If Socrates said “the unexamined life is not worth living” couldn’t we say “ It’s not worthy to live in an unexamined City” ?
Trash talk Saturday went in May to Sepulveda Basin Wildlife Reserve. It’s a fantastic park to discover, one of the rarest places in LA 100% dedicated to wildlife. The reserve in itself is about 225 acres but the whole park is a larger recreation area (about 2000 acres including different facilities). The wildlife zone is divided in two parts, one in the south of the Burbank Boulevard, and one in the north. In the north part of the reserve you can go walking (without dogs), along the shores of the small lake and along Haskell Creek. You will observe many birds so take your binoculars!
Enjoying a little bit deeper parks during Trash Talk Saturday, means having a better understanding of the location we are cleaning. It’s also a path for a better appreciation of the location. We had two talks during this Trash Talk Saturday : one about the history of the park, one about trash (highlighting this month the issues raised by plastics). I am just going here to highlight a few ideas, so don’t hesitate to ask us for the text itself or the sources used to make the talks.
Sepulveda basin wildlife reserve history.
What is important to remember about Sepulveda Basin Wildlife? The first obvious thing to say: it’s a wetland area and of course that is largely explained by the presence of the Sepulveda Dam in the south east of the recreation area. But in order to explain the presence of the water that led to the creation from 1979 to 1984 by the US Army Corps of Engineers of the south part of the reserve and in 1988 of the north part we need to understand the relationship between geographical and geological aspects of a natural history and of course, human history.
Sepulveda Basin is located within the San Fernando Valley which is a watershed explained by the presence of Mountains on the south (Santa Monica Mountains), on the east (San Gabrie Mountains), on the north (Santa Susana Mountains), and on the west (Simi Hills). The water from the mountains end in this watershed basin, the San Fernando Valley. (Sierra Club Angeles chapter website) But the story of the park is not only related to the history of the Los Angeeles River and its management by the US Army Corps of Engineers. The story of the park is also linked to the geological aspects of California and the tectonicity : the park exists because of the Sylmar earthquake. The Van Norman Reservoir nearly collapsed during the event and clay was taken from the sepulveda basin for consolidation purposes. The removal of clay left pits in the area that start becoming filled with water in winter. The wetland area was borned ! (sepulveda basin wildlife website / Audubon society website)
The most interesting part of this history is maybe the story of the creation of an ecosystem designed to sustain the fauna, especially the birds . Elle Zunino is one of the botanist who did the research and the work, in the late 70S : “ We selected plant species based on the physical environment behind the dam, the species native to the area and the needs of the fauna, especially birds. Riparian on the bottom-land and coastal sage/chaparral species on the hotter, drier south-facing berms.” (sepulveda basin wildlife website) Human transform the surrounding and create environment, int this are in particular, Elle Zunino wasn’t and her colleagues wasn’t the first to do so in the 80s – The Tongva by their actions “promoted and maintained habitats of useful plants and animals” (Audubon Society). Unfortunately part of that work was destroyed in 2012 and the tension between flooding management and creation of parks and preservation of ecosystem is a question raised again today with the LA river project. (Los Angeles Times)
Trash talks about trash : Plastics
There are different good things about participating in Trash Talk Saturday. The first one is the most obvious : you see the positive result or your own action : clean a small area and enjoy comparing a before and after pictures. You really remove trash and you can see it, you can weigh it, you can count every trash you grab and remove from the ground !
This Saturday the equivalent of 25 bags of trash was removed from three spots and we can be proud to say that Haskell Creek is a little bit cleaner! But there are other benefits in doing that. Collecting trash creates a mirror of our social practices : what do we buy, consume, and throw (sometimes unfortunately in our surroundings) and also what kind of trash do we collect. One of them is of course Plastic. Julien did the first part of a talk about plastic. Explaining the creation of plastic, explanations about the success of plastics in our economy were given : How come that plastic is now found everywhere : in our home, in the industry and unfortunately in different ecosystems especially the coastal one and the ocean ? In 2015 the world produced more than 380 million tonsof plastic which is roughly equivalent to the mass of two-thirds of the world population. (Our World in Data, 2018) Discussion followed about possible actions, facts: a good way to think and act on a Saturday morning.
Audubon society [Online] // NATURAL HISTORY OF THE SAN FERNANDO VALLEY. – https://www.sfvaudubon.org/natural-history-of-the-san-fernando-valley/.
Audubon Society History of SBWA [Online]. – https://www.sfvaudubon.org/13914-2/.
