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.