Congressman Adam Schiff on expanding Santa Monica Mountains and being ‘very close’ to more COVID relief

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A landscape view from Mulholland Highway in Malibu, California, November 14, 2020. The Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area currently includes Malibu. Congressman Adam Schiff is pushing for a major expansion of the area. Photo by Amy Ta.

LA boasts the largest urban national park in the world — the Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area. It covers more than 150,000 acres from Griffith Park to Malibu and points north into Ventura County. It boasts an incredible diversity of wildlife and 500 miles of hiking trails.  

It’s going to more than double in size — if Burbank Congressman Adam Schiff has his way. Though Schiff may be better known for spearheading the effort to impeach President Trump, for two decades now, he’s been working on the Rim of the Valley Corridor Preservation Act.

KCRW: Can you give an idea of where this new parkland would be if the Rim of the Valley Corridor Preservation Act becomes law?

Adam Schiff: “This has been a very long-term project. About 18 years ago, I introduced a bill to study whether we should expand the size of the Santa Monica Mountains Recreation Area, which was established in the 1970s when LA was a certain size. It has grown enormously since then. It's one of the most utilized parks in the world. 

We want to try to expand it if we're going to preserve all the wonderful wildlife that inhabits this park. And over the years, we got that bill passed, we got the region studied, and the recommendation from the Department of Interior was to double the size of the park. 

We have now introduced a bill to make it so, and this will help us preserve the habitat for those wonderful mountain lions around us, for the rare Mediterranean chaparral, for all the recreational opportunities, for hiking and just getting out of the hustle and bustle. 

I think given the pandemic, people have appreciated getting back to nature even more. This is a really important opportunity that we don't want to miss.”

We know there are mountain lions and a lot of biodiversity on that land. But what does preservation actually mean?

“What it means is that those beautiful open spaces will be there for future generations of Angelenos to enjoy, for our kids and grandkids. It won't be simply the product of sprawl and development and [then] disappear. Yes, people came here for jobs and they came here for opportunity. But they stayed here because of the quality of life. 

[And] because they could really have both — they could have good economic opportunity and still find ample nature just down the street with coyotes coming down the block [and] with P22 … the wonderful mountain lion who spends much of [its] time in Griffith Park, we want to preserve those opportunities and expand them and make sure that we can bring to bear park resources to do that. By doubling the size of the park, we can accomplish all of those objectives.”

How does the Act help with these big cats? 

“It helps preserve these wildlife corridors that are so vital to those magnificent creatures. There are plans within that expanded park, for example, to do underpasses so that wildlife can pass under those freeways instead of what happens now, where we have these tragic accidents where [traffic] will collide with a mountain lion and kill it, or [they] risk hurting themselves.”

The House actually passed this Act in February. California’s two senators introduced a companion bill in the Senate. Where do things stand now?

“It passed the Senate Resources Committee with bipartisan support, [and] it passed in the House with bipartisan support. The challenge is getting it taken up on the Senate floor and passed on the Senate floor. We're working hard on that. We're looking at creative ways to try to get it done before the end of the session. I've been at this now for 18 years. I'm not going to stop until it's done. We will keep working on it until we succeed.” 

Due to COVID-19, a lot of people are out of work. How close are we to getting another COVID relief package passed? 

“I think we're very close. I think frankly, we're closer than we have been in months. The House passed The Heroes Act five months ago. It languished on [Senate Majority Leader] Mitch McConnell's desk for months and months until so many of the existing provisions expired. ... I think we’re finally getting them [Republicans] to come back to the table and there was a bipartisan compromise offered, which I think we should embrace [and] improve upon if we can. 

But we need to get moving, we need to get help out now. I'm pretty optimistic that we will — within the next week to 10 days — get to ‘yes’ and get help to people who are unemployed with more unemployment compensation, help the small businesses through the PPP program with a new infusion of funds, [and] help state/local government to continue to provide emergency services and avoid massive layoffs. I think that there is help on the way, but it's not a done deal.” 

President Trump lost his re-election bid by at least 7 million votes and counting. He and other Republicans keep claiming — without any evidence — that he really did win and thousands upon thousands of ballots were illegally cast. The courts haven't agreed with them. What do you say to that, and to those who say this election was somehow rigged? 

“You can say ... ‘you're the emperor of the world,’ [but] that doesn't make it so. You can say that ‘there was massive fraud in the election,’ [but] that doesn't make that so. In fact, every case that has looked into it has found that there's no basis to these claims by the president and his acolytes. And to have the president still making [these claims], to have the president calling electors and calling state legislators and effectively asking them to overturn the election, to have gotten people like my colleagues in Congress, who are saying they should challenge the seating of electors, it's the most anti-democratic thing I've ever seen. 

It's the strongest resistance, I think, in our nation's history to a peaceful transition of power. I just don't understand the willingness to do such damage to our democracy. And for what? For this cult around the president, this cult of personality around the president, that my colleagues seem to to be so in the thrall of.”

Can it work though? 

“It won't work, but it will succeed in engendering doubt among millions of the president's supporters, it will succeed in engendering a sense of betrayal. And that will only contribute to some long-lasting disharmony in the country and a loss of faith and confidence in our system of government. And all in the name of Donald Trump. I would have thought more of my colleagues than to engage in this kind of demagoguery.”

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