KCET [Online] // In the Heart of the Valley: How to Explore the Sepulveda Basin Wildlife Reserve . – https://www.kcet.org/food-living/in-the-heart-of-the-valley-how-to-explore-the-sepulveda-basin-wildlife-reserve.
LA Times [Online] // Los Angeles Time. – February 4, 2021.
Sahagun Louis LA times Nature group stunned after Army Corps levels habitat; Trees and shrubs in part of Sepulveda Basin will be replaced with native grasses. [Online]. – Los Angeles Time, Dec 29, 2012 Dec 29.
If you have ever spent time in the Zero Waste space on the internet, you may have come across perfectly curated minimalist kitchens with no plastic in sight. The reality, however, is that this goal is unrealistic for most people. Not everyone has access to bulk stores, farmers markets and specialty shops that offer plastic-free goods. Moreover, these beautiful zero waste households ignore the fact that the problem is not consumers who have little to no say how their products are packaged, but the companies that continue to prioritize plastic packaging. So, what can we do?
Consider a Trash Audit: If you’re a fan of the outdoors, it’s not an uncommon sight to see wrappers, bottles, tissues and more littering everything from neighborhood parks to remote mountain vistas. When you visit an outdoor space, consider bringing a trash bag and collecting stray trash (and remember to dispose of your own trash correctly!) and take it to the next level with a trash audit. Keep track of frequently spotted brands when picking up trash and email those companies about their contributions to the ongoing waste problems.
Contact Brands You Love: Is there a particular product that you love but it bugs you that it comes in plastic? Email the company and let them know your thoughts! Caving to consumer pressure, many brands are beginning to offer plastic free alternatives as it becomes clear that it is a priority for their customers. Commit to sending one or two emails a month and encourage your friends to join in!
Support Legislation: Keep an eye out for upcoming proposals that focus on reducing our reliance on plastics. Here in Los Angeles, the “Skip the Stuff” policy to prevent unwanted plastic utensils being added to take-out orders has been approved by the City. Keep the momentum up by contacting your representatives to thank them for supporting the motion! And on a federal level, let your representatives know that you support policies like the Break Free From Plastic Pollution Act.
Above everything, be kind to yourself. Unless you are a billionaire with a fleet of private jets, a mega mansion, or a multinational corporation that actively contributes to harming the planet, you are not the problem. Most of the damage being done to our planet is not the result of that steak you ate for dinner last week or that bottled water you bought because you forgot to bring your reusables, but the economic systems in place that prioritize cheap, unsustainable practices. Keep making changes on an individual level and this Earth Day join us in considering ways to make our low waste, plastic-free journeys a catalyst for positive changes in our communities and our world.
Our family finished a lot of puzzles to pass the pandemic time. The first rule? Start with the edges to give the puzzle its structure and shape.
If solving environmental issues on Earth Day was a 10,000 piece puzzle, you’d likely find sustainable transportation and the future of mobility along its edges. These two key elements are the backbone and solution to a myriad of challenges we face as a planet.
This year, the Biden Administration has ambitious plans around infrastructure. Like Lyndon Johnson’s sweeping reforms in the 1960s (Clean Air Act, Civil Rights Act) and FDR’s New Deal, we shouldn’t shy away from big ideas to restore balance and make an impact.
So how do we do it?
The first step would be to rethink how we get around. Internal combustion engines are quickly becoming relics of a polluted past. While electric vehicles show promise with near-zero emissions, they are not our silver bullet to solve climate change and transportation problems. EVs are still cars. Cars bring congestion and traffic violence. And the clock is ticking. We can’t replace internal combustion cars with electric cars fast enough to make enough of a difference.
In Los Angeles County, two-thirds of all travel is less than five miles. Bikes, scooting, and walking are far better options than taking a car for most short trips. That means digging the bike out of the garage and braving the streets for a spin.
Easier said than done.
To usher in a cleaner world where bikes are the go-to option, we need a safer and dependable infrastructure to allow that world to thrive. We need mobility lanes, bus lanes, and public transportation that’s efficient and reliable.
We need neighborhood streets to be places where kids can play and people can stroll – not highways where humans live in fear of getting struck by cars.
We need to make e-bikes more affordable. Electric bikes make getting around by bike accessible to many, but they’re too pricey to be popular. Big moves need to be made: rebates and subsidies – like those the government provides to prop up the EV industry – are necessary. E-bikes may be the most significant and smartest bet we can make as a society.
