California Trails Common Ground Committee

“The California Trails Common Ground Committee’s purpose is to create a set of trail use policy recommendations for public agencies that would serve to resolve conflicts and achieve safe, environmentally sustainable, high quality experiences for all users.”

THE MOUNTAIN BIKE PUSH FOR ACCESS TO L.A. CITY PARK TRAILS

This was a David and Goliath battle, as the BAC/IMBA bike people were heavily funded, and experts at political and public manipulations. Equestrians and hikers tend to be independent, solitary people who resist banding together as a group. This characteristic has weakened our advocacy efforts.

No one person could have done this alone. For other trail advocates who many be facing a similar trail problem with mountain bikes, it is critical to reach out and form coalitions with non-equestrian groups. I have spent years sitting on Boards and Committees as the only equestrian. The time, effort and tedium of sitting through meetings, when I could have been doing other things, paid very large dividends when push came to shove.

Since it was urban parks at issue, there was a wide panoply of park stakeholders, far beyond the usual conflict between equestrians, hikers and mountain bikers. A significant number of people have had the experience of being run off the trail by speeding downhill bikes.

In order not to be written off as a NIMBY, it is important for the credibility of your position that one is not locked into a negative stance. Here in L.A., we supported strongly the road bicycle’s Transportation element of their Master Plan. It is a legitimately appropriate use of the streets. However, not every bike use belongs on every trail. We opposed the inappropriate and unsafe usage of our Park dirt trails mixing fast moving mountain bikes with other users.

Over time, attending meetings on other issues, I’ve made bonds and friendships with homeowners associations, neighborhood councils, chairs of park groups and organizations not usually friendly to horse people such as the Sierra Club, running clubs, dog walkers, conservationists, baby stroller pushers and the Audubon Society, all who have showed up in solidarity because they shared a common bond to preserve historical hiking and equestrian trails. These are new allies from unexpected places and with team work, everybody brought something to the table.

Several years ago, the arrival of widespread internet and email access has allowed trail users to communicate quickly and easily with like minded individuals both Statewide and Nationally. No longer does one have to write a letter, address an envelope, put a stamp on it and then wait for a reply. It has aided our efforts immensely to be able to send documents and communications to multiple folks simultaneously. It has brought us together in ways that were unthinkable even 5 years ago.

The success of this Los Angeles trails process was achieved through a huge and committed group effort. Bound by the commitment to trail preservation and trail safety, many people contributed personal time, culled information from many sources, wrote letters and worked behind the political scenes to provide valuable information and brainstorm courses of action.
Get involved in your local Community issues. Help other groups with their non-equestrian issues. Rubbing shoulders with others in meetings provided credibility to me that couldn’t have been achieved by picking up the phone and cold calling groups, and asking for help.
THE HISTORY OF THIS CONFLICT
In 1996, Los Angeles City Council adopted a Bicycle Master Plan that included the consideration of a pilot program for mountain biking. (Beware the concept of the “Pilot Program” . It is a Trojan Horse in that no pilot program, once in place, to my knowledge is ever rescinded.)

In 1999, in response to the pressure to allow bikes in Elysian Park, L.A. Rec. and Parks formed a Mountain Bike Working Group made up of various Park stakeholders, including mountain bikers, to discuss this proposal. CORBA (Concerned Off Road Bicyclists Assoc.), assisted by the International Mountain Biking Association (IMBA), charged that the 1996 plan was being ignored and requested access to Elysian Park for a pilot mountain biking program. This required suspension of Municipal Code sec 63.44 B 16., the Park Ordinance that forbids mountain biking on City Park dirt trails. This appropriately affords the broadest protections for uses in urban parklands.

The discussions were contentious, and at one point, seeing that they were unable to achieve their agenda, the mountain bikers boycotted the meetings altogether.

The Working Group continued to meet, and ultimately turned out an important document titled The Majority Report. This report is probably the most extensive documentation of mountain bike conflicts throughout the United States. The report presented overwhelming public support on safety concerns and resulted in a unanimous City Council vote that the Ordinance be maintained without change.

In 2000, with $5 Million of park funds, the City of Los Angeles purchased Mandeville Canyon to be used for a “pilot program” mountain bike park. The pilot required the completion of environmental studies to evaluate the use within a year. CORBA promised to conduct an “Adventure Trails Program,” to introduce youth to mountain biking. They promised to bring 1,000 inner city kids to the Park. In reality, they brought one group of kids, and never tried again to bring youth to the Park, nor was there any review of the pilot program.

Today, nine years later, the environmental files on Mandeville Canyon are empty. There is no “Youth Adventure Trails Program.” One would think that the issue, now stained by non-performance and still-open “pilot program,” would be dead.

In 2008, the City’s Department of Recreation and Parks (DRP) hired local bi-lingual consultant Mia Lerher & Associates for their Park Needs Assessment. It was an extensive and expensive survey of Park users, in which requests for mountain biking didn’t even appear on the list.
Results: Hiking and Bicycle trails placed Number 1 in the survey (63%) followed by Nature trails (43%) and Equestrian Trails (17%). An administrative DRP representative affirmed, “Biking trails” meant paved paths like the LA River bike-path, not mountain biking. In The American Sports Data, Inc.’s (ASD) 2008 Superstudy of Sports Participation, Mountain biking was noted in the “Outdoor Extreme Sports” section. ASD trend change for mountain biking noted a 34% decline since 1998.

