass Congressional approval.
Out of frustration for the slow pace of her bill, Rep. Judy Chu, D-Pasadena, announced in a news conference Monday that she has had discussions with the White House to act alone and do essentially what her bill proposes — add more federal resources to the heavily-used Angeles and San Bernardino national forests for better recreation, trail upkeep and trash removal.
Chu asked her supporters to put pressure on the White House to support a San Gabriel Mountains National Monument designation.
“Let’s call upon the administration to act and help us finally turn this vision into reality,” Chu said. On Wednesday, Chu picked up support from Reps. Grace Napolitano, D-West Covina, Adam Schiff, D-Glendale, and Linda Sanchez, D-Whittier, who wrote a joint letter in support. “We strongly urge President Obama to declare the Angeles National Forest a national monument,” wrote Napolitano.
U.S. Forest Service will hold a public meeting on Tuesday at the Baldwin Park Performing Arts Center to hear from resource, cultural and preservation experts from both the Angeles and San Bernardino forests and to allow for public comment on the proposal.
“We’ve pitched it (to the Obama Administration). They are positively inclined,” Chu said.
In June, Chu authored HR 4858, the San Gabriel National Recreation Area Act, which is sitting in the House Subcommittee on Public Lands and Environmental Regulation. Chu said it could take years for the bill to make it to the floor for a vote and cited a just-released public opinion poll which found 80 percent of county residents polled support preserving the mountains and improving their aesthetics.
Asking the president to preserve natural and historic places through the Antiquities Act would be a first step toward establishing the national recreation area for the mountains. Later, an adopted bill would add the San Gabriel and Rio Hondo rivers and the Puente-Chino Hills to the NRA. A national monument only includes federal lands.
So far, Obama has established 11 national monuments, the last one was the Organ Mountains-Desert Peaks National Monument in south-central New Mexico, established on May 21. While 16 presidents have named national monuments since the law was written in 1906, the action could be viewed as controversial.
“This has been studied for months and there is opposition and support. It is very concerning to have something bypassing the process,” said Margaret Clark, a Rosemead city councilwoman who has voiced concerns over the NRA proposal.
Another vocal opponent, Glendora Councilwoman Judy Nelson, was surprised to learn Chu was asking the president for a national monument. Nelson seemed to prefer the legislative process as a way for cities and landowners to provide input on issues of local control and property rights.
“It sounds to be an attempt to bypass Congress,” Nelson said Monday. “I don’t know if this is including the will of the people.”
But the San Gabriel Mountains Forever, which includes Glendora resident and philanthropist Art Ludwick, former senior vice president of Rain Bird sprinklers which started in Glendora, supports the national recreation area and the national monument designation as a first-step.
A San Gabriel Mountain National Monument would protect the wild portions of the San Gabriel River, which supplies one-third of the county’s drinking water, according to the group. It would also preserve natural areas and threatened species such as the Nelson’s big horn sheep and the mountain yellow-legged frog. It would provide a better experience for the area’s 3 million annual visitors, the group said.
“What people care about is will the place be protected? And will the recreational areas be enhanced? People want to see simple things like more trash being picked up, better staffing and more partnerships,” said Daniel Rossman, chair of the group.
Mark Yelton, the manager of Camp Williams, a mobile home park in the forest along the East Fork of the San Gabriel River, said summertime campers invade the area but leave their trash behind, including diapers that float downstream into the camp.
He was of two minds about inviting more federal agencies. He thinks it would help to have additional manpower but worried that a national monument is a step toward becoming a national park, forcing Camp Williams residents off their land.
Joshua Tree National Park was first a national monument. Today, the new Cesar E. Chavez National Monument in Keene, Calif., is run by the National Park Service and is free to the public.
Rossman said all current activities such as hunting, off-road vehicle riding in designated areas, hiking and camping in marked areas would remain legal in an NRA or a national monument.
Republican Jack Orswell, who is running against Chu in the November election, said he would like to see improvements to the mountain campgrounds and trails but that Chu’s proposal raises questions. “Now Judy Chu apparently wants to avoid the discussion and avoid answering the questions by having President Obama declare the area as a national monument,” he wrote in an e-mailed response.
Instead, Orswell wants to keep the Angeles National Forest jurisdiction intact and work with the House Natural Resources Committee to get the U.S. Forest Service, which manages the area, adequate funding.
Rossman said if the president were to declare a national monument, “the administration would seek as best it can to immediately enhance resources.”
Staff Writer Jason Henry contributed to this article.