We need to rethink parking. America is a car country, but the world is changing, and America must change with it. With the boom of micro-mobility options and ride-sharing apps, people are driving less. With fewer cars, we need fewer parking spaces. The astonishing amount of concrete devoted to cars is absurd; with our current housing and climate crisis, we simply don’t have the space for all that empty space.
Just imagine a world with less parking. Neighborhood parks for every corner. Protected bike lanes for our children. Pedestrian plazas for communities to enjoy.
Like a winter puzzle, solving these challenges requires many hours, and many hands putting in the work. But this is our planet. And it’s up to us to figure it out.
Wildfires have become a constant in the life of most Californians; they’ve caused massive destruction to homes, lives, livelihoods and habitat, increased greenhouse gases, and negatively impacted biodiversity. The sweeping pace and colossal severity of the fires California endured in 2020 – morethan 8,200 fires ravaged over 4 million acres – exacerbated by weeks of dry, hot conditions was a stark reminder of how fast climate change is accelerating and putting California at the precipice of a new era of wildfire impact.
And 2021 isn’t looking much better, given the little rainfall the state has experienced so far. According to a report in the San Francisco Chronicle, “California is barreling toward its driest and most fire-prone months,” increasing the number of fires per month. In the month of January, there were 297 wildfires, compared to 97 wildfires in January 2020.
Experts describe this as the “new normal,” where historic wildfire buffers such as 12-lane freeways now fail to stop wind-driven wildfires. The 2018 Woolsey fire jumped the 101 freeway, and the 2017 Thomas fire sped past 70miles of fuel breaks and three major highways. The economic toll mirrors the loss of life and habitat devastation these fires cause. In2020 the cost was over $12.079 billion, including over $10 billion in property damage and $2.079 billion in fire suppression costs.
Legislators have yet to pass a law that would prohibit building in Very High Fire Hazard Severity Zones, which numerous scientists and experts have touted as the most effective method to stop more destruction and death, particularly since approximately 95% of fires the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection responds to are caused by humans. Alexandra Syphard, senior research scientist at the Conservation Biological Institute, and other experts told the LosAngeles Times, “to stem the escalating loss of life and property, California must curb development in high fire-hazard zones.”
State Sen. Henry Stern’s bill, SB55, however, is poised to do just that. It would prevent housing construction (new development) in fire hazard severity zones “unless there is substantial evidence that the local agency has adopted a comprehensive, necessary, and appropriate wildfire prevention and community hardening strategy to mitigate significant risks of loss, injury, or death.”
On April 8, Governor Newsom unveiled a $536 million funding plan focused on prevention measures. Legislators have put forth several bills that also address prevention tactics, including:
AB 642 –Wildfires — Friedman would require the Director of Forestry and Fire Protection to identify areas in the state as moderate and high fire hazard severity zones.
The Sierra Club Wildland Urban Wildfire Committee focuses on addressing land use planning and other issues related to the increasing intensity and frequency of wildfires in the Wildland-Urban Interface (WUI). To that end, our committee initiated a resolution adopted by the Sierra Club on August 22, 2020, that “supports policies that prohibit new building in Very High Fire Hazard Severity Zones, consistent with established Sierra Club infill policy, to respond to increasing intensity and frequency of devastating wildfires on lives, habitat, property, infrastructure, and the environment.”
While prevention measures are effective and needed, the dangers of continuing to build in Very High Fire Hazard Severity Zones are undisputable. If we are going to stymie the destruction, death, and loss of habitat from wildfires, we must stop building in the WUI. And, there is hope: “Since we humans are the source of most fires, we are also the solution to reducing the number of costly and damaging fires,” according to UMass Amherst researchers.
Right now, every day is Earth Day and presents an opportunity to take action and push for bold, transformative legislation that both helps combat wildfires now and plants the seeds for a sustainable future. For all Sierra Club Earth Week actions, click here.
Ileana Wachtel is a member of the Sierra Club Wildland Urban Wildfire Committee, a media strategist and communications expert.
This Earth Month we have a unique opportunity to get involved in the effort to bring a new ribbon of nature, parks, and community to our area around the Los Angeles River.
The LA County Department of Public Works released a draft master plan that is set to guide development and restoration efforts along the entire 51-mile length of the River. The public is invited to send in comments, and Friends of the LA River set up an easy to use comment portal!
