View Full Version : LA Mayor Wants to Preserve Owens Valley?

07-07-2004, 09:41 AM
uly 7, 2004

Hahn Moves to Preserve Owens Valley Mayor's proposal would bar development on more than 320,000 acres in the scenic corridor.

Hahn Moves to Preserve Owens Valley


By Louis Sahagun, Times Staff Writer

Los Angeles Mayor James K. Hahn called Tuesday for the creation of a land conservancy that would ban any future development on 500 square miles of the Owens River Valley in the eastern Sierra Nevada — the same land the city secretly acquired a century ago in order to obtain the water rights.

Under the mayor's proposal to "preserve 320,000 acres of natural beauty in the Owens Valley," the city would retain the water rights but establish a conservation easement that would ensure that the area remained in a natural state, probably open to the same general uses — fishing, hunting, hiking and grazing by local ranchers — that are currently permitted.

It is the first time a Los Angeles mayor has endorsed such a plan, long advocated by environmentalists, to preserve the Owens Valley.

The mayor's proposal, however, drew mixed responses from Owens Valley residents and ranchers, some of whom have come to regard the city and the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power as overbearing landlords.

A conservation easement would be welcomed by some who are concerned that unchecked growth, already transforming the nearby Mammoth Lakes area, could destroy the valley's rural character.

However, the mayor's proposal was greeted by others as one more effort by Los Angeles to impose its will on land that it stole in the first place.

Sipping a cold beer at Jake's Saloon in Lone Pine, valley resident Chuck Berling, said: "If the state gets involved, they'll put in so many rules and regulations that average working folks won't have any fun at all. They reach too far and push too hard on folks."

Cattle rancher John Lacey, who was born in the Owens Valley and leases more than 40,000 acres of land from the DWP, was himself a bit conflicted over the idea.

"There's times I question whether we need a conservation easement and other times when I think, under certain circumstances, it could be beneficial," he said. "But perpetuity is something I won't live long enough to see. So folks need to be very, very careful in putting such a thing together."

Hahn's proposal appeared to reverse a position he took just two weeks ago opposing a proposed easement. Local conservationists continued to advocate the idea, saying it would help Hahn's reelection campaign.

In a written statement Tuesday, Hahn said details of the proposal would take time to work out, adding, "Of course, such a monumental accomplishment will require a lot of flexibility and creativity. I am personally committed to this goal. It's worth it."

Hahn's proposal is not the only one being discussed as a means of forestalling development along one of the state's most scenic corridors — the 110-mile-long Owens Valley that is flanked by the snow-capped peaks of the High Sierra on the west and the lower and dryer White Mountains on the east. The protected acreage would include blue-ribbon trout streams, stark rock formations, marshlands and desert plains.

The valley, which runs along U.S. 395 from just south of Lone Pine almost to Mammoth Lakes, has been the focal point of a historic feud that began when city officials quietly started buying up ranchland and accompanying water rights 100 years ago, then built an aqueduct that sent Owens Valley water cascading 200 miles south to Los Angeles.

Violence erupted in the valley, and the aqueduct was dynamited repeatedly after increased pumping exacerbated a drought during the 1920s that laid waste to local farms and businesses while providing a major source of drinking water for a rapidly growing Los Angeles.

Although the proposal being drafted by city staffers appeared to contradict Hahn's earlier position, Deputy Mayor Doane Liu said Tuesday that the mayor's original stance was "not in opposition to the concept at all."

Instead, Liu said, Hahn was maintaining only that members of the City Council could not legally negotiate the use of Owens Valley land.

"The mayor is excited about this possibility and committed to moving forward on his vision," Liu said. "But he wants to be respectful of all the stakeholders, including valley residents and ranchers."

Details of the plan remained unclear, but one approach under discussion would have the L.A. Department of Water and Power give up its rights forever to develop more than 326,000 acres in the valley. In return, the city would get $35 million from state bond funds for the conservation easement and retain full control of its water rights.

Under that approach, areas immediately surrounding the Owens Valley communities of Bishop, Big Pine, Independence and Lone Pine would be unencumbered by the conservation easement, allowing for growth.

"We still have to do a lot of research," Liu said. "For example, we have charter restrictions and city regulations that are over 100 years old to deal with. But the mayor is doing what it takes to have his vision realized."

