A U.S. Senate subcommittee will hold a hearing next week on a proposal by Sen. Kamala Harris, D-Calif., and Rep. Steve Knight, R-Palmdale, to memorialize the site of the 1928 St Francis Dam Disaster and honor the estimated 411 people who perished in the Santa Clara River floodplain from Saugus to the sea.
The hearing before the Senate Subcommittee on National Parks is scheduled for 4 p.m. Wednesday, August 15, in Room 366 of the Dirksen Senate Office Building in Washington, D.C.
HR 2156, the Saint Francis Dam Memorial Act, was introduced in the House of Representatives by Knight in April 2017. It cleared the House July 31.
Upon House passage, Harris introduced a companion bill in the Senate, S. 1926, which was co-signed by her California colleague Sen. Dianne Feinstein.
The Senate bill was read twice and referred to the Committee on Energy and Natural Resources, headed by Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska. The bill was still in the committee at the start of 2018 legislative session. Now it’s moving.
If passed, the bill would authorize the Secretary of Agriculture, in consultation with the city of Santa Clarita and the public, to memorialize the victims. It would designate a 440-acre monument encompassing the memorial site in San Francisquito Canyon.
No land would change ownership. The federal government already owns the property, which is managed by the U.S. Forest Service. The Forest Service would continue to manage the land regardless of whether the 440 acres are redesignated.
Historians and communities throughout the disaster zone marked the 90th anniversary of the catastrophe in March. Advocates of the legislation were hopeful.
“All the senators need to do is just pass the name,” said Dianne Erskine-Hellrigel, president of the Community Hiking Club, which is one of the nonprofit proponents of the bill. “I’m very positive it will go through.”
Erskine-Hellrigel and Alan Pollack, president of the Santa Clarita Valley Historical Society, which is also a formal proponent, worked together to draft the proposal.
Both H.R. 2156 and S. 1926 would provide for the establishment of a national memorial and national monument to commemorate those killed by the collapse of the St. Francis Dam. Construction of any physical structure in the area such as a visitors center would have to be privately funded, according to the legislation. Pollack and Erskine-Hellrigel have been soliciting donations.
The St. Francis Dam Disaster was the second-deadliest in California and was the nation’s worst civil engineering failure of the 20th Century. In addition to the lives lost, it caused millions of dollars in damage to the communities of the Santa Clarita Valley, Rancho Camulos, Piru, Fillmore, Bardsdale, Santa Paula, Saticoy and Montalvo, all located along the flood path.
William Mulholland, head of the Los Angeles Bureau of Water Works and Water Supply, oversaw construction of the dam. He resigned as a result of its failure.