The original proposal was weird enough: Spend $22 million to erect a water museum atop a perfectly lovely strip of wetlands — one of the only natural wildlife sanctuaries left in Los Angeles County (near the intersection of the 605 and 60 freeways in South El Monte). Sounds a little like ripping down L.A.'s oldest In-N-Out to build a museum replica in its place. Exactly like that, actually. Only this time, nature's involved — so a group of devoted environmentalists is doing everything within its power to keep a lavish learning center (and accompanying parking lot) off the Whittier Narrows.

But despite their most fervent campaigning, the project just got even weirder. “It's Miller time!”…

… reads yesterday's Friends of the Whittier Narrows Natural Area press release, in which they rail on the San Gabriel River Discovery Center Authority for considering corporate sponsorship. The Center is desperate for funds after its application for $7 million in nature-education bonds was sent back from Sacramento with a big fat “Rejected” stamp in April.

“It wouldn't bother me if this was the Miller Brewing Company Discovery Center, if they wanted to pay the price,” says board member Anthony Fellow at the following meeting:

Soon-to-be Beer River?; Credit: PHOTO BY TED SOQUI

Soon-to-be Beer River?; Credit: PHOTO BY TED SOQUI

Really? A kids' wildlife learning center, named after a foamy frat-boy staple, isn't even the least bit bothersome? (The San Gabriel brewing company has long been an “advocate” for clean drinking water in the area, but mostly just to serve its own corporate interests.)

Currently, the Center has only raised a little under half the $22 million needed to go ahead with construction.

Jim Odling, a volunteer with Friends, says he's equally disgusted that his adversaries have had the audacity to reach out to philanthropic orgs like the L.A. California Community Foundation for something so harmful and unnecessary:

“This latest grant request demonstrates unbelievable chutzpah,” he says in an e-mail. “The foundation's traditional beneficiaries, including sick children, diabetes sufferers and people with disabilities, are now being forced to compete for resources against powerful water officials who have been criticized for lavish spending of ratepayer money.”

Credit: Friends of the Whittier Narrows Natural Area

Credit: Friends of the Whittier Narrows Natural Area

Here's the Discovery Center's reasoning for uprooting the Narrows in the first place:

“The San Gabriel River Discovery Center is being developed to provide a hands-on, indoor and outdoor learning experience where more than 100,000 local students, families, and nature enthusiasts per year will learn the story of the San Gabriel River Watershed. The Discovery Center will emphasize the importance of understanding and protecting our water resources. Through its innovative and sustainable design, the Discovery Center will allow visitors to participate in all of the beauty, natural history, and local culture the San Gabriel River Watershed has to offer.”

The environmentalists offer a slightly different, paving-paradise take on the PR-friendly endeavor:

“The proposed Discovery Center would replace the current community-focused nature center and the acres of habitat immediately around it with a sprawling compound consisting of a 14,000-square-foot main building, 116-car parking lot and other structures intended primarily to benefit water district executives and government bureaucrats. The project would put at risk some of the very species the wildlife sanctuary has protected for its more-than-70-year history, and it would open the rest of the natural area to further development.”

We've contacted the Discovery Center for justification. But from where we're standing — uh, a drab gray box on the very not lush streets of Culver City — the answer seems to be less pavement, not more. Alas — squishy communications majors, with only 36 credits worth of save-the-planet BSing skills to guide them, need to set up shop somewhere, right? (Seeing as all three “new media” positions in the mayor's office are taken.)

Read our print story here: “Pave to Save Whittier Narrows?


LA Weekly