Liu added that "it would be a goal of mine to get something accomplished by the end of the year — or at least to have made substantial progress."

Frank Salas, acting general manager of the DWP, said that timeline sounded "somewhat ambitious." He added, however, that "environmentalists and the DWP are in agreement that Owens Valley should be preserved and maintained in its current condition for future generations. We think it bears merit, and will be working with the mayor's office on this. Of course, the devil is in the details."

On the other hand, DWP Commission Chairman Dominick Rubalcava argued that there was no need for a conservation easement, saying that his agency had maintained the lands in a pristine fashion for nearly a century and had a strong interest in keeping the watershed clean.

On Tuesday, Rubalcava grumbled, "Sounds like I'm outnumbered."

David Myers, executive director of the Wildlands Conservancy, which for years has promoted the creation of a conservation easement, said: "I can't imagine a single action the city of Los Angeles could make today that would be more memorable to future generations.

"However it happens," Myers said, "the operative word here is 'perpetuity,' both for the land and recreational access to 50 miles of lake frontage, 565 miles of streams and 320,000 acres of paradise."

Joe Edmiston, executive director of the Santa Monica Mountains Conservancy, agreed.

"The way the city acquired that valley's land was a travesty," Edmiston said. "Now, all that karma will be reversed. What started out as a selfish act on the part of Los Angeles to take away Owens Valley's water rights will be transformed into magnificent scenery and recreational opportunities, and not just another San Fernando Valley."

It is not the first time that the DWP has entered into talks to conserve the huge parcel in the Eastern Sierra.

In 2001, former DWP General Manager David Freeman touted a plan in which the agency would give up development control in return for $25 million from the Wildlands Conservancy and the state Wildlife Conservation Board.

That plan, however, ran into resistance from then-Mayor Richard Riordan, who was skeptical of the benefits to the city and angry that Freeman had not consulted with him. It also fell flat among Owens Valley residents, whose general response could have been summed up by the phrase: "Beware of Los Angelenos bearing gifts."

Two weeks ago, City Councilmen Tony Cardenas and Alex Padilla revived the idea in a letter to the head of the California Resources Agency. However, Mayor Hahn, City Atty. Rocky Delgadillo and Rubalcava objected.

Environmentalists and state resources officials kept the plan alive.

At about the same time, Al Wright, executive director of the state Wildlife Conservation Board, seeking to persuade a dozen high-profile Owens Valley residents and ranchers, pitched the idea of having the state purchase and then dissolve the property development rights.

"There's a lot of caution about the idea," Wright said in an interview. "But I think it has great potential. I think it's doable."

High Desert Drifter
07-08-2004, 07:21 PM
Reminds me of the relationship between Los Angeles and those who protect the Mono Basin....

07-12-2004, 12:20 PM
Part II was in Sunday's LA Times. Note that Hahn is going to enlist Barbara Boxer's help on this.
July 11, 2004

Owens Valley Wary of Thorns in Olive Branch Some see Hahn's proposal to ban development as an election ploy. Others fear exclusion or losses.


By Louis Sahagun, Times Staff Writer

BISHOP, Calif. — High on a bluff overlooking the Owens Valley, Mark Schlenz gazed out over a serene landscape born of seismic upheavals, pulverizing glaciers, sudden storms and Los Angeles politics.

"So much beauty, so much strife," sighed Schlenz, a local author and the director of the Eastern Sierra Land Trust.

The valley has been a colony of sorts since the early 1900s, when Los Angeles officials quietly began acquiring most of the land and water rights and, eventually, pumped so much water south via the Los Angeles Aqueduct that the valley became a de facto desert.

Now that Los Angeles Mayor James K. Hahn is proposing a conservation easement that would forever ban development on about 500 square miles that is owned by the city's Department of Water and Power, many residents are again suspicious of their landlord's motives.

Most insist they have no desire to see the place developed. Yet, they can't help but wonder if the mayor's proposal is designed mainly to improve his standing with urban environmentalists in an election year.

Nancy Masters, president of a civic club, calls the valley her backyard. Cleaning the windows of a roadside display of patriotic gifts in the tiny town of Independence, she summed up fears heard throughout the Owens Valley about Hahn's proposal.

