On a bipartisan 363-62 vote, the House of Representatives approved Senate Bill 47 on Tuesday, a sweeping lands package that will protect millions of acres of land and designate four new national monuments including one in Saugus to memorialize victims of the 1928 St. Francis Dam Disaster. The Senate approved it by a margin of 92-2 earlier this month. It now heads to President Trump for his signature, which is expected.
The “Saint Francis Dam Disaster National Memorial and National Monument” is designated for 353 acres of already federally owned Forest Service land in San Francisquito Canyon. Plans call for a privately funded visitors center to be built there in a few years.
“Our dream of a National Memorial for the St. Francis Dam site is about to become a reality,” said Dr. Alan Pollack, president of the Santa Clarita Valley Historical Society, which is one of the bill’s sponsors. “We look forward to the president signing this bill into law and honoring the memory of over 400 people who died on a tragic night in 1928. After 91 years, they and their family and descendants will finally get the recognition that they richly deserve.”
S.47, the Natural Resources Management Act, was introduced in January by Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, chair of the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural resources.
The lands package is an amalgamation of more than 100 small, local bills. If signed into law, it would create more than 1.3 million acres of wilderness out West, add three national park units and expand several others.
A string of local lawmakers of both major political parties have labored for the creation of a national monument to honor St. Francis Dam victims, including former Reps. Buck McKeon and Steve Knight and current Rep. Katie Hill in the House, and Dianne Feinstein and Kamala Harris in the Senate.
Hill, D-Agua Dulce, said Tuesday: “The St. Francis Dam Disaster took place 10 miles north of my hometown of Santa Clarita and this memorial has been a priority for my community for many years. I’m proud that in the 116th Congress we will finally be able to amplify the stories of the tragedy and provide a constant reminder of how critical infrastructure is to the safety and security of our communities. I am thankful to my neighbor, Congresswoman Julia Brownley for her leadership on this issue and for our Senators Kamala Harris and Dianne Feinstein for their support in the Senate.”
The memorial, to be located approximately 7 miles north of Copper Hill Drive, would honor the estimated 411 victims who perished when the dam – a component of the L.A. City aqueduct system – collapsed and unleashed approximately 13 billion gallons of water on sleepy residents just before midnight, March 12, 1928. It was California’s second-deadliest disaster after the San Francisco earthquake and fire of 1906 and was America’s worst civil engineering failure of the 20th Century. It prompted many safety measures that are utilized to this day.
William Mulholland, who was head of the Los Angeles Bureau of Water Works and Supply, oversaw the construction of the dam. He later resigned as a result of its failure. The bureau is now known as the LADWP. Its most visible icon in the Santa Clarita Valley today is the giant water pipe that runs above ground near Saugus High School and in Placerita Canyon.
The 353 acres to be designated as the monument lie wholly within the national forest and do not include any land with mining claims or other private interests.
The SCV Historical Society and the local Community Hiking Club are the official proponents of the legislation. The Forest Service would be responsible for managing the monument. The bill calls for the Forest Service to work closely with the Historical Society, Hiking Club and City of Santa Clarita in the design and interpretation of the memorial.
“It certainly takes a village to get a bill like this passed,” said Pollack. “We would like the thank the City of Santa Clarita for their help and support in the six years we have worked on the bill. Special thanks to Council Member Laurene Weste, Mike Murphy, Leon Worden of SCVTV and Ann Stansell for everything they have done to help get the bill passed. We would also like to recognize dam expert Frank Rock for the many years he has educated the public on the disaster and kept its memory alive. Most importantly, a tremendous thanks to my colleague Dianne Erskine-Hellrigel, whose unwavering dedication, passion and expertise brought my pipe dream into fruition.
“Now we begin a second phase with the goal of building a visitor’s center and memorial wall at the dam site,” he said. “This will again take a village to accomplish as we must raise all of the money ourselves without appropriations from Congress.”
“We are also grateful to our Congressional Representatives who introduced the bill over the last few years and worked it through the Congress. Our thanks to Buck McKeon, Steve Knight, Katie Hill, Kamala Harris, and Diane Feinstein.”
Pollack said the nonprofit St. Francis Dam National Memorial Foundation has been established to raise the necessary funds for the visitors center and is actively seeking monetary pledges. For more information, visit SaintFrancisDam.com.
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At Tuesday’s night’s Santa Clarita City Council meeting, Council member Laurene Weste commented on the long campaign to secure passage of the St. Francis Dam Memorial.
“I am pleased to share with my City Council colleagues and the community that earlier today the House of Representative passed S. 47, the omnibus public lands bill,” Weste said.
“Contained within the provisions of S. 47 is the language designating the St. Francis Dam Disaster National Memorial and National Monument.
“The bill passed the House today by a vote of 363-62.
“The Senate approved the bill on February 12 by a vote of 92-8.
“The bill will now be sent to the President, who is expected to sign it into law.
“The timing could not be more perfect, as March 12 of this year will mark the 91st anniversary of the St. Francis Dam Disaster.
“I would like to thank Senator Kamala Harris, Senator Dianne Feinstein and Congresswoman Katie Hill for their strong support of the designation and the legislation.
“Earlier this year, Senator Harris and Senator Feinstein introduced S. 129 in the Senate, which designates the St. Francis Dam National Memorial and National Monument.
“Congresswoman Katie Hill introduced H.R. 1015, the House companion measure.
“Santa Clarita’s congressional delegation made the designation a top priority and successfully worked with Senator Murkowski to include the provision in the lands bill and get it passed by strong margins in both houses of Congress.
“We owe Senator Harris, Senator Feinstein and Congresswoman Hill a heartfelt “thank you” for their hard work in bringing us to this critical moment.
“I also want to acknowledge former Congressman Steve Knight, who successfully moved his St. Francis Dam Disaster National Memorial and National Monument designation bill last year through the House and over to the Senate, so that its provisions could be eligible for inclusion in this year’s omnibus measure.
“I also need to acknowledge the partnership between the City of Santa Clarita, Santa Clarita Valley Historical Society, Santa Clarita Valley Hiking Club, SCVTV and so many others, who have worked for years to bring this important designation to fruition.
“The next step is to communicate our support for S. 47 to the President, so that he will sign it into law.
“My City Council colleagues and I look forward to recognizing this long overdue designation of the St. Francis Dam Disaster National Memorial and National Monument on the upcoming anniversary of this tragic and significant event in our community’s history.”