L.A. Zoo Vision Plan Expansion Threatens Wildlife in Griffith Park

L.A. Zoo Vision Plan Expansion Threatens Wildlife in Griffith Park

By Aida Ashouri

A hundred years ago, a sign was erected in Hollywood to advertise a new housing development. “Hollywoodland” lay before then-empty hills that had just begun to be graded for housing development in what we now know as the Hollywood Hills. Since then, over 95% of the wildlands in Los Angeles have been destroyed – any remaining wildlands can now be considered as valuable as gold.

Griffith Park, one of the last remaining bastions of open space where native wildlife can thrive, is one of these remaining spaces. The Park has been home to more than 200 bird species and 70 nesting bird species. Native plant species of grave conservation concern also call the Park their home, including the Humboldt Lily and Catalina Mariposa-Lily. The only Bigberry Manzanita left in the eastern Santa Monica Mountain occurs at the higher ridges in the Park, from Mt. Hollywood to Mt. Lee, as well as a small population of Parry’s Cholla, a locally-rare native cactus, found near the old Zoo site. Additionally, the Park is home to the Nevin’s Barberry, one of the rarest plants in the U.S.

Such a rich ecosystem is also fragile, and currently under threat. The Los Angeles Zoo seeks to expand its grounds greatly. Within its gated confines in Griffith Park, the Zoo has a “Vision Plan” to create a multi-entertainment venue, add exhibits, add a large visitor center on the ridgeline above the Zoo, and blast the ridgeline to create an artificial canyon to make a rock wall, among other edifices. There was sparse public outreach regarding the plan, but much public outcry. There were at least 300 public comments on the council file against the expansion. Nevertheless, the City Council passed the Environment Impact Report (EIR), greenlighting the Vision Plan.

Although the Zoo lies in a net-zero air quality plan for public works, the Vision Plan would contribute an exponential rise in carbon emissions as its focus is mainly to increase visitors through vehicular traffic into the Park. There are motions on the table to investigate improving public transportation within the Park, but there’s no requirement that these be established in order to allow for the Vision Plan to proceed. In addition, although Los Angeles already has a problem with high ozone levels, the Environmental Impact Report (EIR) acknowledges that the Zoo Plan would generate emissions of NOX, an O3 precursor, in excess of the regional mass daily threshold.

In addition to the construction, the Zoo plans to have nightly events that bring light, noise, and traffic to the Park. The EIR acknowledges that “[i]ndirect impacts on special-status wildlife species could also occur due to increased noise and light. These species could abandon habitats within and adjacent to areas of proposed development and move into adjacent areas in the vicinity (e.g., Griffith Park), increasing competition for available resources in those areas. This could result in indirect impacts to and the loss of additional special-status wildlife species outside of the project site, including sensitive species that may not be able to survive with increased competition.” Alarmingly, the EIR acknowledges that species may go extinct in the Park because this Plan has “the potential to result in the loss of individuals, or the reduction of existing habitat, of a state or federal listed endangered, threatened, rare, protected, or candidate species, or a Species of Special Concern.”

Even though there is a plan to destroy a hillside to create an artificial canyon, there is no analysis as to the impact of that loss on erosion, flooding, pollution, or impact on water flows within the Park. Rather, the analysis is that the water flow impact would be “minor” and that the Plan would “not increase the potential for soils to be subject to wind or water erosion.” There’s no analysis of how the new concrete and nonpermeable land affect water flows and groundwater in Griffith Park. The EIR acknowledges that the destruction of the hillside will “potentially result in loss of sensitive natural communities, species, and protected trees.” Lastly, there is little in the Plan that makes it sustainable. For example, there are no plans to reuse the dirt excavated, thus resulting in at least 3,000 diesel trucks that would be required to move the dirt out of the Park.

On its face, this Plan would be destructive to Griffith Park, and thus its wildlife The EIR itself blatantly states that species could go extinct and be under increased stress due to this plan, yet the Council passed it anyway. The Zoo leadership has admitted that the motivation for this expansion is to increase revenue and capture tourist as a result of the Olympics. But at what cost?

Aida Ashouri is an attorney with Legal Aid Foundation of LA and community advocate interested in diversity & inclusion, transportation, public health & safety, and environmental affairs

Citizens for Los Angeles Wildlife (CLAW) Fights to Protect Local Wildlife and Wildlands

Citizens for Los Angeles Wildlife (CLAW) Fights to Protect Local Wildlife and Wildlands

By Tony Tucci

Ten years ago, Citizens for Los Angeles Wildlife, or CLAW, was born from a group of grassroots Laurel Canyonites, who organized to remind Los Angeles City Planning that the wild ones that walk among us should not be cut off and displaced by development. After successfully filing a lawsuit to protect a wildlife corridor and overhearing a City Zoning Administrator say, “put up a sign and tell the animals where to go,” CLAW was formed and fired-up to change the discretion and opinions of bureaucrats and policymakers in order to protect the wildlife, wildlife habitat, and wildlife corridors of greater Los Angeles.

In 2014, CLAW initiatives immediately gained traction. One became a motion to ban rat poison, which resulted in Recreation and Parks abandoning the use of Second Generation Anticoagulant Rodenticides (SGARs) in 16,000 acres of City parkland. Another major initiative became a motion to direct City Planning to write a Wildlife Ordinance that was immediately signed by five City Councilmembers (more on this later).