"We are all for conserving this area, for agriculture, bird-watching, fishing. Nobody wants suburbanization," Masters said. "But the worry is that a conservancy will somehow manage to restrict access to all but people from Los Angeles with ultralight backpacks, flashy four-wheel-drive trucks and expensive fly rods."

At stake is a place of stunning contrasts: bone-dry plains flanked by lava flows and long-dormant volcanoes, meadows resplendent with wild iris, rust-streaked hills, alfalfa fields and cattle ranches, and the remnants of old gold- and salt-mining operations.

Squeezed between the conical peaks of the Sierra Nevada and the less lofty White Mountains, the Owens Valley is dotted with hamlets such as Olancha, Independence and Big Pine that add to the impression of the northbound traveler along U.S. 395 that one is heading backward in time.

The Los Angeles Aqueduct is hard to spot amid the sage, but its effects are evident in the choking dust clouds rising off the dry Owens Lake bed and in scattered marshlands that have reverted to rabbit brush. A sympathetic newspaper once referred to the beast that stole the water as the "aqua duck." It was bombed several times during the 1920s.

Hahn sees his proposal for a conservation easement as a long-overdue olive branch that would freeze-frame the beauty of the surrounding landscape along a 112-mile stretch of 395, from near Olancha to well north of Bishop.

It would ensure that the land remained in perpetuity what it has been for the better part of a century: an agricultural and recreational commons known for its exceptional fishing, hunting, rock-climbing, cross-country skiing and hiking opportunities and a wildlife corridor for mule deer, tule elk and migratory waterfowl. Its 320,000 acres would embrace 50 miles of lake frontage and 565 miles of rivers and streams.

The pastoral splendor of the Owens Valley is the unintended consequence of a downstate water policy that made it all but impossible for the valley's early farmers and ranchers to make a living.

Yet, despite the fact that many of them departed, a local economy took root, and today it is heavily dependent on the land. Alter its status, people say, and the economy could suffer.

Inyo County officials worry that Hahn's proposed conservation easement could do just that: devalue the land and reduce the taxes they collect from it. City officials in Bishop fear they would be unable to expand their tiny airport. The Paiute and Shoshone tribes have long eyed the land as a potential site for desperately needed new housing.

"The potential impact on taxes is a huge issue in Inyo County, an enormous rural region of only 18,000 people," said Inyo County Administrator Rene Mendez. "The city [of Los Angeles] is our largest taxpayer. Our total annual budget is $30 million, and those taxes comprise a large portion of our discretionary revenue."

In the meantime, he added, "I've heard a lot of talk about the proposed conservation easement, but I've yet to see anything in writing. To say we trust our partners in Los Angeles would not be a true statement. I'm sure the feelings are mutual."

Local cattle ranchers are concerned that management plans could be written by environmentalists to limit century-old grazing privileges. Fishermen fear the plan might limit access to rivers and streams, and conservationists argue that the valley does not afford enough protection for elk, fish, migratory birds and other wildlife.

Hahn announced his plan for the valley last week, and since then he has been telephoning local leaders to try to reassure them that a conservation easement would be in their best interests. He has promised to meet with them and tour the area in the near future. Hahn also has been soliciting support from fellow California Democrats, including U.S. Sens. Dianne Feinstein and Barbara Boxer.

Schlenz, who says he has walked every mile of the valley, said the mayor has his work cut out for him.

"Now the real work begins: bringing all the stakeholders to the table — fishermen, ranchers, business owners, mountain climbers, environmentalists and DWP officials," Schlenz said. "Without local participation, the proposal will dissolve in more conflict and dissent.

"But we have no choice. There's a point at which the land becomes more valuable than the water. This may be our last opportunity to secure the open-space treasure that a century of chance has given."

Indeed, if California's population of 36 million people doubles, as expected, over the next two decades, the valley's open space will be coveted by home builders and resort developers. Demand for new homes, fueled by the renaissance of the Mammoth Lakes ski resort to the north, has already sparked a rush to build homes on the valley's handful of privately owned parcels. That, in turn, has triggered nasty squabbles between builders and environmentalists.

One development of 120 homes, for example, is slated to go up on former ranchland just north of Bishop that has been used for centuries by migrating mule deer.

