The following interview was conducted Oct. 16, 2012, at the Placerita Canyon Nature Center. On Oct. 3, 2012, the Los Angeles County Department of Parks and Recreation decided to open the Canyon Trail to mountain bikes effective March 2013. The county’s final trail assessment can be read [here].
Hayden Sohm, Deputy Director, Los Angeles County Department of Parks and Recreation
Hayden Sohm is in charge of all of Los Angeles County’s regional parks, which include: Frank G. Bonelli Regional Park, Castaic Lake State Recreation Area, Devil’s Punchbowl, Kenneth Hahn State Recreation Area, William S. Hart Regional Park, Peter F. Schabarum Regional Park, Vasquez Rocks, all Natural Areas and Wildlife Sanctuaries, the John Anson Ford Amphitheatre, and the Hollywood Bowl.
Steve Messer, Director, Concerned Off-Road Bicyclists Association (CORBA)
Jim Southwell, President, Placerita Canyon Nature Center Associates
Ron Kraus, Vice President, Placerita Canyon Nature Center Associates
(Interviewer) Leon Worden, President, SCVTV
Sohm: We just finished meeting with the docents and volunteers here.
Worden: What’s been the upshot so far?
Sohm: I think it’s been positive. … Probably the biggest concern was on the part of the volunteers, the stakeholders here … the background; why was this decision made? What was it based on? How did that process, how did we eventually arrive at that final decision? So I kind of explained that to them.
I think there’s a continuing concern about safety on the trail and how that’s going to be handled. I think there’s a concern about if there are conflicts or legitimate incidents on the trail, how are those going to be reported? Things like that. I think from the perspective of the existing trail users, I think there’s a real concern about, in terms of the overall trail experience, how it may be changed and, I think, from their view, a little bit degraded.
But you know, from my perspective, I think one of the things that I’ve shared with the group is: As a recreational manager, I have a responsibility to look at the constituency as a whole and the various aspects in terms of recreational need within an area. And I feel that this is a public trail, and if there are compelling reasons that would allow another user group to use this trail – and when I say compelling reasons, that would be that it wouldn’t jeopardize the safety of other trail users; that it wouldn’t impact resources; that it wouldn’t impact the sustainability of the trail – then I would probably go with the decision to allow multiple use on that trial. That’s what our assessment really – that’s what we found out when we did the assessment.
Worden: I’m assuming there is a definition of “natural area.” When we look at Castaic –
Sohm: Well there isn’t.
Worden: – look at Castaic Lake, it says “recreation area” –
Worden: All the signs in here say, “Placerita Canyon Natural Area.” What does that mean?
Sohm: We talked about that, and in terms of a codified definition of a “natural area” in the county parks system, there is no document that – in terms of an ordinance or a code – that actually defines what a natural area is. We have narratives. We have opinions. But there’s nothing there.
But what does exist, and really what applies in this case, is the classification of “state park.” Because this is a state park. And that is codified under the Public Resources Code. And a state park, which Placerita Canyon is – the county actually operates Placerita Canyon for the state; we have an operating agreement with the state to operate this unit, and it is a state park – and a state park classification, which this is, does allow for this kind of use.
Now, that’s not to say just because it’s a state park it automatically means that mountain bikes can be in a state park. But what it does say is that mountain bikes may not necessarily be excluded.
For example, Malibu Creek State Park allows mountain bikes. Point Mugu State Park allows mountain bikes. Mountain bikes are allowed in many state park units. But what it does require is some sort of assessment. If that trail was closed to mountain bike use, there needs to be some sort of assessment to determine whether it’s feasible to allow that to occur.
Worden: Having read the operating agreement, if I could paraphrase – I suppose it’s safe to say that the county can be more restrictive than the state, but it can’t be less restrictive than the state.
Sohm: Well that’s your opinion.
