Holding up signs that said “Monumental mistake” and twirling gold-and-silver hula hoops, a handful of protesters gathered in San Dimas on Friday to express their opposition to President Obama’s designation of the San Gabriel Mountains as a national monument.
“We are hula-hooping to attract attention," Tracy Sulkin, of the community of Mt. Baldy, said as a fleet of U.S. Forest Service trucks and Secret Service sedans filed past on their way into Frank G. Bonelli Regional Park, where Obama was scheduled to speak at about 12:30 p.m.
FOR THE RECORD
An earlier version of this post identified Mount Baldy resident Missy Ellingson as Missy Ellington.
Stretching from Santa Clarita to San Bernardino, the San Gabriel watershed is within a 90-minute drive of 17 million people. The rugged slopes and canyons are home to rare and endangered species, including Nelson's bighorn sheep, mountain yellow-legged frogs and Santa Ana suckers.
“The environmentalists won’t stop until the mountains are off limits to humans,” Sulkin said, struggling to keep a hula hoop in motion around her right wrist while holding up a sign with her left hand that read “Don’t hurt Mt. Baldy.”
The Obama administration has excluded Mt. Baldy and other mountain communities east of the San Bernardino County line from the monument, which will cover roughly half of the 655,000-acre range.
The move was intended to appease critics who fear the monument will stunt economic growth and threaten fire safety in the communities on the eastern end of the Angeles National Forest.
But Sulkin, 53, and about five other protesters were not impressed.
“It’s not over yet,” she said. “Those environmentalists want to shut the whole mountain range down.”
About 150 people also protested Monday in front of the Pasadena office of Rep. Judy Chu (D-Monterey Park). Many said they were unsure about the monument's potential effects on private property rights, flood control and emergency services.
Missy Ellingson has lived in Mt. Baldy for more than four decades. She said she is concerned the federal designation will ultimately limit access to the mountains — that the government will put up gates or expensive fees that keep people out.
She was also upset over the president's use of executive power, saying it denied residents a chance to weigh in.
The designation marks the 13th time that Obama has used his executive powers to establish or expand a national monument without congressional approval.
"He's going around Congress," Ellingson said. "I'm sure it's already signed, but he shouldn't be signing it without going to Congress."
Judi Neal agreed. The San Dimas resident of more than a decade said reports of trash, graffiti and other problems in the mountains were overblown. She's also concerned the new federal designation will limit public access and could delay local response to wildfires.
"I grew up in these mountains, and I'm sick to death what they're doing," she said.
Advocates say that the designation of the 346,000-acre monument will enable the Forest Service to give priority to managing the safety of visitors, protecting natural resources and installing improvements, including new parking areas, restrooms, signs, educational kiosks and trails.
Despite the Obama administration's announcement, Neal said opponents would take their fight to Congress next.
"We're not done," she said. "It doesn't end here today for us."
Follow the reporter for environmental news on Twitter:@LouisSahagun