Anglers grouse that a cluster of about 100 homes that recently sprang up near the DWP's Crowley Lake reservoir has destroyed the solitude of a favorite fishing destination.

One day last week, as heavy metal music blasted from a portable radio, Crowley Lake developer Lance Johnson stood on the foundation of a 2,900-square-foot home on a lot of two-thirds of an acre he hopes to sell for $840,000 and proclaimed, "Growth is good for jobs and the economy. People who don't like it ought to move to Montana."

Nearly all of Johnson's homes are being sold to residents of nearby Mammoth Lakes, a four-square-mile community where property values are skyrocketing because there is no more room to grow.

"One of these days, when the DWP needs something real bad," Johnson said with a smile, "it'll be happy to swap this land for development. That's how things work."

Then, too, if Hahn's proposal becomes a reality, property values in this landlocked little community will soar. "Shhhhh," Johnson said. "Don't tell anybody."

Crowley Lake fly-fishing guide Tom Loe said Hahn's call for a permanent moratorium on growth in this area "is exactly what we need."

Swabbing the deck of his 24-foot fishing boat, Loe shook his head in dismay at the nearby development and said, "There's too much building going on. Housing developments are popping up all over the place. And there's talk of expanding Mammoth Lakes Airport to accommodate airliners. Can you imagine the screams of 757s putting on their thrusters several times a day just to bring in a few hundred more people a day into this area? That would be a tragedy."

Retired fireman Don Vinson would not argue with that. Just moments after reeling in the largest trout he'd ever caught — a fat 24-inch rainbow hooked with a night crawler — Vinson took a long, admiring look at the lake — framed by rolling brown hills and towering, ice-capped peaks — and said, "What Mayor Hahn is talking about is a good thing. This scenery can't be beat, and it's easy to get to. It should stay that way."

07-26-2004, 11:52 AM
I spent Thursday and Friday with my husband as he took pictures of Hahn for another newspaper Here's the LA Times version however:
July 24, 2004

Hahn Visits Owens Valley to Listen
The mayor hears differing views on preserving the Eastern Sierra land.

Hahn Visits Owens Valley to Listen

California Pays Dearly for All That Borrowing


By Louis Sahagun, Times Staff Writer

BISHOP, Calif. — Against a backdrop of angry gray clouds gathering over massive alpine peaks, Los Angeles Mayor James K. Hahn ended a two-day tour of the Owens Valley on Friday that revealed wide disagreements over how to protect the still-unspoiled valley from development.

Less than a month ago, aides to the mayor had talked of hammering out plans by the end of this year to restrict development here. By the tour's end, Hahn disappointed environmentalists by saying he had no preferred plan and that the process would take "as long as it takes."

The trip was billed as a "listening tour" to help Hahn forge a blueprint for eliminating the possibility of subdivisions and industry on the 320,000 acres of eastern Sierra Nevada watershed that the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power has owned for a century.

Hahn heard comments at a luncheon with environmentalists in a park overlooking Crowley Lake, at a country barbecue with cattle ranchers under stately elms, at a private session with Inyo County officials and at a meeting with Paiute and Shoshone Indian leaders. Hahn also fished for trophy trout with spinning tackle borrowed from an avid advocate of open access to the Owens River.

All expressed a desire to leave the majestic 110-mile corridor of lakes, streams, meadows, desert plains, volcanic fields, rural towns and cattle ranches in its current state. But their differences, in terms of motivations and clashing agendas, seemed as deep as the valley itself.

"I'm only here to listen," Hahn said over and over. "I have no predetermined plans."

The tour got off to a rocky start Thursday afternoon, when the mayor met with a dozen conservationists at Crowley Lake Park. As they sat down to lunch with the mayor, half a dozen DWP employees, including DWP Board President Dominick Rubalcava, stood a few feet away, unwelcome guests.

"We made every effort to have a civil conversation while surrounded by hired guns," said Mark Schlenz, an Owens Valley author and a director of the nonprofit Eastern Sierra Land Trust. "Any question or issue of real substance that we raised was preempted or commandeered by Rubalcava."

