A bill currently awaiting action by the U.S. Senate could reshape Burbank’s access to natural wildlife reserves and stave off future development in the Verdugo Mountains and beyond.
Rep. Adam Schiff has stepped up local engagement in the venture recently in his mission to redesignate The Rim of the Valley Corridor — a network of parks and trails connecting the Santa Monica Mountains to those surrounding the San Fernando, Simi, Conejo and La Crescenta Valleys — as part of the Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area.
The Rim of the Valley Corridor includes the Verdugo Mountains and Griffith Park, which would become a part of the National Parks system. Schiff says the Rim of the Valley Corridor Preservation Act Senate Bill 1466 would allow the National Parks Service to better care for the region and its wildlife and increase access to trails while maintaining all areas within the corridor as undeveloped land.
The legislative endeavor, championed by Schiff in Congress, received several setbacks in its earlier iterations in past years, but has picked up momentum recently, garnering support in Senate committees.
The Act seeks to expand the corridor, enabling the National Park Service and the local community to enhance their stewardship of natural resources and habitats in the region, which includes most of the existing nature reserves surrounding Burbank.
“The Rim of the Valley is an area of breathtaking natural beauty that connects our urban city centers, suburbs in the Los Angeles basin, and the spectacular wilderness that surrounds us. Our bill would help protect these lands for generations to come,” Schiff said when he reintroduced the bill in March. “As more of this area is developed and open space diminishes, the wildlife it supports is increasingly at risk. Congress must preserve the Rim of the Valley and all that it offers, and we must act quickly on a bipartisan basis, or this precious opportunity will be lost forever.”
In recent years, the Verdugos have been in the sights of real estate developers. In 2005, a 200-plus unit luxury gated housing development called Canyon Hills was approved by L.A. City Council, based on an Environmental Impact Report conducted in 2003.
Even back then, the project was controversial for what conservationists called “the sweeping destruction of the Verdugo Mountains in Tujunga.”
Now, almost 20 years later, the developer, Whitebird Inc., wants to begin construction before the land-use agreement expires. Earlier this year, residents learned that Whitebird Inc. had recently pulled a grading permit to begin reshaping the mountain.
The process would entail grading the hillsides of the Verdugos, by reducing some ridge-lines by more than 80 feet and “paving over ecologically important mountain streams and ripping out hundreds of Coast Live Oak trees. The permit could be approved any day now,” said the wildlife advocacy group No Canyon Hills.
While existing private property would not be affected if Schiff’s bill were to pass, including the Whitebeard Inc.’s Canyon Hills development, the legislation would enact future protections for the region from developments looking to make similar gains into the Verdugo Mountains and beyond.
SCHIFF GATHERS WITH ONE ARROYO FOUNDATION
The One Arroyo Foundation in Pasadena gathered with Schiff, Supervisor Kathryn Barger and city officials recently to discuss the ambitious restoration efforts underway within the Arroyo Seco and in relation to the Rim of the Valley Corridor.
The nonprofit organization discussed on Sept. 10 its mission to restore and protect the Arroyo’s 900 acres of open space, and the soon-to-commence restoration of the trails under the Colorado Street Bridge and Devil’s Gate Dam sites.
The restoration initiative dovetails with the Rim of the Valley Corridor trail system and was identified as a key point in connecting the San Gabriel Region with the greater Rim of the Valley boundaries.
One Arroyo President/CEO Dan Rothenberg and Executive Director Rick Gould discussed the foundation’s origin and public support for its mission to restore and protect the area, and the soon-to-commence restoration of the trails.
“I believe the efforts to preserve and enhance the open spaces in the Arroyo will hopefully increase the accessibility of the Arroyo to the surrounding neighborhoods,” Rothenberg told the Leader. “Further, we believe with the current trail projects, and potential future projects, that people will be more excited and enthusiastic about taking advantage of the natural resources available to us all in [the area].”
The restoration of the Colorado Street Bridge and Devil’s Gate Dam trails are set to commence in late 2023 or early 2024, Gould added, emphasizing the Arroyo Seco’s unique role as an urban wilderness park.
First published in the September 23 print issue of the Burbank Leader.