Monday, June 3, 2002
Charting future course of valley's Arroyo Seco
PASADENA -- It's a link to the mountains and the ocean, the largest remaining wild space in the western San Gabriel Valley. It is home to bullfrogs, black-bellied slender salamanders, yellow warblers, coast live oaks and California sagebrush.

And it's where you'll find Devil's Gate Dam, a concrete flood channel, Brookside Golf Course and the 90,000-seat Rose Bowl.

Planning the future of a place with such vastly diverse uses is a difficult balancing act. In the next few months, the city will decide whether the Arroyo Seco Master Plan can pull it off.

The plan and its Environmental Impact Report were released in mid-May for public comment. They chart a path for the Arroyo Seco, a mostly dry river canyon that cuts through western Pasadena on its way from the mountains to the Los Angeles River.

Kathy Woods, administrator of the city's Parks & Natural Resources Division, said the plan succeeds in balancing recreational uses and conservation.

"I think we've blended it fairly well. There's been so much community input," Woods said. "They've considered both, and I think they've done a very good job of considering it."

But arroyo advocate Tim Brick worries that the plan focuses too much on building "infrastructure" for recreational uses.

"It needs to have more emphasis on restoring the natural beauty of the Arroyo Seco," said Brick, managing director of the Arroyo Seco Foundation. "Instead of more bathrooms and parking spaces in the arroyo, I'd like to see frogs and fish."

Brick says old-timers talk about how there used to be frogs "everywhere" in the arroyo. He also wants to see a return of the steelhead trout, which is absent from the swath of the arroyo covered by the Master Plan.

The term Arroyo Seco means "dry gulch" in Spanish. Before the arroyo stream was dammed and channelized, it would flood intermittently with rain and melted snow from the San Gabriel Mountains.

"It's been very affected by human activity" in the past century, Brick said, including the construction of Devil's Gate Dam in 1920.

The area covered by the Master Plan is 1,000 acres and encompasses plans for three smaller areas: Hahamongna Watershed Park, which is located in the Upper Arroyo Seco; the Central Arroyo; and the Lower Arroyo.

Projects in the Master Plan include:

    • The creation of an overnight camping area, two sports fields and two small lakes, plus the construction of a six-story parking structure in an existing parking lot, all within the Hahamongna Watershed Park area;
    • Restoring Arroyo stone walls and the amphitheater, and creating a separate pedestrian lane in the three-mile recreation loop around the Rose Bowl and golf course, all within the Central Arroyo; and
    • In the Lower Arroyo, a new southern entrance with parking spaces, a bathroom, an informational kiosk and a picnic area; and a new pedestrian bridge between the La Loma and San Rafael bridges.
    • In another portion of the Master Plan dealing specifically with the Rose Bowl, the city calls for increasing the number of major events at the stadium to 25 per year.

    All of the specific plans for Hahamongna, the Central Arroyo and the Lower Arroyo, plus the plan for increasing Rose Bowl events, have been approved conceptually by the City Council. But Brick says the plan contains new elements and the public should look at it closely.

    They'll need a lot of time, however; and money. The Master Plan is five volumes, and a black-and-white copy costs more than $50. The city will also release CD-ROMs of the plan and its EIR this week; the cost is $20 for both together.

    Brick chafed at the cost to purchase a copy of the plan. He said the city has spent close to $2 million on the Master Plan and the various studies that laid the groundwork for it over the past 15 years.

    "It does seem pretty silly to spend $2 million planning for the Arroyo and not have any money in the budget for making the plan accessible for groups that want them," he said.

    Although he says the plan's biggest flaw is the under-emphasis on natural conservation, Brick concedes the most controversial element is likely to be whether to create a bicycle path in the Lower Arroyo, mostly from existing trails. Citizens fought the proposal for a bike path in the Lower Arroyo in the late 1990s, but the Master Plan includes it as a possibility.

    "That's probably the most volatile issue," said Pat Shanks, a Pasadena resident who worked on the Master Plan. "It really has to do with the whole experience of the Lower Arroyo as a natural area, and the fact that people have long enjoyed that as a quiet place to walk. It will create a different atmosphere in the Lower Arroyo, and I think some people are concerned with that."

    The Arroyo Seco Master Plan carries a hefty price tag: an early estimate for the Hahamongna portion of the plan alone was $30 million, although Woods said that was "a very rough number ... it's not a detailed estimate."

    Staff members do not have a cost for the entire plan, she said. Some elements will be paid for by Proposition A funds.

    The public comment period for the Master Plan and the EIR ends July 1, after which the plan will be revised and rereleased.

    People can review the documents at the reference desk of the central branch of the Pasadena Public Library, 285 E. Walnut St., and at branch libraries. A copy is also at the city planning department, 175 N. Garfield Ave. Residents can buy copies of the document at Copy Central, 908 E. Colorado Blvd., Pasadena. Electronic copies of the Master Plan are expected to be available at the Pasadena Web site in June.

    Pasadena will hold a public comment meeting on the plan on June 25 at 6 p.m. at the Victory Park Gym, 2575 Paloma St., Pasadena.

    -- Elizabeth Lee can be reached at (626) 578-6300, Ext. 4461, or by e-mail at


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