At the barbecue, held at a ranch about six miles north of Bishop, Hahn encountered the opposite side of the debate. One of the many ranchers clad in white Stetson hats, bluejeans, western shirts with pearl buttons and cowboy boots gazed skyward and made the sign of the cross after hearing that environmentalists hope to place a conservation easement on the land.

"To try to tie this land up forever is a ridiculous concept," said John Smith, 82, a local rancher for 56 years and a member of the influential Cattlemen's Assn. "Bringing the state and environmentalists into the equation would be against the best interests of this valley."

In downtown Bishop, Inyo County officials — the local authorities in land decisions — said they felt left out of the discussions that could greatly affect the region's property tax base. With no apparent threat of development on the horizon, the big question they had for Hahn was, "What's the rush?"

Environmentalists want to see an easement — a legally enforceable contract — that would bar the DWP from ever developing its landholdings in the valley. That idea has divided not only residents but Hahn's own entourage, which was led by Rubalcava and Deputy Mayor Doane Liu. Just three weeks ago, Liu enthusiastically predicted that the mayor was only months away from creating a final proposal for permanently protecting the valley from development.

At the time, Rubalcava made clear that he opposed the idea.

In an interview Friday, Hahn called Liu's scenario "a little ambitious."

"Seeing how beautiful all this is, you can see how some people want to preserve this land from development," Hahn said as he stood by the banks of the Owens River. "At the same time, there are people who earn a living here, ranchers, businesspeople … some who go back three and four generations, which shows a deep attachment to this place."

Rubalcava, who stayed close to Hahn throughout the tour, agreed. Weeks before Hahn's helicopter touched down at Mammoth Lakes Airport on Thursday, Rubalcava had been actively lobbying local business owners and cattle ranchers to reject the concept of an easement and support his own proposal: a promise by the DWP not to develop the land for 50 to 100 years.

In interviews, several ranchers who lease thousands of acres in the Owens Valley from the DWP endorsed the plan pitched by Rubalcava, who is also their landlord.

"Our proposal is no proposal at all," said Scott Kemp, a spokesman for the region's 26 members of the Cattlemen's Assn. "We don't want an easement. We don't want anything. This is one of the prettiest valleys in the state, and we have the DWP to thank for that."

At a meeting in the northern end of the valley with members of the Mono County Board of Supervisors, Rubalcava objected to talk of an easement that would permanently bar development.

" 'Permanency' and 'forever' are words that have consequences," he said. "At first look, such a thing sounds simple, but it may not be that easy."

Mono County Planning Commissioner Rick Kattelmann disagreed. "It doesn't have to be hard. It can be done in a straightforward manner."

Hahn was even lobbied while taking a fishing lesson.

Handing Hahn a fishing rod, **** Noles, a local activist and fisherman, said, "I guarantee there's fish in there. I can't guarantee you'll catch one."

Then Noles told Hahn what else was on his mind.

"I told the mayor that the problem with a conservation easement is that it hands control of the valley over to a handful of environmentalists who will have say over what goes on," Noles said later. "Not a good deal."

Before leaving Bishop, Hahn summarized his findings to reporters and a handful of residents who gathered around a picnic table in the shade of a gazebo at a downtown park.

"I don't think any solution about protecting DWP lands should be made without involvement of the stakeholders who live and work and have roots here," Hahn said. "That would be arrogant in the extreme."

Asked if he was still seriously considering a conservation easement, Hahn said, "I'd hate for people to think there is a predetermined outcome here. That would be upsetting to a lot of people…. We heard loud and clear that people don't want this to be something decided down in Los Angeles City Hall."

Environmentalists found his remarks disappointing. "It's not over," Schlenz said as the mayor's caravan of vehicles headed to the airport. "And we're not going to forget there is a conservation easement proposal that was once claimed by this mayor and is now shelved."

07-27-2004, 10:30 AM
Paradise listens nice!
I just reply,becouse,i am looking for my own Paradise.
In my Dream is it a Land in the Rockies,big enough to have a real Ranch,Cheap enough,to can to it whit the money i earn,whitout must have a Productive Ranch.
It wouldn't be a problem,if there where a lot of cliffs and so.
What musst be is:Forest,Gras for Foot and Hey,Water,and Mountain.As well as a Job by a Transport-Company,and a Immigrations-Visa.
If someone could give a Tip,it were nice
your Lovly Person