Council eyes future for land, water preservation
The preservation of local resources dominated discussion at the Claremont City Council meeting Tuesday night, beginning with action on the city’s potential water system acquisition.
After a two-week delay, the council lent its unanimous approval to a final environmental study relating to the possible water system purchase. The report was discussed at length at the council’s last meeting in March, with the city’s legal team asserting that the water system purchase would have no significant environmental impacts.
Despite these findings, the council opted to hold off on a decision in order to respond to concerns voiced by Golden State Water. The water company asserts that the report is inadequate and incomplete and was conducted out of order. Filing an environmental impact report before the city has identified a water system operator is backwards, said Brian LeRoy, an environmental lawyer who spoke on behalf of Golden State.
City attorneys refute their claims.
“We do not believe it triggers recirculation or any additional environmental review at this time,” said Michelle Ouellette, an environmental law attorney for the city of Claremont.
Ellen Taylor of the League of Women Voters, who has been studying the water issue for many years, said she was pleased with the council’s thoroughness and progress. Though council members in the past have opted out of buying the water system, Ms. Taylor said she is encouraged to see the council moving forward.
“Please push on and don’t get sidetracked again,” she said.
Plans for preserving local wilderness
Just as water rates weigh heavy on the minds of Claremont residents, so does the protection of the local mountainscape. Following the water discussion, the council took a look at legislation that aims to balance recreation and preservation.
More than 37 percent of the local hillside is currently protected as open space, including the Claremont Hills Wilderness Park. Local Congresswoman Judy Chu looks to add to that percentage with three new bills protecting more than 60,000 acres of the San Gabriel Mountains under the National Park Service.
The recommendation stems from a study conducted by the National Park Service (NPS). In 2003, the US Congress directed the NPS to evaluate the possibility of establishing the San Gabriel Mountains as a National Recreation Area, which would create a joint partnership with the National Park Service, the National Forest Service and other parties interested in its care.
While providing definite perks in terms of management and financing, the federal oversight has left some uneasy.
“Some of our greatest challenges here in Claremont have been the result of un-elected bodies—the California Public Utilities Commission, the regional Water Quality Authority Board, sometimes the MTA,” said Mayor Pro Tem Corey Calaycay, who also voiced his discomfort with putting any sort of public overlay over land that includes portions of private property.
The dense and confusing legislation has only added to concerns. In 2012, the NPS established several alternatives based on its study, including the option to designate areas along the San Gabriel Mountains and adjacent foothills of the Angeles National Forest as one collective National Recreation Area. The Claremont City Council and many others supported this alternative, which they thought “provided the most support to enhance the environmental and recreational goals of the [National Recreation Area] without infringing upon local control.”
However, the park service’s final recommendation, released in April 2013, wiped that option from the list. The NPS removed the Angeles National Forest from the previously suggested recreation area, and instead proposes that the foothills and San Gabriel River be added to the already existing Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area much farther west. City officials were further concerned that the recommendation was inconsistent with feedback received.
Congressmember Chu seeks to revive the original proposal. Though supportive of the concept of an NRA, Claremont officials remain hesitant about supporting some of the congresswoman’s other proposals—including labeling additional areas of the San Gabriel Mountains as National Wilderness Areas and Wild and Scenic Rivers—until more public feedback is received. Several individuals from a group dubbed “San Gabriel Mountains Forever” urged the council to reconsider its delay.
“The Sierra Club and San Gabriel Mountains Forever have worked with thousands of residents in the community who support all three designations,” said George Sanchez-Tello, who noted that 95 percent of the 12,000 people who commented on the NPS study were supportive of the Wild and Scenic River designation.
“It’s disingenuous to think that this has not been studied and that furthermore the public has not commented on this,” he ccontinued.
However, the council remained unconvinced. Councilmember Opanyi Nasiali and Mayor Pro Tem Corey Calaycay voted against all three proposals. The remaining councilmembers added their support to the concept of the NRA, while holding off on recommending the other two designations until further research could be conducted.
“I understand there has been a lot of public comment on this, but I think we need to proceed forward judiciously so we can come to a safe landing on this,” said Councilmember Larry Schroeder.