A federal judge has denied a citizens group's request for a temporary injunction to discontinue weekend parking fees in the San Gabriel Canyon.
The group, the Forest Preservation Society, filed suit in U.S. District Court last month to discontinue the $3-a-day parking fee, which has been in effect since Labor Day weekend.
Fees are being collected on California Highway 39 at the base of the mountain, at the off-road vehicle area and at the Santa Fe Dam.
The group argues that the fee could keep away many regular users of the area.
"The gist of our complaint is that the national forests should be open and free," said David James, a member of the group.
He said visiting the canyon is the only affordable form of entertainment for many low-income families.
But Forest Service officials said the fee will benefit canyon visitors by providing increased litter collection, sanitation facilities and will enhance law enforcement.
"The intent is to improve management up there," said Dick Rea, a Forest Service Parks and Recreation officer. "It's a very heavily used area, especially on weekends. There are some illegal activities going on up there, some gang presence up there."
In addition, he said "about two-thirds of the time there will be no fee. Parking is free Monday through Friday."
He said that the only complaints so far have come from the Forest Preservation Society and that there has been no noticeable drop in attendance at the canyon since the fee was implemented.
The Forest Preservation Society says the fees are illegal. They say the charge amounts to an access fee, which is prohibited on most federal land.
But Rea said the fee is not an access fee. "We feel it's a parking fee," he said. "Access fees cannot be charged in the San Gabriel Canyon, only certain areas such as national parks and recreation areas.
Under an agreement with the Forest Service, the parking fees are collected by county workers and the money goes into a county trust fund. All of the money will be used for canyon maintenance.
The county estimates the fees will bring the canyon $300,000 a year.
U.S. District Judge Richard Gadbois, who will hear the case, denied the group's request on Oct. 13 for a temporary injunction to discontinue the fees but said, "I am troubled by the strange arrangement with the county of Los Angeles and the Forest Service, and I want to know more about what and why this has happened and who is responsible. I believe this case could well be a matter of disguised access fees."
A trial date has not been set.
Parking fees are in effect on weekends and holidays on National Forest lands along Highway 39 as far as the Crystal Lake turnoff and along the East Fork Road to its end at the East Fork parking lot.
Visitors touring the canyon or traveling to Crystal Lake, Camp Williams, Follows Camp, the San Gabriel Off Road Vehicle Area or the Coldbrook Campground are not required to pay the fee. Those stopping on private land or commercial property also do not have to pay the fee.
Special-use permits for full-time and part-time residents of the canyon exempt them from the fee.