LA County’s sediment removal plan is but the latest episode in a long list of controversies involving Devil’s Gate Dam
|December 18, 2014 - The Pasadena Weekly covers the lawsuit against the Flood Control District and other elements of the lore of Hahamongna.|
|For decades, Devil’s Gate Dam in northwestern Pasadena has proven itself controversial. From current environmental concerns to mysterious disappearances, gruesome murders, secret rocket testing and occult worship, Devil’s Gate is aptly named.|
Built to control the Arroyo Seco, a seasonal river that often flooded the area, Devil’s Gate is named for the curious profile the dam cuts, its mysterious rock formation looking like a devil with horns. It is said local Native Americans wanted nothing to do with the area, and believed it was cursed.
Preservation is the current hot topic of the day, as the area is currently under severe scrutiny due to Los Angeles County’s plan to scrape the basin of growing sediment. While residents agree some sediment needs to be removed for safety’s sake, many believe the county’s plan is too extreme, prompting the filing of a lawsuit to stop the sediment removal project in its tracks.
The city of Pasadena and the Arroyo Seco Foundation say the currently approved plan is not only a noxious nuisance but also detrimental to the environment. Tim Brick, Arroyo Seco Foundation managing director, believes the plan is flawed and disliked by many Pasadena residents.
“[LA County] wants to remove 2.4 million cubic yards of sediment from the basin. It’s such a big number — it means six full Rose Bowls of sediment, which will require 150,000 truckloads.
“They’re going to use 425 diesel trucks a day for most of the year, which means a truck a minute rolling through the Hahamongna Basin,” Brick said.
This is bad for Pasadena and nearby La Cañada Flintridge residents, said Brick. So much so that the foundation and the Pasadena Audubon Society have filed a lawsuit seeking an injunction, alleging the county violated the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) and the city of Pasadena’s General Plan and land use ordinances in approving the project.
“These are big, bad diesel trucks with diesel air pollution. The plan will pollute the air, harm the environment and make it difficult for everyone because these trucks will heavily clog the 134 [Ventura] and 210 [Foothill] freeways,” Brick said.
Mayor Bill Bogaard said preservation is key when it comes to considering events in Hahamongna Watershed Park, and he knows there is a fine line that officials need to walk. “We are doing everything we can to prevent undue detriment to our precious Hahamongna Park and natural area,” said Bogaard. “We intend to monitor that (project) and advocate for lower goals more consistent with the city’s position.”
In a written statement to the Pasadena Weekly, Tony Bell, assistant chief deputy for LA County Supervisor Mike Antonovich, said the county’s sediment removal plan is for the good of the people and the safety of Pasadena.
“Since 1934, fires and subsequent storms have deposited millions of cubic yards of sediment into this dam creating a serious flood risk. The amount of sediment the working group recommended removing was so miniscule that it would not even remove the amount that came down after the Station fire [in 2009], when the dam was already at capacity,” Bell wrote. “We approved a project that is 52 acres and proposes removing 2.4 million cubic yards of sediment.”
A Troubled Place
Since its construction in 1920, Devil’s Gate Dam has been a source of major concern. The area itself, part of the Hahamongna Watershed Project located next to Jet Propulsion Laboratory (and site of pre-JPL rocket tests in the 1930s), has been the site of child disappearances and allegedly satanic rituals aimed at unlocking the fabled “Fourth Portal of Hell.”
In August 1956, Donald Lee Baker, 13, from Azusa, and Brenda Howell, 11, who was visiting from Fort Bragg, disappeared while on a bike ride toward the reservoir. A massive search effort that included Azusa police, LA County sheriff’s deputies and Navy divers combed the area. But the only items recovered were the children’s bicycles and Howell’s jacket. These disappearances went unsolved until 13 years later, when freeway worker Mack Ray Edwards confessed to kidnapping and murdering the two children, plus four other children. Edwards confessed to killing all six, burying their bodies in highway land, then paving over their graves. Edwards was given the death penalty, but he apparently hanged himself in his prison cell in 1971.