Worden: OK –
Sohm: I’m not an attorney. I think you know my perspective on that is that we try to – I think you’re right, in that certainly if we wanted to, we could apply additional constraints or restrictions for various number of reasons if we wanted to. That’s something we could do. But I think what I’m saying here is, as it relates to multi-use on these trails, we try to follow what we felt was a rational, scientific approach that was more than just something by fiat.
I mean, what we had before this time was really just a decree from an administrator that said mountain bikes weren’t allowed on the trail, and that was it. In fact I can show it to you. … This right here is the document. This was a document that was prepared by Mickey Long, who was the administrator for the natural areas. You may know Mickey. Great person. And this was prepared for staff. This was not a public document. If you go to the second page under general regulations –
Worden: Around what year was this?
Sohm: [To staff] Help me out here. 2001. You can see right here, Protection Clause for Natural Areas “do not allow” – and there is a number of things here, and you can see that at the end, there is a provision dealing with mountain bikes.
That is the only thing that we have that in any way, at least in writing, prevented – this is the basis for the current policy that was in place.
Worden: To your knowledge there hasn’t been any Board [of Supervisors] action defining what a natural area is?
Sohm: To my knowledge, no.
Worden: In practice – I mean, we have the words “natural area” and we have the words “recreation area.” If there’s not a policy to define those things other than the administrative action, how are they interpreted in practice? How are they differentiated in practice?
Sohm: I think it boils down to resource protection and the nature of the unit.
I think it’s very obvious what we have here – this is an area that’s relatively undeveloped, that probably 95 percent of the land here would be considered habitat. It’s an area that has been designated administratively as a natural area, and I think from the county perspective, we regard those as special places. And when I say that – if you were comparing it to, say, one of our neighborhood parks in Santa Clarita where there are playgrounds, sandboxes, baseball fields, things like that, you wouldn’t find those kind of features in a park like this.
It’s a regional park, so it’s not a very locally used park in terms – when I say that it’s not a neighborhood park, it is a regional park. It’s been designed as destination for a geographic region. Those are the things that are out there.
What you’re talking about is something I think we need. I think we need to really look at our park classifications and maybe codify those and define those a little bit more, because they are kind of nebulous. They are a little general and arbitrary.
Worden: Do you think there’s confusion on the part of the public about what a natural area is?
Sohm: I don’t think so.
Worden: – or in what uses would be allowed? It almost seems like a common sense issue that you wouldn’t necessarily have OHV use in Placerita because it’s a natural area.
Sohm: And you wouldn’t. But you wouldn’t have OHV use here because it’s a state park. Also because within the state system and that classification, they don’t allow mechanized vehicles on a trail.
There is one exception to that: If you have a disability, there’s current law that provides for people with disability that can use an alternative mobility device which can be mechanized. That’s the only situation where we would allow that.
I think what you’re getting at is within the state, there are classifications of “wilderness” and “preserve.” For example, Point Lobos is a preserve, and … there’s a very high level of protection there. No dogs are allowed in that park. No bikes are allowed in that park. They don’t even allow commercial filming in those parks. That’s their highest level, and I think maybe some people feel that quote, a “natural area” should be compared with maybe that level of resource protection. And like I say, there’s nothing that we have within the county system that ultimately defines what that level of protection could be other than the fact that we typically manage a natural park or natural area to primarily protect the resources, cultural or natural. So we aren’t going to allow ball fields in here, we’re not going to allow kids to play soccer, we’re not going to allow motorcycles on the trails, that sort of thing.
Worden: It’s fascinating to me that those aren’t defined. I think of Castaic – obviously you can fish on Castaic Lake.
Worden: Mountain biking is a sport. Are we in agreement there? Mountain biking is a sport, right?
Messer: [Indicates that in certain circumstances it can be considered a sport.]
Worden: It can be considered a sport. I like sportfishing. Am I going to be able to fish in Placerita Creek, if there were anything other than stickleback in there? I can fish in Castaic, so why wouldn’t I have an expectation that I can take a rod and reel, and even if I don’t catch anything, go fish [here]?
