SAN DIMAS, California – President Barack Obama on Friday spared from future development nearly 350,000 acres of land within the San Gabriel Mountains northeast of Los Angeles, a move that cheered environmentalists but sparked new criticism of Obama's willingness to use his executive authority.
Obama used his authority under the federal Antiquities Act to turn the area into a national monument. He cited President Abraham Lincoln's decision to preserve parts of the Yosemite Valley without ever having seen it as inspiration for steps he's taken in office to preserve more than 3 million acres of public lands.
"And I'm not finished," Obama said, making the announcement at Frank G. Bonelli Regional Park, where picturesque views of the San Gabriel Mountains under blue sky provided the backdrop. "We are looking at additional opportunities to preserve federal lands and waters, and I'll continue to do so, especially where communities are speaking up."
Supporters say Obama's move will provide recreational opportunities for millions of people, particularly minorities and children, who live in Los Angeles County. The county is one of the most disadvantaged areas in terms of access to open space, according to the White House.
"For Angelenos, the San Gabriels are like having Yellowstone next door," said Frances Beinecke, president of the Natural Resources Defense Council. "Now the 17 million people living in Greater Los Angeles can find wild beauty right in their backyards."
Local officials and some lawmakers faulted Obama for acting without support from Congress or the public, but Obama said officials heard from a lot of urban families who said this area constituted their only outdoor space and that their children didn't have parks.
Officials also expressed concerns about potential use restrictions on the hundreds of thousands of acres that will be forever preserved.
"Once again this administration is taking unilateral action without congressional or public input," said House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif. "I strongly support multiple use of our national forests and other public lands, but this decision severely limits usage."
Since taking office, Obama has created or expanded 13 national monuments across the country, including Friday's action.
Just last month, he created the world's largest marine preserve by expanding the Pacific Remote Islands Marine National Monument in the south-central Pacific Ocean.