State Sen. Fran Pavley was shocked.
The Sepulveda Basin Recreation Area "changed rather dramatically overnight" when the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers cleared vegetation last December, she told about three dozen local leaders at her Valley Advisory Council meeting Friday at Pierce College.
Conservationists and nature lovers were shocked too, complaining bitterly about the drastic and unexpected cleanup.
Pauline Louie, Los Angeles River Watershed ambassador, told the group that before the Army Corps swooped in, more than 50 local participants had been involved with the Urban Waters Federal Partnership "on a trajectory for something really positive." This was the only West Coast project the partnership had, she said.
Kris Ohlenkamp, San Fernando Valley Audubon Society conservation chair, has led weekly tours of the Sepulveda Basin for 32 years. He said residents discovered on Dec. 22 that the Army Corps had removed all vegetation lower than 20 feet. They filled the ecology pond with discarded trees and debris, disturbing wildlife and destroying vegetation that had been planted over many years by volunteers. Army Corps plantings had "about 3 percent success" taking hold, he told the gathering, but volunteers had much more success.
The Army Corps had ignored recommendations from Audubon about the property before the cleanup, he said. Audubon wants mitigations for environmental damage, remuneration for damages, clarification of their master plan for the basin, and improved in communication with local representatives, he said.
Josephine R. Axt, chief of the Army Corps' Planning Division in Los Angeles, agreed that better communication was needed.
The Valley Advisory Council also heard about changes to higher education that may result in increased access to classes for incoming students. Pierce College President Kathleen Burke-Kelly said passage of Prop 30 last November will allow community colleges to restore some classes and services.
She said she supports a proposal by Gov. Jerry Brown to cap the number of credit hours students may earn at the current state-subsidized rate of $46 per credit. That would result in more freshmen being able to register for required classes, she said. Students could take more than a maximum of 90 units at a community college but would have to pay the full cost, which is about $140 per unit, she said.
Burke-Kelly also said she supported the governor's plan to move adult education from K-12 schools to community colleges if proper funding is maintained. "That's what we do -- educate adults," she said.
In answer to a question about property on the west side of the Woodland Hills campus that is devoted to agricultural uses, including equestrian facilities, she said the college is considering creating an endowment to preserve those programs. She said she often gets phone calls from developers who ask about the "excess land" near De Soto Avenue south of Victory Boulevard. We "don't have any excess property," she said, acknowledging the significance of agriculture to the college.
Francesca Vega, CSUN Director of Government and Community relations, said Prop 30 was a "critical" investment in the future. There was a "collective sigh of relief in all three sectors of higher education" when voters passed the measure, which increases income taxes on earnings over $250,000 for seven years and sales taxes by ¼ cent for four years. This averted a mid-year increase in student fees, she said.
The Cal State system is working on increasing online courses to meet the governor's plan to have 10 percent of classes available that way, she said. The university is looking for creative solutions to educate more students with its limited state funding. A "graduation incentive fee" may be imposed on students who are taking an excessive number of classes but not graduating, she said. That would ease a bottleneck and provide better access for incoming students.
Pavley, who was re-elected to a second Senate term in November, meets several times a year with her Valley Advisory Council to discuss current legislative issues. Her newly drawn state Senate District 27 includes the western San Fernando Valley, the Conejo Valley, Simi Valley, Moorpark, Malibu, Topanga, and a portion of Santa Clarita.