The Rim of the Valley Corridor Preservation Act is back, and this time its authors are optimistic that the odds are in their favor.
If approved by the Senate and signed into law by President Donald Trump, the legislation would give the National Parks Service (NPS) the authority to add more than 191,000 acres in the Rim of the Valley Corridor to the Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area (SMMNRA).
The proposed expansion is based on a six-year study of the region completed by the National Parks Service in 2015.
Capital improvements would include new trails, roads, and public facilities, and monitoring and studying wildlife and ecosystems. Land for the expansion would be acquired through donation, exchange, or purchase, but never through eminent domain.
Advocates for the proposal argue that expanding the SMMNRA would provide the NPS, state and regional park agencies, and local communities a framework to preserve and protect natural resources and provide open-space recreation for the greater Southern California area.
“Nearly half of Californians live within two hours of the Rim of the Valley Corridor but few have explored the wild open spaces that surround it,” stressed Senator Feinstein. “Expanding the Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area will create more outdoor recreational opportunities and increase access to public lands for millions of residents of Los Angeles County, one of the most park-poor counties in the state.”
Previous attempts to pass the bill in 2017 and 2018 were scuppered by the Republican majority in Congress. The opposition was led by Utah Representative Bob Bishop, who is responsible for the push to eliminate Bears Ear National Monument in his home state.
In March 2019, Representative Adam Schiff (D-Burbank) and Senators Dianne Feinstein and Kamala Harris reintroduced the bill, which was approved by the now Democratic majority in the house.
In December, the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources passed the Rim of the Valley Corridor Preservation Act, moving it one step closer to the Senate floor.
Schiff, who has advocated for the creation of a Rim of the Valley park for more than a decade, described the committee vote as an important step.
“I am thrilled that the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee passed the Rim of the Valley Corridor Preservation Act out of committee, an important step on the path towards enactment, following passage in the House Natural Resources Committee,” Schiff said in a statement. “It is exciting to see the bill one step closer to becoming law.”
“The committee vote is a win for our local economies, our local wildlife, like bobcats, mountain lions and golden eagles whose sensitive habitat this bill protects,” Feinstein said. “And for the generations of Southern Californians who want to enjoy the unspoiled natural beauty of the Rim of the Valley Corridor.”
HR 1487—Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area Boundary Adjustment Study Act. A second bill aimed at expanding the Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area in a different direction is also moving forward in Washington DC.
In November, HR 1487, the SMMNRA Boundary Adjustment Study Act, authored by Congressman Ted Lieu, was approved by the House. This bill will commission the National Park Service to conduct a three-year Special Resource Study to determine whether to add more of the Santa Monica Bay watershed to the Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area to create a new national recreation area.
“Turning the watershed into a national recreation area will ensure federal resources are available to maintain more open space for conservation and recreational use,” Lieu explained in a statement.
“Much of the Santa Monica Bay watershed remains outside of the National Recreation Area,” Lieu stated. “This includes several miles of beaches and acres of wetlands that stand to benefit greatly from federal resources.”
HR 1487 would commission the National Park Service to conduct a three-year Special Resource Study to determine whether to expand the boundary of the existing SMMNRA, or create a new national recreation area altogether. The study would cover the entire Santa Monica Bay coastline—from Venice Beach to Torrance Beach—as well as the Ballona Wetlands, Ballona Creek, Baldwin Hills, and the San Pedro coastline.
Lieu said he sees the potential expansion as a way to encourage conservation and recreational use, and for the watershed to benefit from available federal scientific and infrastructure resources that could include connecting trails and building wildlife corridors. Like the Rim of the Valley proposal, this expansion plan relies on willing sellers, not eminent domain. However, unlike the Rim of the Valley expansion proposal, where there is still extensive undeveloped land and ecological resources, most of the Los Angeles coastline east of Topanga is densely developed, with little room for expansion or additional habitat protection
The five year study, which has an estimated cost of $1 million is a necessary first step that must be completed before the proposal can advance.
Look for both bills to move forward in 2020.
“Rim of the Valley” legislation is a threat to science education and recreation in our communities
The “Rim of the Valley Corridor Preservation Act” (H.R.1706 & S.774, sponsored by Adam Schiff and Dianne Feinstein) proposes that the federal government, specifically the National Park Service, take over the management of the hills surrounding the Simi, Conejo, Santa Clarita, La Crescenta, San Fernando, and San Gabriel Valleys, by adding these lands to the Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area. The proposal envisions the federal government assuming management of an additional 191,000 acres (1000 square miles) of land in Los Angeles and Ventura counties. Many of these acres are already local parkland, or other locally managed public lands. Less than one percent is currently federal land, and about half is currently private land that would need to be purchased by the government. Without land purchases, the proposal does nothing to increase public recreational land or access.
Unfortunately, the Rim of the Valley legislation would prohibit existing nature and science educational and recreational activities of individuals, schools and colleges, scout troops, and non-profit hobby clubs and nature study groups. These hills are the last undeveloped public lands accessible to students, hobbyists, and avocational scientists for study of geology, mineralogy, paleontology, entomology and botany. The National Park service prohibits any collecting by the general public of even the most common natural materials, but serious study requires hands-on learning, including collecting. It would also hinder research by students and professors at local colleges and universities due to onerous permitting requirements of the NPS.
Our local hills are not pristine wilderness and lack the exceptional scenic values of our national parks. They are currently open to local residents for hiking, dog-walking, mountain biking, as well as nature study. The collection of common rocks, fossils, insects, and plant material is not a threat to wildlife or scientific resources (actually more endangered by habitat loss, development, and non-native species). All archeological resources and exceptional and scientifically valuable fossils already have legal protection, and local government has the authority to act when necessary to protect special resources and scenic features on public land. Each local management body has individually imposed rules as they find necessary for the lands they manage, and I have heard few complaints from local residents. Local citizens deserve a voice in management of their local public lands and are more likely to be heard and their opinions considered by their local elected officials than by bureaucrats headquartered in Washington DC.
The United States Department of the Interior and National Park Service opposed the Rim of the Valley in written testimony to congress dated April 2nd, 2019, stating that the Department does not support enacting this proposed expansion at this time, due to higher spending priorities. Because of the issue discussed above, I suggest that the NPS is not an appropriate agency for the management of these local recreational parklands, and that contemplated improvements or land purchases could just as easily retain local management and local citizen control.