Sohm: I don’t know if this creek is closed. It would be [the California Department of] Fish & Game’s call. See, in that case – it wouldn’t be Fish & Game’s call, it would be the state to determine whether it was closed or open to fishing. Many of the coastal streams and creeks –
Worden: County could [close it to fishing], though.
Sohm: No, they can’t. That’s typically – when it comes to management of species, animals, typically the state trumps county on that. They have the responsibility for managing those resources, and we typically fall in line with Fish & Game in terms of that. We adhere to the Fish & Game code here, and regulations.
Worden: I understand there was a process by which you determined that mountain bikes should be allowed on the Canyon Trail.
Worden: We’ve all been at this long enough to know that you – I’m not saying predetermined – that you design a study or survey to reach an outcome after a question is posed.
Sohm: Backing into it? A self-fulfilling prophecy?
Worden: No. That’s not what I’m saying. [I’m asking] about the question. You could do a study to determine whether Placerita should remain a park or be sold to developers.
Worden: But that would presuppose that somebody, somewhere is open to the question. The decision would have been made that maybe it should be a park, maybe it shouldn’t. So at some point, in asking whether mountain bikes should be allowed on the Canyon Trail, somebody made the decision that maybe they should, maybe they shouldn’t. What went into that decision [to ask the question]?
Sohm: Oh, I can tell you absolutely. It was a call that I made.
Obviously the director supported it, but I think the real issue here was that other than this, we had nothing to justify that decision [to close the trail to mountain bikes], and we knew we would get challenged.
And I can just imagine myself in court responding to an attorney, and him asking me, “Well, Mr. Sohm, what was the basis of this policy?” And if I pointed to this [administrative action], I think it would be hard to prove our case. We needed more, and that’s exactly why we did what we did.
Other than an opinion from one person that mountain bikes weren’t appropriate to be used in this park, that’s all we had. Simple as that. And we needed more.
Worden: How is it that the fear of a lawsuit entered into the equation?
Sohm: As a manager, I feel that I’m responsible to come up with a reasonable, even to constituency – it’s not so much a fear of a lawsuit, it’s the idea that I’ve got a constituency that’s asking me, well what’s the basis for this decision? Why would we do this? And for me to say, well, the last manager thought it was best for the park, so that’s what we’re doing – that’s unacceptable to me.
I felt that we needed to do something to go beyond that, and that’s why we did what we did. As a manager, I think that’s the appropriate thing to do. You need to base your decisions and your policy on some solid data, some information that you could point to and say that’s why we did it. That’s all we did. That’s why we did what we did.
Worden: To your knowledge, except for this one small window [in time] where apparently an error was made in the signage [allowing mountain bike use] – I was at the dedication in 1971 of this park, and I don’t recall it being anything other than a hiking trail in the last 40 years. To your knowledge, over the last 40 years, except for that one small window of time, has it ever been anything other than a hiking trail?
Sohm: I think there’s been sporadic bike use on that.
Worden: [To Jim Southwell] Do you know, Jim?
Southwell: It’s been illegally used by bikers sporadically, on and off. There used to be a very, very large sign at the top of the Los Pinetos trail, right where it changes from being the county park border to the forestry area up there. There’s a big sign and it said, no motorized vehicles, no bicycles, hiking only. And then they have a couple of steel poles which were wrapped in tape, and they again said no motorcycles, no bicycles. That sign eventually was knocked down, and every time we go up there, we would try to prop it back up again, and eventually [one] day it just disappeared. I don’t know whether it got pulled over the side or anything, but whenever we stopped mountain bikers coming down that trail saying, “Hey, you’re not allowed down there,” they said, “I didn’t see any sign.”
Worden: What piqued my interest in this issue – the reason we’re here today – is that I had some questions I was trying to pose to the supervisor’s office. For the last 40 years, county policy has been that this has been a hiking trail, [and thus], the preservation of all the plants and animals and everything along the trail has been a very important thing.
