What follows is the full text of a letter I sent to President Obama regarding the proposal to turn the Angeles National Forest into a National Monument. The opinions expressed are mine and do not reflect those of any organization or agency.
Dear Mr. President,
I would like to share with you some of my thoughts about a proposal to make the Angeles National Forest into a National Monument. I am opposed to this plan, and I would like for you to understand my reasons why.
I am a third-generation native of Los Angeles and a long-time resident within the Angeles National Forest. As such, I am intimately familiar with these mountains, their use (and abuse), their issues, and with the political shenanigans that take place in and around all of the above. It’s not quite as bad as the nonsense on Capitol Hill, but some days it seems close. This is one of them.
I believe that the proposal to convert the Angeles into a National Monument has little to do with however it is being sold. I believe that the proposal is part bait-and-switch, and partly mechanization to prevent a high-speed railway from being built within the bounds of the Forest. Neither objective is being expressed by the loudest proponents, but for someone like me who is used to reading through the political bureau-speak, these hidden agendas are pretty easy to spot.
First, let’s address the bait-and-switch. This selection of arguments has been around the longest and has the greatest number of supporters.
Proponents of turning the Angeles into a National Monument (e.g. Rep. Judy Chu, D-Pasadena) make it pretty clear that they think becoming a National Monument will mean that the Angeles would suddenly have access to much-needed personnel and funding. It is no secret that the Angeles National Forest gets more use from neighboring residents than any other forest in the nation. Nor is it a surprise that that use would stretch the resources of any agency, national or otherwise. If the Angeles Forest were properly maintained, we would see regular work being done to maintain and upgrade trails, picnic and camping facilities, school camps, etc. The reality is that what facilities exist are woefully neglected, and the personnel are horrendously understaffed. Their equipment is old and in poor repair, breaking down on a regular basis, and their budgets keep getting cut in spite of increased demands on their resources.
It would be nice if becoming a National Monument would or could change this sorry state of affairs. Unfortunately, the National Monuments around the country have similar issues. They are already behind in deferred maintenance to the tune of billions of dollars. Adding another forest to that system, and a needy one at that, would do nothing to help matters for anyone.
Now let’s look at the high-speed rail issue. Los Angeles County Supervisor Michael D. Antonovich recently suggested that a high-speed rail corridor be redirected to cut through part of the Angeles National Forest. This issue is comparatively new to the bevy of arguments related to the Angeles, but it’s one more thing that folks in favor of the National Monument are using to support their position. Their belief is that if the Angeles Forest were a National Monument, the suggested high-speed rail corridor would not be allowed to encroach on forest lands.
I don’t know enough about the National Monument rules to know if this is the case. Personally, I think the suggestion was made by Supervisor Antonovich in response to pressure from communities along the previously proposed route. Likewise, I think that turning the Angeles into a National Monument is kind of like using an anvil to swat a fly. There are likely to be unforeseen consequences that are less than desirable.
Finally, I am opposed to turning the Angeles Forest into a National Monument for a very simple reason. In my opinion the Angeles Forest is not monument-worthy.
Don’t get me wrong, I love these mountains! I grew up visiting them, playing in their creeks and climbing their trails, and I am blessed beyond measure to call them my home. But they’re just a bunch of hills. The San Gabriel Mountains are not particularly distinctive. There are no unusual rock formations worthy of putting on a postcard. We have no exceptional trees that cars can drive through. Nor are there any other natural formations that cannot be found in any one of a dozen mountain ranges in the western states.
I also dislike this push to have you make the Angeles into a National Monument in a run-around move behind Congress. Of all the issues that you face, this is so low on the list of priorities for our nation as to be laughable. If you are going to do something by means of an Executive Order, do something to help our working poor, our veterans, or to enforce existing laws to put criminal bankers in prison.
In an ideal universe, you would not have to fight Congress to get funding to support our citizens, our infrastructure, or our national resources, parks, forests and monuments included. But we don’t live in an ideal universe, so I know you have to do the best you can.
I believe that making the Angeles National Forest into a National Monument will not solve its problems. For that reason, among others, I am opposed to the proposal and I urge you to reject it.
Thank you for your time and consideration.
For additional information about the proposal to turn the Angeles Forest into a National Monument, please read the articles linked below:
Chu calls for San Gabriel Mountains to be named national monument
Proposal for rail corridor through Angeles National Forest draws fire