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Watch it live!

Visit www.whitehouse.gov/live to watch a live stream of President Obama as he signs the Omnibus Public Lands Management Act of 2009 into law.

Last Wednesday, a piece of legislation - which President Obama will sign into law in approximately one hour - was enacted called the Public Lands Management Act.

Why should you care? Clocking in at 1,300 pages and over 160 provisions, this is the largest conservation measure passed in over a decade, and it will protect innumerable areas that are rich in cultural and historic resources. Among those provisions is the National Landscape Conservation System Act. Introduced two and a half years ago, this bill congressionally establishes the Bureau of Land Management’s conservation system, which is comprised of 26 million acres of land in 14 states. It’s at these special places where one can truly experience the wild beauty of the American West.

In general, a lands bill of this size and scope takes about six years to pass through the ever-complicated process known as the United States Congress. To say we were ecstatic to get this one done in two and a half is the understatement of the century.

Now, unless you are a huge fan of the game of ping pong, the process to get something like this done may not be your cup of tea. The National Landscape Conservation System Act had a relatively typical start, with hearings and mark-ups in the appropriate committees of both chambers of Congress. It passed a stand-alone vote on the House side (see below for some fun tid bits about that adventure), and enjoyed wide support in the Senate. Then, it was packaged along with 159 other bills, and the game of ping pong (or hot potato, depending on how you look at it) officially began.

The legislation bounced back and forth between the House and the Senate at least six times. After a few rounds of this, my colleagues and I started feeling like Charlie Brown lining up to kick the football that Lucy would inevitably pull away. (How’s that for imagery?) However, with community support and the incredible leadership of our congressional champions, we made it through and got the field goal after all.

Looking back over the past three years, I will remember a lot about this campaign, but for now, here’s my top-five list:

5) The very start of the whole process when I was trying to convince colleagues that referring to the system as the “NLCS” was not going to help matters. See, I generally hate acronyms and I am not the biggest fan of baseball. However, if people insisted on wanting to discuss the National League Championship Series, I had to go with it, complete with a one-page fact sheet that was available upon request.

4) Working with National Trust for Historic Preservation President Richard Moe, a true mentor to me and a stalwart leader on this issue. Sitting behind him twice as he testified before both the House and the Senate committees was an amazing thing to witness.

3) Getting a stand-alone vote in the House of Representatives and then getting a terrible rule that allowed for six amendments to the bill, meaning seven votes for our team in one day. These amendments ranged from never funding anything that had to do with the System to exempting the entire state of Utah from it.

2) The real fun happened on a vote called a motion to recommit, which is generally the last chance the opposition has to kill a bill. In our case, it was on the right to bear arms in the System - a right that already exists, but a vote that can quickly divide Congress. After “lobbying off the floor” with our incredible team (this basically involves stakeouts to approach members on their way to vote), there was nothing left to do but head over to the Hawk and Dove (a Capitol Hill bar/institution) to watch the final vote come in. We won that day by only four votes, but the excitement and camaraderie was worth it.

1) Of course, the best memory of all is the final passage. After again “lobbying off the floor,” we were invited to House Majority Whip James E. Clyburn’s office in the Capitol. There, with all 30 of my colleagues assembled in an anteroom, we watched as the final passage vote succeed 285-140.

So, here we are with America’s newest conservation system, formally established with the force of law and the recognition of Congress. With this under our belt, we must now focus on ensuring that it is well managed, well funded and inclusive of the places rich in cultural and historic resources.

Let the games begin.

- Chris Soderstrom

Chris Soderstrom is a senior policy advisor at the National Trust for Historic Preservation. This afternoon at 3:00 PM EST, she'll be at the White House to watch President Obama sign the Public Lands Management Act of 2009 into law. Join her by catching a live stream at www.whitehouse.gov/live. Also, stay tuned as we post our own pictures from the signing ceremony.

The National Trust for Historic Preservation works to save America's historic places. Join us today to help protect the places that matter to you.

Guest Writer

Although we're always on the lookout for blog content, we encourage readers to submit story ideas or let us know if you've seen something that might be interesting and engaging for a national audience. Email us at editorial@savingplaces.org.

California Parks Supporters Take to the Capital

Posted on: March 27th, 2009 by Guest Writer

 

Chuck Quinn with the California Council of Land Trusts at the Rally

On Monday more than 160 parks advocates gathered at the California State Capital for State Parks Advocacy Day 2009. Spearheaded by the California State Parks Foundation (CSPF) 33 teams from around the state met with nearly 120 Assembly members, State Senators, and their staffs. The advocates discussed the importance of proposed park protection measures, economic stimulus for parks, and the grave impact of the state bond freeze on park projects.

