September 12, 2008

River Park Need a Hand

THE troubles associated with making a park out of an old duck farm off the San Gabriel River (605) Freeway are real, but not insurmountable.

For instance, it's nice to know those in the San Gabriel Valley's chief conservation agency do not face the same problems as their counterparts on the national scene and those disgusting allegations of federal employees from the Denver office of the U.S. Department of Interior making whoopee with oil company employees and then granting sweet deals for drilling on public lands.

No one is saying that the Rivers and Mountains Conservancy nor the Watershed Conservation Authority, the owner of the 57-acre property, are in bed with opposing interests. May it never be! No, the RMC's problems with transforming fallow, urban land into verdant parklands are more about bisecting stakeholder interests than sexual entanglements and booze and cocaine parties. It's more about getting potable water, irrigation and sewers (all of which do not exist currently) to the site than exchanging sexual favors for fraudulent government contracts. Although one nearby city is contemplating drilling for oil in hills bought with state preservation dollars. But that is another story.

Staff Writer Bethania Palma-Markus' Tuesday story, "Duck farm slated for transformation," showed that the first phase of this new river park is still three years away. That's too long.

But the delays are not the fault of the RMC. It didn't help that for the first few years, the RMC had to fight off a lawsuit from the city of Industry, which interfered in the land's purchase. After trying to stop the sale, Industry has backed off, though its water wells are nearby so the municipal giant must be placated. Still, we don't see Industry or the nine cities that signed up to be part of the "Emerald Necklace" system of future greenbelts along the San Gabriel and Rio Hondo rivers lending a helping hand. El Monte and Azusa are notable exceptions.

The plans for a "duck farm" nature park with a wildflower meadow, a raised hiking promenade along the San Gabriel River bed, and, on the eastern side of the freeway, a dog park and an equestrian facility, are all well and good. That is, unless Southern California Edison goes ahead with building larger "monopoles" supporting wires that will carry more electricity from an expanded wind energy plant in the Tehachapis.

We agree with county Supervisor Gloria Molina: The new wires should be undergrounded. She has written a letter to the state PUC with that suggestion.

And we really don't want to see any new buildings on this site. Tentative plans for a classroom or instructional building should be scrapped. This should be a green park that shows off the San Gabriel River. The big infrastructure plans would be a costly duplication of the planned 18,000-square-foot San Gabriel River Discovery Center to be built just three miles downriver at Whittier Narrows, which includes plans for classrooms and meeting rooms.

Both projects are moving forward, albeit slowly. Both are crucial milestones in the nascent San Gabriel River restoration movement started by Rep. Hilda Solis, D-El Monte, when she was a state senator. Both could benefit from additional city and individual support.

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