Here is the whole quote from John Muir: God has cared for these trees, saved them from drought, disease, avalanche and a thousand tempests and floods. But he cannot save them from fools.
As I write this morning, the oak grove in Arcadia is being leveled by bulldozers. These beautiful trees and all the habitat they support can never be replaced in our lifetimes or even the lifetimes of your children. According to the EIR (Environment Impact Report), the 11 acre site was home to 179 oak trees, a few dozen sycamores, 37 species of birds (3 of them considered “sensitive”), 15 sensitive plant species and 3 sensitive reptile species along with coyotes, deer and an occasional black bear. I thought I would take this time to recap my own personal assessment of how this came to happen and then maybe I will be able to turn my attention to other things instead of dwelling on this terrible loss.
The Santa Anita Dam was built in the 1920’s and I think it had engineering updates in the 1950’s (and apparently none since then). The reservoir created by the dam provides drinking water to the cities of Sierra Madre and Arcadia. The dam also provides flood control to these two cities. It is an important feature of modern life in this area. The dam occasionally needs to be cleared of accumulated debris and sediment (especially now due to the recent Station Fire) and if not done, the accumulation of dirt and debris causes the valves of the dam to be unable to operate. Everyone who has been fighting for the salvation of the oak woodland in Arcadia is keenly aware of these issues and supports the effort to do the required work to the dam in a timely and cost-effective way. That group of people includes scientists and engineers, city planners and historians.
The current plans for the work to be done to the dam seem to date back to May of 2007 when the Santa Anita Reservoir Sediment Removal CEQA Initial Study was done. In this report, the area where the oak grove was (until this morning) was described thus: “characterized by native vegetation” without further elaboration. The report says that the Upper Sediment Dump Site (which was probably full of oaks and sycamores at one time — I’m just speculating) is already filled to capacity and the Lower Sediment Dump Site is filled halfway to capacity.
From what I understand, the LA County Department of Public Works came up with a nifty conveyor belt idea to move the sediment from the dam to the sediment dump sites as a way to reduce truck traffic on residential streets. The conveyor belt is 5 – 10′ wide. This may have been in anticipation of an outcry by local residents objecting to the truck traffic or it may have been in response to actual complaints. Either way, I think most people, whether they live in the immediate neighborhood or not, would be in favor of reducing the truck traffic.
After the CEQA report came an Environmental Impact Report (EIR). The EIR makes mention of a meeting in 2007 that was attended by about 10 local residents who raised concerns about the environmental impacts including concerns about hauling, air quality and noise (i.e. truck traffic) as well as aesthetic issues. In California, “The lead agency must make a draft EIR available to public review and comment before a final EIR is approved.” (Wikipedia) Usually notice is published in a local newspaper. The EIR was released in May, 2009. Ironically, from what has been reported by others who have studied the EIR (Environmental Impact Report, see below) in more depth than I have, the amount of space created to dump debris will be so much more than what is needed to contain the debris from the Santa Anita Dam that sediment from other regional dams and debris basins (up to seven) will be TRUCKED IN to be dumped in this newly created wasteland!!!
From what I can tell, this project received virtually no public attention in the past couple of years, even as plans to proceed moved forward. I first became aware of this issue a little more than a month ago when the imminent destruction was reported in the Pasadena Star News and it started popping up in local blogs. Around that time a 30-day moratorium was granted to allow further study of alternatives to destroying the oak grove. As the moratorium was drawing to a close, about a dozen and a half local blogs all posted about the situation in a show of solidarity on January 7. That same day, the LA County Department of Public Works released it’s follow up report as they were preparing to begin work today, January 12. Their report, unsurprisingly, rejected all alternatives that had been proposed, some of which were studied by qualified engineers hired by local concerned citizens trying to prevent this tragedy. I think the LADPW engineers are too enthralled with their own plan and special conveyor belt idea to be open-minded to other ideas — they are too invested in it at this point. About 25 concerned people showed up at the LA County Board of Supervisor’s weekly meeting yesterday to try to get another short moratorium so that further discussion could take place before work was to begin. Since they did not add this item to their agenda for the meeting, despite numerous phone calls and emails to the Supervisors, it was legally impossible for them to take any action on the matter (isn’t that convenient for them?). Nonetheless, many people addressed the issue during public comments and made impassioned appeals to stay the work, all to no effect. The Supervisors seemed less than interested (although it was pointed out by one of the protestors that Mike Antonovich was the original author of the LA County oak tree ordinance in 1982 — the very ordinance that is in place to protect oak trees).
Michael Antonovich entered a motion into the record (apparently to be taken up at next weeks’ meeting) to implement a revegetation / mitigation plan to deal with this area immediately following the completion of the sediment dumping project. None of those attending the meeting were the least bit impressed with this gesture. Here is an excerpt: ” Set aside $650,000 of LACFCD [LA County Flood Control District] funds for the creation of an on-site oak woodland habitat (revegetation / mitigation plan) reviewed and approved by DFG for the Lower Santa Anita SPS. The on-site woodland habitat is to be implemented immediately following project completion.” I find this plan to be incredibly insulting. Why should we spend $650,000 of tax payer dollars to “recreate” a poor substitution for the very thing we could have just preserved FOR FREE? A “revegetation” will never (in our lifetimes) come close to replicating what we have just destroyed and I honestly have no confidence that the project will ever truly be funded, given the dire condition of the state and county finances.
I want to give credit to a few people who took leadership roles to try to prevent this horrible situation: Camron Stone and his entire family are local residents of the area where the oak grove is located and have been out front in organizing opposition to this plan; Glen Owens is a real estate agent and city planner for the City of Monrovia, as well as a local historian, and he has mobilized support and even put up his own money to hire a lawyer to attempt to get an injunction or restraining order to stop the destruction; Barbara Eisenstein of the blog Weeding Wild Suburbia has written extensively about this issue over the past month; David Czamanske of the Sierra Club mobilized resources and stood at the gates this morning with other protestors to try to prevent the trucks and bulldozers from proceeding to their work; Matt Burch, editor of Arcadia Patch has been consistently on the case. Many others have played lead roles in trying to spread the word about this catastrophe and their names and words can be found in the blog rolls and posts (list here). Notably, the LA Times did not mention this situation even once until the story appeared on the homepage of the website this morning (with a dramatic “it leads if it bleeds” photo of a bulldozer), which I find to be a complete abdication of their responsibility to the residents of LA County and their dwindling readership.
As a follow up thought: I know that Environmental Impact Reports are made public specifically for the purpose of bringing the public in on these projects at an early stage. But I have concerns about the weak requirements for notifying the public about them and for the lack of public involvement at the right time when it could make a difference. And maybe I have concerns about the lack of public involvement in general. The “public” is usually busy going about its own business and cannot be expected to take an interest in every EIR that appears which would probably be a full time job unto itself. Can there be a better way? If you have thoughts on this, please post in the comments.