Last year’s proposal by Governor Schwarzenegger to close 48 of the state's 279 parks gave the coalition momentum that has clearly coalesced into a formidable parks movement in California. The threat of these closures compelled the National Trust for Historic Preservation to list the California State Parks System among America's 11 Most Endangered Places in 2008.  Fortunately, the Governor took note of the over 30,000 handwritten letters opposing the proposed parks closures, and his revised budget last spring restored nearly all the previously proposed cuts. All the parks remain open and visitation broke records in December, January, and February. Annually 76 million people visit California State Parks.

Elizabeth Goldstein, Executive Director of the California State Parks Foundation (and former NTHP Western Office Director) Leads a Rally on the Capital Steps

Brian Turner and Anthony Veerkamp from the National Trust Western Office attended five meetings on Monday and particularly emphasized the importance of the park’s system to preserving California’s history. The State Parks system contains more than 3,100 historic buildings. Many of these buildings are in dire need of basic maintenance and repair.

The economic climate, of course, has not been helpful. Funding for the Department of Parks and Recreation is partly dependant on bonds approved by voter initiative. Last December the State’s Pooled Money Investment Board voted to freeze all state bond spending, which immediately stopped 5,400 projects across the state, 1,200 of which are State Parks related.

The effect of the spending freeze has hit non-profit parks friends groups hard. Many have existing obligations to contractors for conservation and preservation-related projects that were expected to be funded by State bond sales. These groups are stuck footing the bill for the contracted work with no financial guarantees from the State. State Parks Advocacy Day activists pushed their legislators to support Assembly Bill 1364 which will allow state agencies to adjust timelines and grant deliverables for these projects.

Rick Arendt and Patrick Garcia Wear the Message

The day ended on a hopeful note from State Treasurer Bill Lockyer at the closing reception. Lockyer is the former Attorney General in California and was recognized by CSPF for his critical role representing the People of California against the proponents of a proposed toll road which would have cut through the San Onofre State Beach (the project was successfully stopped last fall). He told the crowd that while advocates were busy at the Capital on Monday, the State sold $3 billion in general obligation bonds. On Tuesday, the total reached $6.54 billion, much more than originally expected.  The numbers signal an increasing confidence in the State’s economic recovery and hope for the future of the State Park system.

-Brian Turner

Brian Turner is Law Fellow in the Western Regional Office of the National Trust for Historic Preservation

The National Trust for Historic Preservation works to save America's historic places. Join us today to help protect the places that matter to you.

Guest Writer

Although we're always on the lookout for blog content, we encourage readers to submit story ideas or let us know if you've seen something that might be interesting and engaging for a national audience. Email us at editorial@savingplaces.org.

Notes from New Orleans: The Return of the 'Miracle Mile'

Posted on: March 24th, 2009 by Walter Gallas

 

In November 1952, Mid-City New Orleans pharmacist Nick Persich wrote the following letter to the editor of the New Orleans States in response to a slum clearance order in his neighborhood:

Let any honest-hearted and fair-minded citizen visit this section and then ask this question: Aren’t there hundreds of thousands of square feet of area lying almost unused in the business and industrial districts? Why not use them first and then, when our city’s growth is such that all other space has been used up, then, and only then, the argument that our area is needed for the progress of our city will be sensible, logical, honest, and acceptable to us.

This letter appeared as citizens learned that the City of New Orleans was clearing “slum” housing near Mid-City (from Tulane Avenue to Poydras Street, and from South Claiborne Avenue to South Broad Street) as a part of the "Miracle Mile" redevelopment of Tulane Avenue.

Today, the "Miracle Mile" vision has been replaced by a new vision called the "Greater New Orleans Biosciences Economic Development District." The LSU Medical School sits on some of this land, surrounded still by the area made vacant by that order. Yet even today, those lands aren’t sufficient for LSU’s vision for its new medical center, and so the latest city-engineered land grab continues across Tulane Avenue to Canal Street and up to South Rocheblave, threatening once again to displace more people and destroy more property.

M. L. Eichhorn, who grew up in the lower Mid-City neighborhood that is now ground-zero for the new hospitals, has been a tireless researcher of this area, digging up the names, personalities and professions of those who made this part of the city home over the last 100+ years. In a piece entitled “Sacrificial Land" that appears in the latest issue of Louisiana Cultural Vistas, Eichhorn weaves that research into a narrative that not only brings this area alive, but that very fittingly concludes with Mr. Persich's important observations above.

Read "Sacrificial Land" in Louisiana Cultural Vistas

The National Trust for Historic Preservation works to save America's historic places. Join us today to help protect the places that matter to you.

Notes from New Orleans: The Elephant in the Room

Posted on: March 16th, 2009 by Walter Gallas

 

If there ever was a time when the city of New Orleans needed the City Planning Commission to show some leadership, it is now. One could point to the exercises being led by the consulting firm Goody Clancy for the development of the city’s new master plan and comprehensive zoning ordinance as evidence of such leadership. The problem though, is that there’s an elephant in the room—the plan by Louisiana State University and the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs to build two new medical centers from the ground up—and neither Goody Clancy nor the City Planning Commission is dealing with it.