The concrete flood control channel that we see at the River today – running from Canoga Park in the San Fernando Valley to Long Beach and the Pacific Ocean – was once home to an entire river ecosystem of native plants and wildlife. For the Tongva/Gabrieleño/Kizh people who have called this area home for 8,000 years, this waterway was life, providing abundant resources that they protected and sustained by living in balance with Mother Earth.
Things began to change in the 1500s when European colonists arrived; more and more people moved to the area, throwing off the balance. After a devastating flood in 1938, the wild and moody LA River was paved over, destroying most of the ecosystem. But some wild remains, specifically the three distinct “soft bottom” areas of the River (Sepulveda Basin, Glendale Narrows, and the Long Beach Estuary) that couldn’t be fully paved over. Those areas provide a glimpse of a more natural past and can give us a lot of ideas for a more environmentally-friendly River future, one that balances plants and animals with the communities of people who live nearby.
We believe there are many good elements to the existing master plan, but also a number of areas for improvement. We can use this plan to bring nature and green space back to neighborhoods that were stripped of it in 1938, while also ensuring those communities aren’t displaced in the process.
Now is a great time to get involved so that the opportunity to revitalize our River, and every living thing around it, isn’t wasted!
Jason Wise is a naturalist and outdoor educator who teaches young people about the wonders of nature and how to become advocates for the planet. He currently works for Friends of the LA River as an educator taking kids on virtual explorations of wild Southern California ecosystems
One of the best things about the world shutting down in the last year has been that people are spending more time outdoors. In Los Angeles, this newfound appreciation for nature has also come with more difficulty finding open, uncrowded green space. But have no fear! For those of you who are looking to stay away from the crowds, either because of COVID or just wanting some peace and quiet, here are five hidden gem parks in L.A. just waiting for you to explore. Shhh, though, we don’t want everyone finding out about them.
Elyria Canyon Park
Hiking the trails of this park will make you feel as if you’ve been teleported to a magical land far from Los Angeles. Yet, its plant life is actually the native habitat of the hills of Mount Washington. While it’s mostly hiking trails, there are places to stop and picnic if you’d rather lounge around or take a break. There are also glimpses of downtown L.A., the L.A. River, and the Griffith Observatory to remind us we haven’t actually left at all; indeed, this magical space exists in the middle of a city.
Elysian Park is actually one of the larger parks in Los Angeles and home to Dodger Stadium, yet it’s rarely crowded. It has many hiking trails to explore, open fields to gather with family and friends, hidden areas if you want to disappear for a bit, picnic tables, BBQs, and bathrooms – everything you need to have an adventure or chill out without having to travel a great distance. Also, the views of downtown and Dodger Stadium, especially at sunset, are unparalleled.
Lake Hollywood Park
Located in a neighborhood in the hills west of Griffith Park, this park is situated right below the Hollywood Sign, yet lacks any pretentiousness and is barely noticed, even among locals. It’s almost always empty with a large grassy space perfect for lying down and reading a book, giving your dog some exercise, or playing some outdoor games with kids or childlike adults. It’s also near Lake Hollywood Reservoir in case you want to walk, run, or bike around a body of water. (Unfortunately, you have to leave your dog at home for this one.)
South Los Angeles Wetlands Park
While there isn’t much open space to lounge about or play around in, South Los Angeles Wetlands Park is an innovative project in a historically underserved area of the city that is well worth checking out. A previous brownfield site was transformed into this park which uses urban runoff as a treatment-wetland sustaining resource. There are walking paths around the wetlands, perfect for viewing nature that has made this space its home.
Vista Hermosa Park
This park, right next to and overlooking downtown Los Angeles, has gotten more attention this past year, but is still worth visiting, especially if you’ve never been. Pretty well hidden in historic Filipinotown, this park has walking trails, streams, meadows, bunches of trees, a nature-themed playground, nearby soccer field, and an amphitheater.
Amanda Stemen is a member of the Sierra Club, as well as a licensed outdoor therapist and writer who loves to spend time in Los Angeles’ parks.
Griffith Park in Los Angeles is one of the largest urban parks in North America, and arguably one of the wildest. Here’s how you can help keep it that way.
A haven for both hikers and wildlife alike, including the famous P-22 mountain lion, Griffith Park is a green gem in the middle of urban Los Angeles. This public space is free and open to all, no matter their economic status or outdoor experience. It’s heavily used by both locals seeking the solitude of nature and tourists seeking that same nature, along with some epic views of the city and Hollywood Sign.
While development exists around the outskirts of Griffith Park (such as the LA Zoo, Greek Theater, and Griffith Observatory), the vast, wild middle of the park is relatively untouched. Now, a proposal for an aerial tram threatens to change that.
