With the smog-shrouded San Gabriel Mountains looming somewhere in the distance, President Obama on Friday signed a declaration carving a national monument out of the mountain range, a measure aimed at better preserving its natural wonder and increasing visitor access.
Speaking from Frank G. Bonelli Regional Park in San Dimas, Obama drew upon images of California's rugged past as he formally announced the creation of the 346,000-acre San Gabriel Mountains National Monument.
FOR THE RECORD
An earlier version of this post identified Mount Baldy resident Missy Ellingson as Missy Ellington.
"The story of the San Gabriel Mountains is in many ways the story of America," he said. "It is the story of communities exploring the Great West, of Native Americans, Spanish missionaries, colonialists and rancheros, merchants and landowners. The story of prospectors in search of gold, of settlers in search of a new life."
"It's the story that continues today," he added, "with one of the nation's most vibrant, diverse communities in the backyard of the second-biggest city in the country."
Obama said the designation would provide more resources to the Forest Service, allowing more visitors to hike and explore the San Gabriels.
"It's not enough to have this awesome natural wonder within your sight. You have to be able to access it," he said. "There haven't been enough resources to manage and maintain this area the way it deserves."
The president's decision to carve out roughly half of the Angeles National Forest for the designation marks the 13th time he has used his executive powers to establish or expand a national monument without congressional approval. He cautioned Friday that he's "not finished."
"We are blessed to have the most beautiful landscapes in the world," he said. "We have the responsibility to be good stewards of those landscapes for future generations."
The move is designed to better preserve the mountain range, a popular destination for Southern Californians wishing to escape urban sprawl. Some 17 million people live within a 90-minute drive of the San Gabriels, which stretch from Santa Clarita to San Bernardino.
But advocates say the 3 million annual visitors have overwhelmed the mountains' natural beauty. They say an underfunded Forest Service doesn't have enough uniformed rangers on patrol to watch for graffiti, littering or illegal campfires that could spark devastating wildfires.
For more than a decade, environmentalists and community groups have sought stronger protection for the mountain range. Earlier this year, Rep. Judy Chu (D-Monterey Park) introduced a bill that would declare the 655,000 acres of the range a national recreation area — bringing even more resources than the president's designation.
But Obama's decision was also met with fierce opposition from some mountain communities. Some residents are wary the federal designation could impede on private property rights, limit access or even slow emergency response to wildfires.
Protestors gathered outside Chu's office earlier this week, and appeared again Friday outside the main entrance to Bonelli Park. Waving American flags and signs with messages such as "Monumental mistake" and "Obama don't sign," a few dozen opponents cheered when cars honked in support.
Missy Ellingson, who has lived in Mount Baldy for more than four decades, said she was concerned the federal designation will limit access to the mountains—that the government will put up gates or impose feeds that keep people out. But she said she was also upset over the president's use of executive power.
"He shouldn't be signing it without going to Congress," she said.
Obama's remarks came as he wrapped up two days in the Los Angeles area; earlier events included a fundraising dinner at actress Gwyneth Paltrow's home, a town hall meeting in Santa Monica with young entrepreneurs and a Westside fundraising roundtable Friday. He was scheduled to appear at fundraising events in San Francisco on Friday night and Saturday.