What you need to know about the Rim of the Valley proposal (KPCC)
The amount of land managed by the National Park Service in Southern California would increase by 170,000 acres if Congress approves final recommendations submitted on Tuesday for expanding the boundaries of the Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation area.
Congress tasked the National Park Service in 2008 with studying the feasibility of adding the so-called "Rim of the Valley " corridor to the land the agency manages.
Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Burbank), who originally sponsored the bill authorizing the study, said the park service’s recommendation would protect natural areas and improve recreation for local residents.
“The broad recommendation from the park service would more than double the size of the Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area and include much of the study area originally laid out by Congress. Such an expansion will enable the National Park Service, local governments, and private citizens to better preserve green space and increase access to recreational opportunities for our urban and suburban communities,” Schiff said in a written statement.
WHAT IS THE RIM OF THE VALLEY?
The Rim of the Valley Corridor comprises the mountains surrounding the San Fernando, Santa Clarita, Simi, Conejo and La Crescenta valleys.
Many of the areas adjacent to the Rim of the Valley are considered to be underserved when it comes to available parkland.
WHAT WOULD CHANGE?
Immediate changes would be largely invisible if Congress approves the recommendation. The expansion would essentially increase the land over which the park service has authority. It would allow the park service to acquire parcels and undertake capital improvement projects on lands outside its current boundaries.
“Right now, we can only own and operate lands within a boundary that’s authorized by Congress. So if people in the Verdugos wanted to work with the National Park Service on land conservation, that’s something we can’t do right now. The expanded boundary would allow us to own and operate lands all around the San Fernando Valley,” said David Szymanski, superintendent of the Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area.
The Park Service estimates costs associated with increasing the boundary would be an additional $900,000 to $1.9 million annually. That estimate mainly reflects the need to hire an additional 11 to 21 full time employees, according to the project lead for the study, though she said costs would increase in the future to reflect purchases of property.
“Over time, if the Park Service does acquire land — and we have a policy that we only acquire land from willing sellers — some of those costs might go up,” said Anne Dove, a planner with the National Park Service Pacific West Region.
Dove said the increased authority of the park service to provide technical support with partnering land managers and owners would eventually lead to noticeable changes on the ground.
“Over time, there could be an improvement in the quantity and quality of the natural and cultural resources in the area. Long term, there would be more opportunities for accessing existing open space and recreational opportunities and potentially more educational and interpretive programming closer to where people are living in regional and local facilities,” Dove said.
Another thing that could change would be the name “Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area,” since the moniker would no longer fit the larger territory.
“It’s very unlikely that the name ‘Santa Monica Mountains’ would be appropriate in places outside the Santa Monica Mountains, but what the whole thing is named in whole or in part is undecided,” Szymanski said. “It would be up to Congress to really assign a name or names that they thought were appropriate.”
WHAT WOULDN’T CHANGE?
Some private landowners have had concerns that extending the boundary would mean restrictions being placed upon their lands. Szymanski said they needn't worry.
The newly acquired land would be managed along the same lines as the Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area, which encompasses lands held by private owners and land management agencies. Each of the individual owners retains full rights and responsibilities over the land.
“For just private property in general there’s no impact. They continue to be subject to local and state laws and regulations, but we’re not a regulatory agency,” Szymanski said.
Dove said the park service would act more as a partner to landowners who voluntarily ask for help.
“Direct land management and ownership is only just one of the things that the park service does in the Santa Monica Mountains, and there’s a heavy reliance on partnerships to accomplish NPS goals within that boundary,” she said.
WHAT’S THE RESPONSE TO THE RECOMMENDATION?
Response has been mixed. Congressman Schiff said he was glad the final recommendation had been submitted but was disappointed that the park service did not choose to adopt an alternative proposal that would have added even more acreage.
“I applaud the park service for embracing a vision of an expanded recreation area to preserve this wonderful natural landscape. I wish, however, that the park service went even further in some of the areas as was clearly the hope of the many thousands of constituents who submitted public comment and advocated for an even bigger park, as provided for in Alternative D of the park service’s draft report,” Schiff said in a written statement.
The park service received about 1,800 public comments on its draft report for the expansion, in which it designated Alternative C as its preferred alternative. About 90 percent of the comments were in favor of Alternative D, which would have added a total of roughly 300,000 new acres to the recreation area.
Some conservation groups echoed Schiff’s disappointment with the final recommendation, saying more could have been done to protect sensitive habitats.
“They missed the opportunity to include equally unique habitat such as the area north of the new San Gabriel Mountains National Monument,” Daniel Rossman, senior regional representative of the Wilderness Society, wrote in an email.
Syzmanski justified the decision, saying managing such areas would’ve overextended the current expertise within the park service and its partners.
“The ecology changes, the partners change, the landownership patterns change, and as a consequence, it would become a slightly different and more complex undertaking, if we included some of those extended areas in Alternative D,” he said.
Congress has to pass legislation authorizing the recommendation.
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