Two more missing children were never accounted for, however. Tommy Bowman, 8, disappeared on March 23, 1957, when he ran a few yards ahead of his family while hiking. Police dogs, helicopters, mounted police and foot-patrols were sent out in search of the boy — yet neither he nor any clues were ever found.
Bruce Kremen, 6, disappeared on July 12, 1960, during a hike with his YMCA camp group near the same place where Tommy vanished. Just 300 yards ahead of the rest of his group, at the permission of his group leader, Bruce headed back to camp to rest and was never seen again. To date, both cases remain cold.
Devil’s Gate holds other secrets, as well. Not only is it the unofficial birthplace of what ultimately became Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL), but it was the site of allegedly sinister deeds.
John “Jack” Whiteside Parsons — rocket engineer, Thelemite occultist and dark magic practitioner — was drawn to this secluded area during the 1930s with his friends when searching for an ideal testing site for their top-secret rocket launches. Parsons, along with friends Edward Forman and Frank Malina (also known as the “Suicide Squad” for their explosive experiments) conducted rocket launch tests at Devil’s Gate Dam, where their first liquid fuel motor test took place in late October 1936, in addition to many other rocket-centric experiments. It is said that during this time, Parsons also corresponded with German rocket scientist and former Nazi Wernher Von Braun, and sought his advice on various subjects.
But chemistry and rocket science weren’t Parsons’ only passions. Also a spiritual enthusiast, Parsons joined the Agape Lodge of the Ordo Templi Orientis in February 1941, through which he began a friendship with world-renowned occultist Aleister “The Beast” Crowley and young Scientology founder L. Ron Hubbard. It is said Parsons invoked Crowley’s dark, ritualistic chant, “Hymn to Pan” (the Arcadian god of lust and magic), before each test launch at Devil’s Gate, and that Devil’s Gate was the site of several of Parsons’ occult rituals.
The environmental battle over the current plan to scrape the basin and remove tons of sediment falls under the jurisdiction of Los Angeles County’s Department of Public Works, which runs the Flood Control District.
Hugh Bowles, a Pasadena resident who has been outspoken on saving Hahamongna as a nature park, says the project approved by LA County is detrimental, not helpful to the environment.
“The county Flood Control District is the expert in bucket and spade projects — intensive digging operations akin to open cast mining. They are not experts in mitigation or restoration. Under the proposed project, the county plans to remove 800,000 cubic yards of debris per year. We do not doubt their ability to bring their bucket and spades into the basin and achieve that.
“When the county was asked to complete an [environmental impact report] three years ago, the assumption was there would be some effort to find less environmentally damaging ways to remove the debris from the basin,” Bowles continued. “Some of us suggested the county issue a request for proposal to find experts in the field to lend assistance with working out an environmentally sensitive plan. LA County did not do this. When I asked the project manager why they did not do this he said, ‘We did not see a need for this. We consider ourselves to be the experts.’ All the alternatives presented were concocted by the county with no third-party review. There was no attempt to explore less damaging alternatives.”
The county Board of Supervisors approved the plan by a 4-1 vote on Nov. 12. The sediment is currently slated to head to the gravel pits of Irwindale, or to other gravel pits in Sun Valley — 25 miles from Devil’s Gate Dam.
“We’d like to work with the county to develop a stable program that is future-oriented,” Brick told the Pasadena Star-News. The lawsuit filed last week in Los Angeles Superior Court seeks a temporary restraining order and a preliminary and permanent injunction against the county and for the county to prepare a new EIR.
“We’re ready to go all the way,” Brick said. “We feel there are several flaws in the environmental impact report and we’re ready to expose those.”
Arroyo Seco Foundation, 570 W. Avenue 26 #450, Los Angeles, CA 90065-1011
PO Box 91622, Pasadena, CA 91109-1622 (323) 405-7326 email@example.com