In a rare show of bipartisanship, a proposal to add 191,000 acres of wild lands and Los Angeles historical sites to the Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area is being pushed by members of Congress from both sides of the aisle.
Although not an original sponsor, Rep. Steve Knight, R-Santa Clarita, signed on earlier this year as a co-sponsor of the Rim of the Valley addition, breaking ranks with fellow Republicans. Knight has joined an unlikely alliance with the bill’s author, Rep. Adam Schiff, D-Burbank, and seven other congressional Democrats in Southern California. Knight is the only House Republican to come out in support of the land preservation measure.
“It is an idea that has always had bipartisan support,” said Schiff during a phone interview Monday. “Years ago, when I first introduced the study bill, we had support of all the Republican members from the affected areas.”
Ten years in the making, the bill would more than double the size of the biggest recreation area in Los Angeles and enjoys support of hikers, numerous environmental groups, wildlife nonprofits, social justice advocates and nearly every Democratic lawmaker in Southern California. Supporters view it as a way to introduce more Angelenos to nature and also improve trails and picnic areas in vast stretches of mountainous and riverside regions in Los Angeles and Ventura counties.
The “Rim of the Valley Unit” includes a narrow stretch along the urban shores of the Los Angeles River and its tributary, the Arroyo Seco in west Pasadena; the Verdugo Mountains above Glendale; the San Rafael Hills, a portion of the popular Chantry Flat hiking area above Sierra Madre, the Simi Hills and the Santa Susana and Conejo mountains in Ventura County.
Besides untouched wild lands and city parks surrounding the dense San Fernando Valley and parts of the San Gabriel and Simi valleys, the addition’s boundary dips southeast to envelop Griffith Park, Hansen Dam Recreation Area, Sepulveda Basin, Ernest Debs Regional Park, El Pueblo De Los Angeles Historical Monument, Eaton Canyon in east Pasadena, the Rose Bowl, Hahamongna Watershed Park and the Jet Propulsion Laboratory.
The Rim of the Valley Corridor Preservation Act was re-introduced by Schiff Oct. 19, 2017 with Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., as a co-author after a similar bill introduced in 2016 died. It began as a study in 2008 authorized by President George W. Bush. The new bill has gone nowhere, relegated almost immediately to the Subcommittee on Federal Lands with no action taken and little prospect of reaching the House floor for a vote.
On Wednesday, Knight took an unprecedented step of co-authoring a letter with Schiff to Natural Resources Committee Chairman Rob Bishop, R-Utah, and ranking committee Democrat Raul Grijalva of Arizona, asking that H.R. 4086 be heard. “This bipartisan bill enjoys broad support from local leaders and landowners throughout the Los Angeles region and would preserve open space in one of the densest metropolitan regions in the nation,” the letter began.
“Preservation of, and access to, open space in our communities is not only good for our environment and ecosystems, but it is beneficial for the health and wellbeing of our residents,” the letter concluded.
The new addition would expand the role of the National Park Service in L.A. and bring in more park dollars for improvements and interpretive programs, according to Schiff. It would give the NPS the power to buy private land but only from willing sellers. Eminent domain would be prohibited. The operation of electric and water utilities would not be affected.
Knight, who has distanced himself from President Donald Trump, might be trying to appeal to Democratic voters who support preserving local hillsides and wildlife, which include bobcats, mountain lions and rare birds. The 25th Congressional District is comprised of 38 percent Democratic registered voters, 34 percent Republican and 23 percent no party preference. The district voted for Hillary Clinton by 6 percentage points in November 2016 and is one of many targeted by Democratic groups for flipping in the upcoming congressional elections.
The congressman has voted with President Trump 99 percent of the time, according to the website FiveThirtyEight.com. He received a 0 percent score from the League of Conservation Voters. Knight did not respond to requests for an interview.
Even with the conservative Knight’s support, Schiff, a liberal who has emerged as a lead opponent to Trump’s presidency, faces an uphill battle. The idea of expanding a wildlife corridor to prevent further mining and oil drilling and increase recreation opportunities is in stark contrast to positions taken by Bishop and other members of the Republican Congressional Western Caucus, of which Bishop is chairman emeritus.
Bishop, along with Rep. Paul Cook, R-Yucca Valley, are against giving the Executive Branch expansive powers to protect wilderness areas, something numerous presidents have used for the past 112 years. In a related issue, the caucus adopted the National Monument Creation and Protection Act, which places limits on the 1906 Antiquities Act by “preventing unilateral executive overreach.”
Cook has proposed shrinking the nearby San Gabriel Mountains National Monument created by President Barack Obama in October 2014 in response to a review ordered by the president. But so far, the monument boundaries have remained intact.
There has been no response from Bishop to the letter, according to Schiff’s office. “I would expect this is a kind of bill that might be combined with other measures … and put on a fast track,” Schiff said.
This piece was originally published at the L.A. Daily News.