In a meeting that dragged on into the wee hours of the morning, the Monrovia voted 3-0 Wednesday to adopt a new plan to open access to the city's wilderness preserve despite a concerted effort by hillside residents to fight it.
City Clerk Alice Atkins said 35 people turned in cards to speak on the contentious issue, which has split residents into two camps: those who want greater access to the Hillside Wilderness Preserve and .
One woman shouted "shame on you guys" after the final vote was tallied at about 1:30 a.m., and multiple residents spoke out passionately on both sides of the issue. Nancy Matthews, who lives near a new preserve access point, said she supports improved access to the preserve.
"That fact that everyone paid for this land means everyone should have access to it," Matthews said. "I border one of the access points ... I understand the fear of the unknown. It's critical to move forward now."
Pamela Suess, who with her husband Tom (RMP), said she was opposed to the new RMP as well.
"How many cars are all the parks around here having to deal with weekly? It's going to be Griffith Park up there," Suess said. "You start bringing people up there, (the animals) are going to disappear. I pray that you make the right decision. Let's take this back. You're dividing Monrovia right now. Please think about it. Let's stop this nonsense."
Mayor Mary Ann Lutz, Councilman Tom Adams and Councilman Joe Garcia all live within 500 feet of the preserve, so they recused themselves, leaving only Councilwoman Becky Shevlin and Councilman Larry Spicer to vote. Lutz, Adams, and Garcia drew straws to see who would stay behind to fill the required "law of participation" so that the council could eventually reach a quorum. Garcia won, so Lutz and Adams left the chambers.
The Hillside Wilderness Preserve was established after voters approved Measures A and B in 2000, providing $10 million to purchase hillside land for public recreational use. The city developed a resource management plan for the area in 2009 but had to abandon it after a resident sued to force it to conduct a full-scale environmental review.
The new EIR cleared the way for four official access points to the preserve at Highland Drive, Cloverleaf Drive, Ridgeside Drive, and Sleepy Hollow Lane. "No Parking" signs would be placed along Cloverleaf Drive north of Lotone Street, according to the RMP.
Residents opposed to increased access said safety was one of their primary concerns. More people in the preserve will multiply the chances of a human-caused brush fire, said Roger Northrop, the president of the Hidden Valley Homeowners Association.
"The paramount concern to our neighborhood is the potential for a catastrophic brush fire," Northrop said. "The foothill neighborhoods adjacent to the preserve could be devastated."
City Attorney Craig Steele acknowledged that problems with governing the preserve remain but insisted that a resource management plan must be instituted so that those concerns can be addressed through a proper framework.
"We view this as a beginning, a beginning of the management process," Steele said. "We really can't resolve a number of these concerns until we have a management plan in place."