Sohm: And it still is.
Worden: The county has fostered this docent group whose members obviously care very deeply about all those plants and animals and everything on the trail. What got me interested is the degree of angst they felt in reaction to the decision to allow mountain bikes on the trail. I got to thinking: The county has basically spent the last 40 years encouraging these people to care very deeply about all the plants and animals on the trail, and now a lot of them – who know a lot more about the plants and animals than I ever will – feel that by allowing this recreational/sporting use, the mountain bikes, on the trail, that those plants and animals may be threatened. So my question is: What do you say to these people? Should they not care so much? If we’re now going to allow a use that they perceive [to be damaging], are we saying OK, thanks for the last 40 years, but maybe you should take a step back and we’re going to do something different now?
Sohm: I guess I don’t know how to answer that because I think you’re kind of front-loading that question with a lot of bias. I mean, you’re drawing a conclusion that mountain biking is automatically going to jeopardize resources on that trail. I don’t buy in to that.
We’ve met with the docents, we’ve met with the key leadership within the group, and they are becoming a part of this process. I mean, I’ve got Ron [Kraus], I’ve got Ray [Orloff], I’ve got people that are leadership members of this group that are working with the mountain bike community to identify resources, to survey the trail to make sure that we have some baseline information that we can go with.
You know, the other thing is, you’re kind of talking like were jumbling into a brave new world. This is something that’s been going on all over the country, and I don’t necessarily – I certainly haven’t heard about any significant resource degradation directly related to mountain biking. I’m sure there are probably cases where it may occur, but in most cases it’s probably due to lack of maintenance more than anything.
Our role is to manage this trail and prevent resource degradation from occurring, and that’s the message that I’ve had for the docents. I’m a very big advocate of resource protection, be it cultural or natural. And we certainly recognize that that trail has some significant resources that need to be protected. That will be one of our guiding principles.
The other thing that I will tell you – and this goes for a lot of the criteria that we’ll be looking at, be it public safety, be it resource impact – we’re going to continue to monitor this. And you know, if it turns out that it’s not working out, we’ll revisit this.
Worden: Let me explain why I’m asking it this way. I thought the question was put in an interesting way by a member of the docent group who said, you know, look. We’ve contributed thousands of hours and thousands of dollars to this park over the last many years. And clearly the docents have a deep, vested interest in this specific park – not just any park, but this specific park. Their question was: Why does that not carry more weight, over a group that is interested in being able to bike in parks in general but doesn’t necessarily have that same vested interest in this one specific park? Having given so much to this specific park, why doesn’t that carry more weight in the decision? That’s the question. How do you answer that? That’s why I ask.
Sohm: OK, and we have certainly visited that question with the group. I want to make it clear that we certainly acknowledge the contributions and the work that the docents and the NCA, the Nature Center Associates, have done for Placerita and all our natural areas. I certainly feel like we have ratcheted up our response to that group and how we’re dealing with this thing as it relates to them. I guess I look at that and in terms of volunteer service and contributions [it] is certainly something that we acknowledge.
But again, in terms of where I’m coming from as an employee that is responsible for managing public land, you know, we also need to look at the stake that other taxpayers and other recreational users have in terms of a right to use these public lands. I think there’s – I don’t see how you can – there’s no hierarchy there. It’s just that I think we certainly recognize the contributions that this group has had, and we’ve tried to listen to their concerns, and were trying to mitigate their concerns here.
But I think in terms of the decision-making process and the management of the trail, we’re obligated to all the public. I don’t think it would be appropriate to discriminate over one group, absolutely not. And I think that there’s no way to really establish a hierarchy in terms of who’s more important.
When you’re managing public lands, you need to look at all the groups, and you need to make decisions based on what you think [is] sound information.
Worden: You said you hadn’t seen demonstrative evidence that mountain bikes damage resources. If [docents] came forward with such evidence, how would that be treated?
