Claremont Insider: City of Trees Strikes Again

Friday, September 12, 2008

City of Trees Strikes Again

The news about the damage done to the Claremont Hills Wilderness Park by a bulldozer hired by the city's Community Services Department has been percolating through town ever since Tuesday's City Council meeting. The bulldozer apparently scraped a swath 100 feet or more wide along the Thompson Creek, from the lower end of Via Padova up to the Padua Hills Theatre.

Wednesday's Claremont Courier carried a letter from a reader who was outraged about the city's carelessness:

Plants, rocks and topsoil have been shoved into the creek bed, virtually destroying the fragile riparian habitat. Native oak trees have been partially buried by mounds of dirt and rocks and, in places the streambed itself has been buried under dirt, rocks and debris. The slope uphill from the streambed is now vulnerable to severe erosion. Before native plants can re-establish themselves, mustard and other non-native invasive species will turn the once pristine hillside into yet another ecological disaster.

Yes, protection from wild fires is important. Yes, the Vegetation Management Plan provides for brush removal. Yes, the Plan is sensitive to the preservation of hillside growth. The Vegetation Management Plan prohibits the use of bulldozers to clear brush and other vegetation.

In the past, Claremont has shown its disregard for protecting our endangered hillsides. By failing to follow the Vegetation Management Plan in prior years, the City added to the destruction of the fire that destroyed many homes adjacent to the Wilderness Park; that negligence cost the City $17,500,000 when it lost the suit brought against it for its failure to abide by the Plan.

Today's Daily Bulletin also had an article by reporter Wes Wood II, who noted that the city is acknowledging the error, which may end up costing $200,000 or more to fix:
"We made a mistake," said City Manager Jeff Parker on Thursday.

Community Services Director Scott Carroll apologized at Tuesday's City Council meeting for what happened at the park in the foothills of the San Gabriel Mountains.

The Los Angeles County Fire Department required the city to clear brush in the park, Parker said. The Claremont Hills Wilderness Park Vegetation Management Plan from 2003 states that only manual clearing can be used.

Carroll said Thursday in a separate interview the city was trying to get the brush cleared in a cost-effective manner and didn't want to "eat up the budget" with the use of manual clearing.

Parker said he plans to have a walk through the damaged area on Monday, get bids to put the area back into shape and then hold a community meeting to discuss everything as soon as Sept. 22.

"My intention with the community meeting is to get those with interests in the issue to get all on the same page," Parker said.

He said the city would have to look at all the information with experts before determining the final cost of the repair but would pay the more than $200,000 in damages if the amount is found to be accurate.

Padua Hills Community Association board member Gary Mizumoto described Parker's words as a good first step if the city does not "do it on the cheap."

Well, that's always the danger, isn't it? The city spares no expense on things like a $1,290,000 trackless trolley or the $10 million Village Expansion parking structure, but will try to cut every corner possible when it comes to its pledges to maintain its property.

Photos of the damage have been circulating town this past week, and we finally received some copies we can post. As they say, a picture's worth a thousand words:

(Click on images to enlarge)
City of Trees I

City of Trees II

City of Trees III

City of Trees IV