Group says proposed nature center will destroy Whittier Narrows habitat
Opponents of a proposed $30-million interpretive center at the Whittier Narrows wildlife sanctuary are ramping up their effort to block the project they fear would destroy a rare expanse of critical habitat in eastern Los Angeles County in order to enhance understanding of the San Gabriel River watershed.
The group Friends of the Whittier Narrows Natural Area issued a five-page "media backgrounder" just weeks away from release of a draft environmental impact report on the proposal to build an 18,230-square-foot "discovery center" equipped with with interactive exhibits including a 7,000-square-foot model of the San Gabriel River featuring flowing water.
The proposed San Gabriel River Discovery Center would also offer an artificial wetlands in the heart of a region that was recently designated an "important bird area" by California Audubon.
The center "would destroy critical habitat, rob our diverse communities of open space, and shift focus away from firsthand experiences of nature," the backgrounder says. "And it would do so using public dollars to take public lands for a project the goals of which could be better served through less destructive and costly means."
The group also argues that the center "flies in the face of recent Southern California museum-building history." It points out, for example, that the Metropolitan Water District in 2007 canceled a lease on its $26-million Center for Water Education in Hemet, and paid nearly $5 million more to cover debt on the project.
Then there is the proposed nature-oriented Children's Museum of Los Angeles at Hansen Dam Recreation Area in the San Fernando Valley, which, the group says, "sits locked behind a chain-link fence, never having opened."
Supporters of the center, however, are looking forward to presenting their case during public hearings on the environmental report. "This type of facility in this type of setting is very important," said Valerie Shatynski, a project analyst with the San Gabriel River Discovery Center Authority. "The exhibit areas will be designed to help people understand the different parts of the watershed and how they contribute to daily life and the natural world and how conservation fits into that."
In the meantime, visitors to the 70-year-old sanctuary are served by an interpretive center housed in a cramped wood-frame house filled with terrariums and stuffed animals, and surrounded by more than 400 acres of urban forest and brushlands.
For more information, contact Friends of the Whittier Narrows Natural Area at (323) 227-1822, or e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org.
The Rivers and Mountains Conservancy, which backs the proposed center, can be contacted at (626) 815-1019, or e-mail: http://watershedconservationauthority.org/
-- Louis Sahagun
Photo: Birds skim the surface of the San Gabriel River in Whittier Narrows. Credit: Irfan Khan / Los Angeles Times