L.A. mayor takes ‘listening tour’ of Owens Valley
BISHOP, Calif. – Los Angeles Mayor James Hahn wrapped up a two-day tour through the Owens Valley without endorsing any specific plan to preserve 500 square miles of the Central California area from development.
Earlier this month, Hahn proposed creating a conservation easement that would bar future development on nearly 320,000 acres of eastern Sierra Nevada land owned by the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power.
By the end of his tour Friday, Hahn indicated he had no preferred plan and said the process would take “as long as it takes.”
“I don’t think any solution about protecting DWP lands should be made without involvement of the stakeholders who live and work and have roots here,” Hahn said. “That would be arrogant in the extreme.”
Hahn’s visit, designed as a “listening tour,” included a series of meetings with local officials, environmentalists, cattle ranchers and Indian leaders in the region, about four hours’ drive north of Los Angeles.
Although many want to conserve the scenic stretch of desert plains and rocky meadows below the snowcapped Sierras, disagreements on how best to accomplish that remain.
Environmentalists are pushing for an easement, a legally enforceable contract, to prevent the DWP from ever developing areas it secretly bought up early last century to supply water to the burgeoning metropolis.
Others, however, object to a permanent ban.
“Our proposal is no proposal at all,” said Scott Kemp, a spokesman for the region’s 26 members of the Cattlemen’s Association. “We don’t want an easement. We don’t want anything. This is one of the prettiest valleys in the state, and we have the DWP to thank for that.”
DWP Board President Dominick Rubalcava has urged local business owners and cattle ranchers to oppose an easement and back his own proposal in which the DWP would promise not to develop the land for 50 to 100 years.
“‘Permanency’ and ‘forever’ are words that have consequences,” said Rubalcava, who stayed closed to Hahn during the tour. “At first look, such a thing sounds simple, but it may not be that easy.”
Before leaving, Hahn said he understood that many wanted the decision to involve local input.
“We heard loud and clear that people don’t want this to be something decided down in Los Angeles City Hall,” Hahn said. “I’d hate for people to think there is a predetermined outcome here.”
Hahn’s comments disappointed environmentalists.
“It’s not over,” said Mark Schlenz, an Owens Valley author and a director of the nonprofit Eastern Sierra Land Trust. “And we’re not going to forget there is a conservation easement proposal that was once claimed by this mayor and is now shelved.”