Sohm: We talked about that, and like I mentioned before – this is a process. We’re committed to looking at this process and monitoring how it works [and] what the outcomes are in Placerita.
Like I said, we’re going to be looking at public safety information, and if we’re getting an inordinate amount of complaints or conflicts or actual injury on the trail [that] could be attributed to conflicts between bikers and hikers or whatever, we’re going to deal with that. If we’re getting and inordinate amount of resource damage reports, we’ll come back and we’ll look at what’s going on here. I’m confident that we’re going to be able to work this thing and manage it so we won’t have those kinds of conflicts.
But I’ve told these people in our public meetings that we’ve actually implemented a specific process to monitor conflicts on the trail. Staff is going to be developing … a report that the docents will have. We’ll also have an online process where somebody wants to – say you’re out on the trail and you run into a problem. You can go online. We’ve got – it’s called “Grade Your Park.” There’s an online report card. There’s actually a category for safety. … You can log in and grade the park. You can give it a D or an F; if one of those happens, it goes automatically to my iPhone and my directors will get it, and we’re required to deal with those.
In fact, on a monthly basis I have to do a report for all these D’s and F’s that I get.
Worden: What are the specific rules for mountain bikes going to be? Is there a speed limit or something? And how will it be policed?
Sohm: There are specific rules. If you’ll bear with me for a second – I’ve got the luxury of having a sign shop, so we’re going to be able to develop some good, specific signage, and we would probably be incorporating some of this information. You know, there’s the universal trail triangle; I think you’ve probably seen it…
Worden: Bikes give way to everybody, right?
Sohm: Right. And … I know that that is an issue – that one of the things that the docents were telling me is that they have yet to experience a bike really yielding right of way . I think Steve was mentioning that one of the issues was coming up from behind, and coming up with a way to deal with that.
Worden: I’d imagine it would spook the horses, too.
Sohm: Yeah. But we’re working with CORBA [Concerned Off-Road Bicyclists Association]; we’re working with the local bike group here in Santa Clarita. We’re going to really emphasize education. I mean, for us – I’m not a peace officer. I don’t have enforcement ability. So in terms of what we’re going to do as an organization, we’re going to focus on peer pressure. We’re going to focus on education. We’re going to try to get the word out. We’re going to make it clear that if incidents occur, we’re jeopardizing the privilege of using the trail. We’re bound to be talking about that.
Now on the enforcement end, as far as actual enforcement, the Parks Department has what is called a Parks Bureau that is a part of the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department. They are in the loop, and we’ve served notice to them that we’re going to want some focused enforcement down here.
The trail isn’t opened [to mountain bikes] yet, and we’re already getting bikes on the trail. I’ve let them know that they need to be active. They need to be out here showing a presence, [actively] informing bikers that this is not appropriate. They’re not even supposed to be on the trail.
Those are the things that we’re going to try to do in terms of dealing with this. Like I say – interpretive signage, I think peer pressure, education. We’re going to have the docents out on the trails; hopefully they’ll be able to convey concerns if things are coming up. That’s going to be our approach. You know, Steve, I don’t know if you want to weigh in on that?
Messer: From CORBA’s point of view, we have monthly classes where we teach new riders how to behave on the trails. That’s an ongoing effort that we’ve been doing for 20-plus years. Obviously we can’t reach everybody, so it’s a matter of getting responsible users out on the trail, because responsible users will help solve – police their own user group.
So if we have a trail closed to bikes, we wind up with road people coming by who aren’t going to obey any of the rules. But if you get the responsible riders out there, they’ll be able to help educate everyone else that’s coming through as the same user group.
Worden: What’s the first line of defense for docents – or neighborhood folks, or whoever’s hiking on the trail – if they have a problem, if they have an altercation, if somebody tells them off? Do they call the sheriff? Do they call the Nature Center?
Sohm: It depends on the nature of the incident or the conflict. Obviously, if a bike plows into a hiker, I think 9-1-1 is an order. They need to immediately notify emergency response so they can deal with that.
