A Rim of the Valley park plan was first proposed in the 1920s. In 1930, the Olmsted Report was issued by the firm founded by the sons of landscape architect Frederick Law Olmsted, the man who designed New York City’s Central Park. That plan recommended setting aside 71,000 acres of parkland within Los Angeles, and another 92,000 acres in outlying areas, to create 440 miles of interconnected parks and parkways. It was never implemented and the plan was shelved until the successful creation of the SMMNRA in 1978 made the potential for a Rim of the Valley park feasible today.
Proponents of the Rim of the Valley (ROTV) Corridor Preservation Act, a plan to establish a greenbelt around Los Angeles by adding 170,000 acres to the Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area (SMMNRA), are uncertain how the bill will fare when it is reintroduced to Congress later this year, but that isn’t stopping them from working towards putting the necessary pieces of the project in place to make the park expansion a reality.
Representative Adam Schiff (D-Burbank) introduced the bill to create the new park during the previous session of Congress on December 7, 2016, but it was not enacted. In a January letter to the editor of a local paper, Schiff confirmed that he plans to reintroduce the legislation this session.
The current ROTV proposal is the product of more than 10 years of study and six years of public input and debate. In 2008, Congress passed the Rim of the Valley Corridor Study Act, also introduced by Schiff. That bill, directed the National Park Service (NPS), to conduct a special resource study of the Rim of the Valley Corridor. The study resulted in the current plan that would more than double the current size of the SMMNRA. The new recreation area would operate like the existing park, as a patchwork of federal, state and local parks operating under the aegis of the NPS and with new acquisitions obtained only from willing sellers.
The plan calls for extending the existing SMMNRA designation to include the Los Angeles River and Arroyo Seco corridors, the Verdugo Mountains-San Rafael Hills, the San Gabriel Mountain foothills, the Simi Hills, the Santa Susana Mountains and the Conejo Mountains to create a permanent ring of open space around Los Angeles.
It’s unclear how the current bill will fair in what is arguably the least environmentally friendly political climate since the 1950s, but regardless of the outcome, the Santa Monica Mountains Conservancy (SMMC) is moving ahead with several key pieces of the Rim of the Valley Corridor plan.
At its February meeting, the board of the SMMC voted to approve, adding a key section of the Conejo Mountains to the Conservancy’s comprehensive Land Acquisition Work Program. The nomination to include the acreage, which includes 1,814-foot-high Conejo Mountain—the highest peak in the small range that connects the Santa Monica Mountains to the Santa Susana Mountains—was made by Ventura County Supervisor and SMMC Boardmember Linda Parks.
Parks described the area as an important wildlife corridor area. According to the staff report, “The land area scores highly for: Wildlife Resource; Floristic Resource; Trail Resource; Scenic Resource; Archaeological/Historic Resource; and Watershed Resource.”
Conejo Mountain burned during the 2013 Springs Fire. It is still recovering, but is home to numerous plant communities ranging from an unusual inland incursion of giant coreopsis to Catalina mariposa lily (a California “Species of Special Concern”) and Conejo buckwheat, a rare plant endemic to the area. The range contains Chumash cultural heritage sites and some areas are popular with rock climbers. The peaks offer spectacular views in all directions, including an uninterrupted expanse of plain and sea, with Anacapa Island in the distance.
The report compares the area to Ahmanson Ranch, Big Tujunga Canyon and Lower Topanga Canyon in terms of significance.
Adding the area to the work program doesn’t guarantee that acquisition will occur, In this case, a large portion of the main mountain has been used as a rock quarry since the 1950s and continues to be owned and mined by the Pacific Rock mining company. However, inclusion in the work program can help facilitate funding and acquisition if property becomes available.
The SMMC Board also approved a resolution to adopt a Rim of the Valley Trail Corridor map, revised to include key areas around the City of Moorpark.
“The science-informing expansion of the boundary encompasses two major stems of the “Sierra Madre-Santa Monica Mountains Missing Linkages” report prepared by South Coast Wildlands that connect the Los Padres National Forest to the Santa Susana Mountains,” the staff report states. “The scientific justification also includes watershed protection for the Arroyo Simi and Santa Clara River watersheds, the potential for recreational trail linkages, scenic viewsheds and habitat for species of concern.”
The revised map includes a significant expansion of the current Rim boundary east and south of Moorpark, including land that the City of Moorpark has already acquired for open space or has placed on its acquisition priority list, according to the report.
The SMMC also approved a resolution authorizing appointment of two representatives to the newly formed joint powers authority between the Conservancy and the City of Moorpark. It’s another indicator that, no matter what happens in Washington D.C., the Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area has grown far beyond its home range.
While the Rim of the Valley Corridor park network will be a unit of the National Park Service, the Conservancy will oversee much of the parkland and is expected to play a crucial role in parkland acquisition, as they have in the original portion of the SMMNRA.
The agency and its sister organization, the Mountains Conservation and Recreation Authority (MRCA), have gradually expanded to include 72,000 acres of open space throughout the proposed Rim corridor, from the beach in Malibu to the edge of the Mojave Desert, and as far south as Whittier and the Puente Hills.
When the first proposal for a ring of open space around Los Angeles was proposed in the 1920s there were virtually no public parklands in the area. When, in 1978, the SMMNRA became a reality under the stewardship of U. S. Representative, Anthony Bielenson it consisted of just four state parks—Point Mugu, Leo Carrillo, Malibu Creek and Topanga Canyon.
Proponents of the Rim of Valley hope that the current plan, built on the success of SMMNRA, will receive the congressional support necessary to become a reality, regardless of the political climate.