Magazine article Parks & Recreation

The San Gabriel Mountains: A National Monument for All

Magazine article Parks & Recreation

The San Gabriel Mountains: A National Monument for All

Article excerpt

President Barack Obama designated a national monument in the San Gabriel Mountains in Southern California to promote environmental quality, economic vitality and health for all on October 10, 2014. This is a historic moment, when the president recognizes that green access is a social justice issue and agencies need to address these values. His words and actions resonate with NRPA's Three Pillars: Conservation, Health and Wellness, and Social Equity.

"That's what makes this particular designation so important," President Obama said. "We heard from the community...Too many children in L.A. County, especially children of color, don't have access to parks where they can run free, breathe fresh air, experience nature and learn about their environment. This is an issue of social justice. Because it's not enough to have this awesome natural wonder within your sight - you have to be able to access it."

Improving public access helps address equally important health justice values. According to the White House, studies show that increasing recreational access to public lands translates to higher levels of youth activity and lower youth obesity rates.

The National Park Service (NPS) and U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) agree. Communities with the least amount of parks and open space tend to have higher rates of childhood diseases related to obesity such as diabetes, according to the NPS study on the San Gabriels. Los Angeles is one of the most disadvantaged counties in terms of access to park and open space for people of color, particularly children. Non-Hispanic white people have 12 to 15 times more park acreage per capita than Latinos and African-Americans. According to USACE, much of Los Angeles is park-deficient, with less than 3 acres of green space per 1,000 residents. Park access is lowest in areas with the highest number of families below an annual household income of $47,331. Environmental justice requires agencies to address these disparities, according to both agencies, citing Executive Order 12898 on environmental justice and health. The NPS and USACE studies are best practices for an environmental justice framework to address park, health and conservation values and outcomes. San Gabriel advocates relied on these best practices in comments submitted to the president, and John Podesta in the White House, in August 2014.

The Presidential Proclamation also recognizes the role of Native Americans in the rich cultural history of the San Gabriels. In part, it reads, "Native American history runs deep, at least 8,000 years, including the best preserved example of a Gabrielino pictograph rock painting." The management plan for the monument "shall protect and preserve Indian sacred sites...and .and access by Indian tribal members for traditional cultural, spiritual, and tree and forest product-, foodand medicine-gathering purposes."

The San Gabriel Mountains are a core part of the Los Angeles landscape, providing 70 percent of the open space for residents and 30 percent of their drinking water. More than 15 million people live within 90 minutes of the mountains. According to the president, "This incredible 346,000 acres of rugged slopes and remote canyons are home to an extraordinary diversity of wildlife. The rare Arroyo Chub swims through the cool streams, while the California condor soars above the vistas. You can hike through the chaparral, amid wild lilacs and mountain mahogany."

These diverse values have been well-received. Daniel Rossman, chair of the San Gabriel Mountains Forever coalition (SGMF), said, "The president not only displayed compassion and understanding of environmental justice but was fundamentally motivated by the issues when he declared the San Gabriel Mountains National Monument. The City Project thanks for your work to make the case for environmental justice and the San Gabriel National Monument a reality."

The recognition of Native American values receives praise from Robert Bracamontes, Acjachemen Nation, Nican Haca, who grew up nearby and continues to visit the San Gabriel Mountains with his family. …

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