Messer: One thing I want to speak to is that there’s a difference between an accident and perceived conflict and actual conflict, and that’s a very subjective thing for a lot of people. What someone might consider a conflict might just be someone not being courteous. If it didn’t actually put anyone in danger, it didn’t really affect anyone other than someone who didn’t like this other group being there and didn’t feel like they were given the respect that they should be given as fellow trail users. So the difference between an accident, perceived conflict and actual conflict is, as I said, a gray area, and it’s different for everyone.
Sohm: We’ve talked with staff in terms of where they should come, they should come here, where staff is prepared to respond to those kinds of issues – they can mobilize a sheriff if we need to get out there and deal with something – but those are the avenues that are available to them. Staff here is going to be sensitive, obviously, to this issue.
I think it’s pretty fair to say that staff understands what’s at stake here, and they obviously want to make this thing work. But they are going to be concerned, and they’re going to be representing the interests of all trail users here. So they will be the first line of communication, or defense, as you mentioned. But the sheriffs would also be there as a fallback, because those are what we have.
We don’t have rangers or peace officers or powers of arrest or anything like that; we’ve got to use verbal judo and deal with people in terms of education and-
Worden: Not like the [Santa Monica Mountains] Conservancy does [have rangers with powers of arrest].
Sohm: Exactly. We’re not at that level of enforcement yet.
Worden: Is there a scheduled reassessment, or are you planning to go forward with this and see what happens?
Sohm: Well, right now, the plan is to open the trail in March, and we’re going to assess it for the upcoming year, and we’re going to be looking at it. Everybody’s aware of what’s going on, and they’re certainly alert about it. So I’m sure we’re going to be getting plenty of information – I anticipate coming from both sides, pro and con, and we’re going to be looking at that.
Worden: If I could go back one thing – was there a lawsuit, or the threat of a lawsuit?
Sohm: Not that I’m aware of. Nobody said, “We’re going to sue you.” Like I said, my position on this thing was that other than that statement that I showed you, we really had nothing to base a decision on, and [it was] hard for me to articulate, for someone who was advocating for this change, exactly what the basis was for making that judgment or that policy, because we didn’t really have much to go on.
Worden: Was there ever a thought of taking this to the supervisors for direction?
Sohm: We did. Absolutely.
Worden: What was that direction?
Sohm: Well, technically I work through the [supervisor’s] park deputy. I don’t deal directly with a supervisor. We briefed her on exactly what we we’re doing – as soon as we had the initial consultation with the local bike group, to let her know what was going on with that, and then when we devised our approach to this problem, we fully briefed her on that, and they bought off on [it]. I have to do that, because we need to keep them informed. And I work with Rosalind Wayman, Dave Perry, Sussy Nemer; those were the people whom we kept in the loop.
Worden: You’ve certainly answered my questions [and enlightened me about] a number of things, especially about the definition – or lack thereof – of a natural area. That’s surprising to me.
Sohm: That’s something we need to do. Like I said, I think that if you look in the state – there’s actual different definitions of the different parks: state park, wilderness preserve, there’s a state recreation area like Castaic; those are all clearly defined in the Public Resources Code.
Messer: I could speak to that a little bit, too. I mean, one of the things with trails in state parks is that they’re there not as attractions in themselves. The trails are there in order to access and enjoy the resource by anyone who has the right to be there. So if the state decides that a trail is safe enough and suitable enough for bikes through an objective process – and that’s the same process that the county has used for this place as a state park – then there’s no reason why people can’t enjoy the resource and use the trail on a bicycle.
That’s a big distinction. We hear a lot of people thinking that the people in big helmets and on big bikes that look like motorcycles are going to come screaming down the trail at high speeds. That’s not the mission of a state park, but it is the mission of a recreation area.
Worden: Does anyone else have anything to add to that?