As years went on, more CLAW initiatives ensued and became wins. Partnerships with other like-minded organizations helped pass AB 1788, a bill that placed a moratorium on SGARs throughout California. Another partnership called “Let’s Buy a Mountain” successfully preserved 17 acres of open space in Laurel Canyon. In 2017, just near the close of escrow and establishment of the preserve, CLAW’s Nature Cam wildlife photography was launched with the discovery of Leo, the uncollared mountain lion. (Please visit CLAW’s website for photos and videos.)

Leo the mountain lion has a home range that spans the Eastern Santa Monica Mountains between the 405 and 101 Freeways, a range that includes parkland twice that of Griffith Park, where P-22 once roamed. Like P-22, Leo is equally corralled by freeways. But unequally, his home range is highly fractured by hillside neighborhoods, including Bel Air, Beverly Hills, Benedict Canyon, and the Hollywood Hills. Uncollared and not studied, Leo has been elusively and peacefully coexisting with humans for at least eight years.

As Leo has become our mascot, protecting our local environment is gaining traction. LA City’s Biodiversity Expert Council has determined the Eastern Santa Monica Mountains is a hotspot of critical ecological value. California’s Department of Fish and Wildlife has given Southern California mountain lions interim status as a threatened species. A pilot district has been established for the aforementioned Wildlife Ordinance with the exact same boundaries as Leo’s home range.

Now, almost 10 years since CLAW’s initiative was presented, the City Council’s Planning and Land Use Management Committee unanimously voted to support the Ordinance and move it to a full vote by City Council. We are thrilled. We cannot preserve wildlife habitat with conservation alone; we need these regulations. The Ordinance reduces the land disturbance and mass of future projects so that animals can continue to move freely. In the most environmentally sensitive areas, the Ordinance will create site-plan review requiring future developments to chip in and leave space for animals to pass.

However, the Ordinance is not yet a done deal. While over 30 environmental and community organizations (including thanks Sierra Club) embrace the Ordinance along with many residents in the pilot district, and communities of modest means clamor for its expansion into their neighborhoods; unfortunately, by indoctrinating the real estate industry, the rich and privileged (primarily in Bel Air) have waged a deafening roar of misinformation and controversy against the Ordinance. Worried about their ability to flip houses and maximize return on investment, they have fear-mongered some residents into believing that their property values will go down. And they continue to spread their lies.

The Sierra Club continues to advocate with CLAW and fight the noise. If you are a resident of Los Angeles, please contact the office of your City Councilmember and let them know you support the Wildlife Ordinance.

Tony Tucci is currently CLAW’s Chairperson, overseeing their efforts in Conservation, Education and Advocacy. In addition to Co-founding CLAW ten years ago, he has an additional 15 years under his belt as a community organizer and vice-president of Laurel Canyon Association, a past delegate to the Hillside Federation, a past member of the Citizen Oversight Committee for Mountains Recreation and Conservation Authority, and a past board member of the Bel Air Beverly Crest Neighborhood Council. https://www.clawonline.org/who-we-are#board

Bear Divide is for the Birds

Bear Divide is for the Birds

By Barbara Hensleigh

At 5 am one day in April, I head out with my friend Jen to a place I have never been before, though I have lived and hiked in and around L.A. for over 30 years: Bear Divide in the San Gabriel Mountains. After spending the night in L.A., migratory birds – thousands of them, coming from two different flight paths – converge here heading north. They fly low to the ground and up over a crest in the mountains and are identified and counted as they fly. Some are caught in stationary nets, banded, and then released by researchers. The birds are bright blue, red, and yellow; some are multi- colored––among them are Lazuli Buntings, Wilson Warbers, Swainson’s Thrush and Western Tanagers. I saw the birds and the amazing team identifying, banding, researching them. They are genuinely impassioned about saving these birds. I even got to release a newly banded bird (pro tip: you don’t throw it up in the air and hope it flies). The Western Tanagers are the feistiest. They squawk and flap their wings in protest of their undignified treatment by humans.

Bear Divide, where these birds fly north, is a special place that’s worth saving and with our help it will be. The Sierra Club is part of a coalition working to expand the San Gabriel National Monument to include Bear Divide. Roberto Morales, Acting Associate Director at the Sierra Club, a number of volunteers, and the Nature for All Coalition are working closely with our elected officials in Washington and Los Angeles. Of the expansion, Morales says: “From access to nature to providing refuge for many sensitive species, the San Gabriel Mountains and the Angeles National Forest have incalculable value to the Greater Los Angeles area. Right now, climate change and proposed development are putting some of these nearby natural places at risk.”  US Representative Judy Chu (28th District) has introduced a bill in Congress to expand the Monument to include Bear Divide as part of an additional 100,000 protected acres. Senator Alex Padilla has introduced a similar bill in the Senate. With our support, the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors just passed a resolution in support of the expansion and Morales is now working with the L.A. City Council on a similar resolution. Building support through our activism and membership is what the Sierra Club is all about, but even if Congress doesn’t act, all is not lost. President Biden can add to the Monument by following President Obama’s lead in 2014, when he used the Antiquities Act to establish it. The proposed expansion also falls under that Act.

The birds of Bear Divide aren’t the only animals that will be protected through the expansion. Nelson’s Bighorn Sheep will gain an additional 14,000 acres for their use. And then there are the bears, mountain lions and more obscure creatures, such as the chestnut snail (found only in the San Gabriels), the California newt (its gills disappear when it becomes terrestrial), and the endangered mountain yellow-legged frog.

What can you do to support the expansion and keep Bear Divide for the birds? Take two minutes to sign this petition today.

Barbara Hensleigh is the volunteer Chair of the Central Regional Group of the Angeles Chapter of the Sierra Club