It is all well and good to call on the city’s tireless citizens to participate in crafting what could ultimately be the city’s first master plan with the force of law. But as long as the huge hospital plans are not examined as part of the master planning process, the whole citywide process is under a cloud. If the hospitals’ plan—which is a classic straight from the days of urban renewal—proceeds as it has until now with the City Planning Commission taking a hands-off attitude, what is to prevent this from happening again with another project in another part of town?

Some City Planning staff have said that they can have no involvement in this plan, because it is the work of state and federal agencies. The plan involves wholesale clearance of portions of a National Register District, covers 70 acres and would require the demolition of as many as 263 structures, 165 of them considered historic. What the city doesn’t acknowledge is that it has been intimately involved in these destructive plans all along, as evidenced by a number of agreements forged with the state and with the VA. Further, it was the city which engineered an offer to the VA of cleared construction-ready land. This was made possible by the expenditure of $74 million in Community Development Block Grant funds for demolition--money that could have been used for housing rehabilitation. This offer apparently was too good for the VA to refuse. So, the city is deeply involved in setting these plans into motion.

Will the LSU-VA hospital plan be marked with an asterisk in the city’s master plan? Will a note say, “We did this one the old-fashioned way, by having special interests push it through, but we won’t do it this way again”?

Today’s Times-Picayune makes it clear that the two hospitals will be proceeding independently of one another, and that the arguments for co-location and shared services were false. Instead of waiting for the continued drip-drip-drip of revelations emerging about these ill-conceived plans, New Orleans’ planning leadership should show some spine and actively engage its citizens in participating in planning what is conceivably the largest economic development project ever proposed in this town.

***

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The National Trust for Historic Preservation works to save America's historic places. Join us today to help protect the places that matter to you.

Day of Remembrance Links the Present to the Past

Posted on: February 19th, 2009 by Guest Writer 1 Comment

 

Minidoka in the 1940s.

Minidoka in the 1940s.

In February 1942, President Franklin D. Roosevelt signed Executive Order 9066, which ordered the forced removal of 120,000 Americans of Japanese ancestry from their homes on the West Coast and parts of Hawai`i. They were unconstitutionally imprisoned during World War II in 10 War Relocation Authority (WRA) Camps and in numerous Justice Department prisons throughout the United States.

Today, February 19, is annually commemorated as “Day of Remembrance” by Japanese American communities. A grassroots movement to petition the government for an official apology and reparations began in the 1970s and events like Day of Remembrance, organized in Japanese American communities throughout the country, sparked the successful grassroots redress campaign that culminated with the signing of the Civil Liberties Act of 1988. This Act resulted in an official apology by the United States government and token reparations to any living Japanese American incarcerated during the war.

The first Day of Remembrance was held on Thanksgiving weekend 1978 at the Puyallup Fairgrounds, which had been used as temporary incarceration center known as “Camp Harmony” in the state of Washington. Thousands of people participated and demonstrated that the Japanese American community had not forgotten how they and their families were treated during World War II.

In the years following, Day of Remembrance events  (held on or close to February 19) have been held annually. While for many Japanese Americans it brings back painful memories of a dark chapter in American history, the day also provides an ongoing reminder about the dangers of ever repeating the same offense against other individuals. In recalling the events of February 1942, Day of Remembrance is a reminder to all Americans about the need to protect civil liberties for all and to honor all who fought—and continue to fight—for freedom and equality among all people.

Efforts to ensure that these memories and lessons are maintained for generations to come have also continued through the preservation and interpretation of WWII Japanese American historical sites, such as the War Relocation Camp sites, Assembly Center sites, and other significant markers that are powerful remembrances of the past and its relevancy for today and the future. (In 2007, the National Trust for Historic Preservation listed one such site, Minidoka Internment National Monument, to our annual 11 Most Endangered Places list.)

For access to other Day of Remembrance, redress, and additional related information, visit DiscoverNikkei.org—a Web site coordinated by the Japanese American National Museum.

-- Irene Hirano

Irene Hirano is a trustee of the National Trust for Historic Preservation, as well as executive advisor and former president and CEO of the Japanese-American National Museum in Los Angeles.

- Excerpts taken from Achieving the Impossible Dream: How Japanese Americans Obtained Redress, by Mitchell T. Maki, Harry H.L. Kitano, and S. Megan Berthold and the websites of the Japanese American National Museum, www.janm.org, DiscoverNikkei, www.discovernikkei.org and www.densho.org.

Updated: to correct Ms. Hirano's current affiliation with the Japanese-American National Museum.

The National Trust for Historic Preservation works to save America's historic places. Join us today to help protect the places that matter to you.

Guest Writer

Although we're always on the lookout for blog content, we encourage readers to submit story ideas or let us know if you've seen something that might be interesting and engaging for a national audience. Email us at editorial@savingplaces.org.