An aerial tram cutting through the middle of Griffith Park to the Observatory and/or Hollywood Sign, along with plans for a potential visitor center and a viewing platform at the top of Mount Lee near the sign, would irreversibly harm the largely natural landscape. It would create an overwhelming influx of visitors to quieter areas of the park that have been painstakingly preserved, altering wildlife patterns and adding new fire dangers to a very dry section of the Santa Monica Mountains.
A mechanical aerial tramway speeding above hikers also flies in the face of the park’s mission. Griffith Park has been preserved because in 1896, Colonel Griffith donated the Park to the citizens of Los Angeles as “a place of recreation and rest for the masses.” By creating a ticketed-only attraction in the middle of a city park, this aerial tram would turn this very public space that is intended for all Angelenos and other visitors, into a park only for those who can afford it.
In 1896, Colonel Griffith donated the Park to the citizens of Los Angeles as “a place of recreation and rest for the masses.” He envisioned the Park as an oasis for residents and visitors to reconnect with nature. Today the Park is used by a diverse set of Angelenos, for hiking, bicycling, picnicking, and more. The Park is also the largest natural wilderness within the City of Los Angeles parks department, containing a diverse ecosystem that houses a substantial number of native plant and animal species who rely on it to survive, including the world famous urban mountain lion, “P-22”. The Park is designated a Significant Ecological Area by the County of Los Angeles General Plan and a wildlife corridor linking the Santa Monica Mountains to the Verdugo Mountain range. It is considered one of 34 biodiversity hotspots for conservation worldwide by Conservation International. As such, the Park requires special consideration whenever its flora and fauna are threatened.
Previous proposals for aerial trams in the Park have been criticized by environmentalists and others. In 2005, a draft of a Griffith Park Master Plan including two proposed aerial trams was widely criticized for how it would despoil and commercialize the Park. The Griffith Park Working Group, created in response to that plan, ultimately asserted that the Park should maintain its Urban Wilderness Identity.
However, the 2018 Dixon Report (“Comprehensive Strategies Report: Improving Access, Safety, and Mobility Around Griffith Park & the Hollywood Sign”), commissioned by Councilmember David Ryu’s office and focusing on ways to alleviate problems associated with people trying to visit or view the Hollywood Sign, mentions the possibility of an aerial tram from one of several locations in the north or northeast parts of the Park (the Headworks Reservoir, the LA Zoo, and the Wilson and Harding Golf Course) to a Hollywood Sign viewing platform somewhere in the park. In a June 2018 evaluation of the Dixon Report strategies, Recreation and Parks General Manager Mike Shull and City Council Legislative Analyst Sharon Tso rated the aerial tram strategy as feasible, seemed to think it would help alleviate traffic in neighborhoods south of the park, and even appear to suggest building aerial trams in other Park locations.
There are, in fact, a number of options that would actually address the congestion in the neighborhoods south of the park, while giving visitors the photo shot they want; and many are mentioned in the Dixon Report. One promising strategy mentioned in the report is having electric shuttles take visitors from the Metro Station through the currently-closed Beachwood Gate, thus giving them access to the shortest hiking route to the Sign. Other simple strategies in the report include extending DASH shuttle service to Sign-related trailheads, increasing traffic and parking efficiency, and collaborating with Google and Waze to communicate more accurate information. In addition, a Hollywood Sign Visitors’ Center and viewing platform could be created in Hollywood, perhaps atop a commercial building. All of these alternatives could potentially help meet neighborhood concerns while still preserving the natural environment of the park.
Finally, there is an intrinsic environmental justice element associated with the monetization of the public Griffith Park by a private entity. Currently, the Park is free and accessible to all people Angelenos and tourists alike. Converting free, open, and wild park space into an attraction only available to those with the means to purchase tickets, chips away at the communal abundance of the Park, intended for all of us to enjoy, at no charge.
The Sierra Club Angeles Chapter has not endorsed any specific Griffith Park traffic alleviation alternative detailed in the Dixon report. We simply oppose any aerial tram that intersects wilderness areas of the park, and believe alternatives to this proposal should be explored.
On Tuesday June 5, 2018, you have a chance to make a huge difference for the parks, wild spaces, and the natural resources of California by voting YES on Proposition 68. Sierra Club California endorsed this bond initiative because it has a minimal budget impact while having a hugely positive impact on the environment of our state for decades to come.