SGV Tribune: Outdoor party celebrates expansion of San Gabriel Mountains National Monument

By Anissa Rivera

Sen. Alex Padilla and Rep. Judy Chu, D-Pasadena, gathered supporters, tribal leaders and environmental groups to celebrate the expansion of the San Gabriel Mountains National Monument, which President Barack Obama designated in 2014.

President Joe Biden’s May 2 proclamation adds 105, 919 acres of U.S. Forest Service lands to the south and west of the monument’s nearly 347,000 acres. About 150 people attended the celebration, held at the Lario Staging Area in Irwindale on Saturday.

Chu and Padilla were fresh from a trip to the White House to see Biden sign the proclamation, which they said protects cultural, scientific, and historic objects, and expands access to outdoor recreation on shared public lands for generations. The proclamation also expanded the Berryessa Snow Mountain National Monument in northern California.

“Today, we do three things: one, we’re celebrating; two, we’re recognizing it took a lot of people a lot of years to get us to this moment; and three, we’re thanking President Biden,” Padilla said. “It took a lot of people a lot of years to get us to this moment. Californians don’t give up.”

Chu praised a grassroots campaign that started more than 20 years ago that will now protect wild lands from mining and development, including Chantry Flat in Arcadia, the Arroyo Seco, and federal forest lands in Sunland, Tujunga and Santa Clarita.

“I stand in awe of this incredible moment where we are taking such a historic step forward.” Chu said. “I was honored to be part of the ceremony at the White House where President Biden and Vice President (Kamala) Harris, who worked on this issue as a senator, welcomed us into the Oval Office and we got to watch the President make our vision a reality with a stroke of his pen.”

Chu announced the expansion brings with it resources, including $2.5 million from the Rivers and Mountains Conservancy; $2 million from California Conservation Corps to hire six new forest rangers; $2.3 million from the federal Great American Outdoors Act; and $1 million from Los Angeles County for the nonprofit Nature for All.

“All of this means more staff and rangers, better management and improved experiences for the millions of people who come to these mountains,” Chu said, adding the expanded monument will bring mental and physical health benefits associated with recreation and the outdoors which far too many low-income Angelenos miss out on.

Chu also announced $1.75 million for Nature for All’s Transit to Trails program which will allow people to use mass transit to come to the mountains, including all the way to Mt. Wilson Observatory.

Supervisor Hilda Solis remembers talking about the first glimmers of a San Gabriel Mountains National Monument with constituents and community groups when she was a state senator almost 30 years ago. She said Obama’s original designation in 2014 was “transformational.”

“These things don’t happen overnight, so much effort was put in by so many to make this a dream come true,” Solis said. “This was my backyard as a child growing up in La Puente. We didn’t have parks and pools but we had the mountains, and my father from Mexico would say, ‘This is ours and we have to take care of it.’”

The Sierra Club was an early supporter of the monument. Its executive director, Ben Jealous, said in a statement that national monuments protect more than landscapes.

“They preserve the historical, cultural and spiritual legacies of the people who have made this country what it is. Expanding the San Gabriels monument and protecting Molok Luyuk will have significant and immediate benefits for the communities, wildlife, and ecosystems of California. Millions of people will have greater access to nature, vital habitat will be preserved for imperiled species, and critical water resources will be safeguarded for those who rely on them.”

Jen Eberlein, regional forester for the USFS Pacific Southwest, said plans are underway to set protections in place, for this “amazing area, which contains cultural resources with thousands of years of occupation from Indigenous people, numerous threatened and endangered species and other wildlife, (and flora).”

Eberlein said the expansion will “enhance the resilience of Los Angeles basin communities and ecosystems from climate change and further conserve areas that provide drinking water to millions of people.”

Mike Jesus Lemos of the Kizh Nation Gabrieleño Band of Mission Indians offered a prayer in four directions at the start of the celebration marking victory in “a fight of deep significance for our people.”

“It’s a tremendous honor to be here because the land is always going to be here, but now we know it will be protected, including sacred solstice sites for my people, and it’s important for the youth to be inspired and experience this beauty,” Lemos said.

Other dignitaries in attendance included Rep. Grace Napolitano, D-El Monte; Victor Gordo, mayor of Pasadena; Brian Calderón Tabatabai, mayor of West Covina; Emmanuel Estrada, mayor of Baldwin Park; John Wu, mayor of San Gabriel; Assemblymember Mike Fong; Assemblymember Blanca Rubio; as well as councilmembers from Alhambra, Arcadia, Glendora; Monterey Park; and Rosemead.

Mariachis Lindas Mexicanas, themselves newly arrived from a Cinco de Mayo performance at the White House, presented a Mother’s Day serenade to end the festivities.

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