The Los Angeles Bike Advisory Committee (BAC), under the umbrella of the L.A. Department of Transportation, decided to update their Bike Master Plan. They brought in a consulting group named “ALTA”, based in Portland, at the cost of $450,000, to revise the Plan. The Bike Master Plan was to have addressed itself to the legitimate issues of commuters/street/road biking i.e. striping bike lanes, providing safety measures, bike racks, street lighting etc.

The mountain bikers attached themselves to this plan, initially claiming they were “commuters” too. The only difference was that they wanted to commute on dirt trails. Later on, BAC classified the mountain bikers under “recreational” biking, as the L.A. paved Bike-Paths along the river were classified as recreational.

ALTA hired Osprey Group, consultants from Boulder, Colorado, who have limited experience with the needs of urban park uses, but extensive experience promoting mountain biking. Osprey had twice before collaborated with Jim Hasenauer on creating the “Park City Agreement” and the “Wilderness Society Agreement”, both of which allowed mountain bikes onto trails where they had been forbidden.

Osprey was paid to conduct 2 meetings (mediations) in which the public was not permitted to participate. (Mediation is not one of the work items in the signed contract with ALTA). We found out later that one of the two ALTA consultants had actually been a member of IMBA for the two years prior to working with ALTA.

A letter written by one of the BAC/ALTA people and placed on City Planning letterhead was sent out to invite equestrian and hiking clubs to send a representative to these private meetings. The catch was that all members of this panel had to be L.A. residents, cutting out many park users from other areas such as Glendale, Burbank and other parts of the Valley.

Three equestrians, three Sierra Club hikers, and three members of IMBA and CORBA were to represent their user groups in a discussion on trails. The equestrians were represented by Lynn Brown, National Trail Coordinator for Equestrian Trails Inc (ETI) one of the largest equestrian organizations in the State; Mary Benson representing the L.A. Horse Council, and Dale Gibson of Gibson Ranch, representing for George Chatigny of the Los Angeles Equestrian Center. The hikers were ultimately only two, Joe Young, Chair of the Griffith Park Sierra Club, and Executive Committee member of the Angeles Sierra Club and Bill Crane, Sierra Club member and hike leader from the Sylmar area. The mountain bikers were represented by Jim Hasenauer, founder of the International Mountain Biking Assoc. (IMBA), Mike Goodman of CORBA, and Aaron Kirsch of the BAC.

In the meantime, this backdoor move deliberately excluded L.A. Recreation and Parks as well as many in City Council, as the BAC knew they would receive a negative reception from these agencies. They decided to bypass these agencies through the Department of Transportation and City Planning. I believe it was hoped that by the time all this reached the light of day, it would be a done deal.

When confronted with these “closed” meetings, excluding the public, a spokesperson for BAC declared that public meetings on mountain biking were “too hostile” claiming that there had been threats of violence in the 2000 Working Group meetings. Later checking on extensive records from those meetings showed no such threat was made.

On April 15, 2009, the representatives met at City Hall along with 40 other concerned Park stakeholders. The reason was to “mediate” Mountain Bike use on City Park Trails . Most felt that there was nothing to “mediate” as the matter was settled in 2000. Nothing had changed in the Park, if anything it was more crowded with users than ever. The idea of introducing a fast moving wheeled vehicle onto City park trails was ludicrous. It was pointed out to the BAC and the mountain bikers that they had access to well over 1.500 miles of trails surrounding and within the City boundaries, while we were defending our last 100 miles of bike free trails within the City.

The people in the audience were not allowed to comment as it was declared a “closed” meeting. Nearly 40 attendees were present for the meeting, composed of Neighborhood Councils, Homeowner Assoc. the Press, concerned equestrians, a running club and Sierra Club members. Both the hiker/equestrian representatives and members of the stakeholder audience felt at the end of this first meeting that this whole Osprey meeting was a bit of Kabuki Theatre, as the outcome was predetermined, and their rough draft of their “recommendations” was probably already written.

It was the feeling of the panel that to allow mountain bikes on any portion of a City trail would of course have to be achieved by changing the City Ordinance that presently forbids this. Once the Ordinance was changed, it would open the door to discrimination lawsuits for access ultimately to all City park trails. Despite claims by the BAC that Griffith Park and other major regional parks were “Off the Table”, we recognized a slippery slope.

On May 13, 2009, there was a second mediation meeting where again public money was used to fly in the Boulder consultants. The anger of the panel (except for the mountain bikers) was considerable. The secrecy and manipulations were disgusting. Public participation was once again excluded, although dedicated Stakeholders attended nonetheless.

Shortly into the second meeting, Lynn Brown of ETI made a statement that the equestrian groups were totally opposed to changing the City Ordinance for any City park to allow bikes on dirt trails. This was followed by Joe Young of the Sierra Club reading a similar statement opposing any change in the Ordinance. This “mediation” failed utterly as both Sierra Club reps and the equestrian reps unequivocally opposed any changes to the current City ordinance on park dirt trails.

The hikers and equestrians stood in unprecedented solidarity. It was a historic moment for both the equestrians and Sierra Club to join together.