Kraus: One of the arguments we had against having mountain bikes on the trail was that the trail is not just a link from A to B. It’s an interpretive trail and it’s used by our docents. We [educate] 10,000 kids a year through our docent programs. It’s an interpretive trail, and interpretation is done on the trail.
For example, if we stop on the trail and we see coyote scat, we stop on the trail and we talk about it. So it’s not just a link between the Los Pinetos trail and points this way. That’s one of the arguments we made, and we’ve discussed it, and I think we’re satisfied with the explanation that the county came up with. But that was one of our big arguments. This is an interpretive trail, and it’s not just a link.
Worden: What kind of confidence do you have that this will all work out?
Kraus: Well, you know, hope. We’re having some meetings with the local groups, and we hope to work with CORBA to make them understand what interpretive work is like, what we do on the trail, and we want you [Steve] to come out with us to learn how we do interpretive work – I’m sure a lot of the mountain bikers have kids and families who use our trails and our programs – to show how our programs work, and just sensitivity to what we do.
If we have a group that’s stopped in the middle of the trail, we would hope a mountain bike would stop and let us do our program, or walk around us, and not just say please move off to the side. I think that’s something we can work out.
Worden: Does each of you have plans to work together and [come to an understanding]?
Messer: Yes, absolutely. CORBA has a program called Youth Adventures, where we take inner-city kids out and we put them in nature and we do an interpretive bike ride with them. We do those out in Paramount Ranch in the Santa Monica Mountains, for more than 20 years. So we do have some experience with that, and we definitely appreciate where the docents are coming from.
That’s why one of the programs that’s going to be implemented is a walk zone, where bikes will be required to dismount – and horses, too, I understand – where a lot of the interpretive material is given out to the kids.
Worden: Are you happy with the trail improvements that are going to be made – the pinch points, etc.?
Messer: Yes. The pinch points have been something that the International Association of Mountain Bikes – of which we’re the local chapter – came up with many years ago as a way to control speed. And safety is usually as much an issue as trail design. You can design safety into a trail, and pinch points are one tool that we have to slow bicycles down before a blind turn so they’re going slower as they come around the corner. That way there’s less of a surprise to people coming [from] the other direction. So safety can be designed into a trail, and that’s something state parks are doing across the board. It’s part of their trails manual now.
Worden: Do you have any remaining concerns, Ron, about the improvements to the trail?
Kraus: Yes, we do. In fact, we’re going to walk the trail on Monday with Dwight, the county construction supervisor. We’ve had a chance to look at the plans, and we’ve got some concerns. Nothing serious, just some questions.
One part I wanted to get to were the plants and the animals here. One of the points that we brought up at our meeting this afternoon is that there really hasn’t been a sufficient natural resource assessment done of Placerita, or any of the county nature centers. So we’re going to try to look at avenues to accomplish that. At Placerita, they’ve applied for a grant for some bridges up the canyon here. Part of that process, a full CEQA environmental assessment will be required.
I guess my problem with the whole thing is that we don’t know what we don’t know. We know that there are some species of special concern here at Placerita Canyon. Our former supervisor has pointed some out; I’ve seen, documented, and GPS’d the locations of some of them. We have the spotted owl, the coast patch-nosed snake, we have the legless lizard.
This is all geeky, nature, tree-hugger stuff, but I mean, it’s a concern. A lot of these species have been what they call “extirpated,” in other words, because of use, [they’ve] been eliminated from the other county nature centers. One of the former people we had, Mickey Long, former superintendent of the natural areas, he had mentioned some of these species that had been extirpated from Eaton Canyon, and we certainly don’t want that to happen here as the city of Santa Clarita develops.
You look at Google Earth and you look at Placerita, and it’s surrounded by civilization: Sand Canyon, Santa Clarita, the Golden Valley Ranch that will be developed soon on the other side of the hill here, and the San Fernando Valley. We’re getting pinched in here, and we really need to know what we have here. I think the county has made a commitment with us to work with us on that.