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Draft Legislation for San Gabriel National Recreation Area to Promote Health and Environmental Justice

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San Gabriel River Bike Trail | Photo: The City Project/Flickr/Creative Commons

Congresswoman Judy Chu (D-CA) recently published a discussion draft of legislation to designate the San Gabriel Mountains and river corridor as a National Recreation Area. Representative Chu has worked with a wide range of stakeholders to draft a legislative proposal that provides for additional resources, more stakeholder control, and a balance between recreational opportunities and water management. The legislation provides for a diverse public advisory council, a comprehensive management plan, and visitor access plan, and a partnership among federal, state, tribal, and local authorities and the private sector. The public advisory council would include environmental justice representation to help ensure the area serves the needs of all people, including people of color and low-income people. Related legislation would provide Wilderness and Wild and Scenic River protections for upper reaches of the mountains.

The proposed national recreation area would serve 17 million people within an hour's drive of the mountains. The San Gabriels provide over 70% of L.A. County's open space and host over 3 million visitors a year. According to Representative Chu's FAQs, these mountains provide outdoor spaces to promote public health and environmental justice in one of the most park-poor regions in the United States. Lack of recreational opportunities has severe impacts on urban populations struggling with obesity, diabetes, heart disease, and chronic illness. Opportunities to enjoy outdoor activity are vital for public health and the well being of people of all ages and walks of life. Parks in nearby urban areas lack the resources to adequately provide opportunities for residents and to walk, jog, bike, picnic, or enjoy other outdoor recreation. The national recreation area will promote economic value and resources. Numerous studies have shown that recreational spaces increase property value and increase revenues for local businesses.

Click on the image to see larger size and additional maps and analyses
Click on the image to see larger size and additional maps and analyses   

As shown in the map above, Los Angeles County is one of the most disadvantaged counties in terms of access to parks and open space for children of color and people of color. The National Park Service notes that county averages mask dramatic disparities in access to green space within the county. Non-Hispanic whites currently have disproportionately greater access to parks and open space, compared to Latinos and African-Americans. These groups are 12-15 times more likely to have less park acreage per capita when compared to non Hispanic whites. Communities with the least amount of access to parks and open space tend to have higher rates of childhood diseases related to obesity such as diabetes.

According to the National Park Service, economically disadvantaged populations in the study area lack access and the ability to enjoy existing opportunities due to lack of close-to-home open space, effective transportation, culturally advantageous facilities or opportunities, and knowledge about recreation and natural resources. Environmental justice must be considered in every major federal action by assessing environmental factors that negatively or disproportionately affect minority populations. Work and stewardship programs for at risk youth, and Transit to Trails programs to take urban residents to mountain, beach, and river trips, help address these concerns.

Within Representative Chu's proposed national recreation area, 64% of the population is Hispanic, 17% Asian Pacific Islander, 16% non-Hispanic white, and 1% African American and Native American. Statewide, the numbers are 37% Hispanic, 13% Asian Pacific Islander, 41% non-Hispanic white, 6% African American, and 1% Native American.

Diverse allies have submitted public comments to support Congresswoman Judy Chu's work to safeguard recreational opportunities, help ensure sustainable management, and promote healthy green land use, equitable development, and planning by and for the community.

Xavier Morales, Executive Director of Latino Coalition for a Healthy California, writes,

The San Gabriel draft legislation to create a National Recreation Area aligns with our mission to address inequities in the environmental conditions that contribute to health disparities among our communities. Lack of recreational opportunities has severe impacts on urban populations struggling with obesity, diabetes, heart disease, and chronic illness. Opportunities to enjoy outdoor activity are vital for public health and the well-being of people of all ages and walks of life.

The Asian Pacific Islander Obesity Prevention Alliance supports the legislation because their mission is, according to Program Director Scott Chan,

to empower Asian and Pacific Islander communities to improve their health by proactively addressing social, cultural, environmental, and political factors that contribute to the growing rates of obesity among API residents in Los Angeles County.

Robert Bracamontes supports including Native Americans in the partnership and advisory committee proposed in the draft legislation. He writes:

I am Acjachemen, Nican Tlaca, indigenous to this land. For us the land gives us food, a place to play peon, a place where we are put to rest in peace, a place for ceremony, a place where life and culture are one. We need our land, we need to protect it for future generations. This is about a living breathing tribe thousands of years old. It is about all of my living relatives, my Ancestors, and the new lives entering the world today.

Daphne Calmes, Interim Dean, Charles Drew University, recognizes that

wellness and prevention strategies, including access to recreation and healthy green space, are key elements to improve health for all.

Former Senator Tom Hayden writes,

The racial and socio-economic disparities in public access to wilderness and recreation areas has been painfully clear to me for some time. Progress towards environmental and social justice is achievable with effective political leadership, the exposure of disparities, and the committed work of community-based coalitions.

Dennis Arguelles, Los Angeles Program Manager for the National Parks Conservation Association, writes,

National Park units have proven to generate ten dollars in economic activity for local communities for every one dollar invested in tax-payer support. For every two Park Service jobs created in a park, one job is created outside the park.

Supporters who submitted public comments by April 30 include the following:

Anahuak Youth Sports Association, Asian and Pacific Islander Obesity Prevention Alliance, Asian Pacific Policy & Planning Council, Robert Bracamontes, Acjachemen Nation, California Latino Congreso, The City Project, Charles Drew University, Conservation Law Foundation, Concerned Citizens of South Central Los Angeles, Tom Hayden, Latino Coalition for a Healthy California (LCHC), Los Jardines Institute (The Gardens Institute), Multicultural Communities for Mobility, National Parks Conservation Association, National Recreation and Parks Association, Sierra Club Environmental Justice & Community Partnerships Program, Social and Public Art Resource Center (SPARC)

You can find more information here:

Representative Chu's Frequently Asked Questions about the San Gabriel National Recreation Area Proposal

Discussion Draft San Gabriel National Recreation Area, Wilderness, and Wild & Scenic Rivers Legislation and Maps

National Park Service, San Gabriel Watershed and Mountains Special Resource Study & Environmental Assessment (Newsletter #5, Nov. 2011)

Information about the San Gabriel Mountains Forever campaign is available here and here.

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