By Sharon Bernstein
SACRAMENTO Calif. (Reuters) - A seemingly innocuous effort to declare part of a mountain range near Los Angeles a national monument has drawn sharp criticism from Republicans, who see it as a Democratic land grab that bypasses Congress and abuses power.
Such a move would free up resources so that the cash-strapped U.S. Forest Service can repair restrooms, clear trails and remove graffiti in the area, which attracts 3 million visitors per year, said Democratic Congresswoman Judy Chu, who backs the plan.
"The San Gabriel Mountains have been badly neglected," said Chu, a Democrat who represents part of the area. "There are very few trails, there is persistent trash, there is graffiti, there are a lack of rangers, there is parking chaos."
But Chu's tactic for protecting the land, which sits in a national forest, has raised the ire of Republicans, along with some Democrats. After her bill to declare the mountains a National Recreation Area stalled in Congress, Chu asked U.S. President Barack Obama to use his executive power to declare the area a National Monument instead.
Obama's response is expected later this month.
"More than anything it’s the process that she’s taking to do this," said Arturo Alas, a libertarian Republican Congressional candidate. "She hasn’t been able to get it out of committee in the house and she’s decided to bypass the people’s voice and the people’s process and get it done by executive order."
About 150 people, including the mayors of two local cities and the representative of a Los Angeles County supervisor, demonstrated Monday outside of Chu's Pasadena office, saying a presidential declaration was an end-run around Congress, imposing restrictions without consulting residents.
Despite assurances from Chu that recreation and businesses will be able to continue as usual in the forest, Judy Nelson, mayor of the foothill city Glendora, said it was not clear whether restaurants, a shooting range and a bungee-jumping facility on the land would be hurt by the declaration.
In nearby San Bernardino County, Democratic and Republican supervisors voted to oppose the declaration. The Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors ordered its staff to study its impact.
"There’s just concern that this seems to be a rushed effort, not allowing the public process to occur," said Melissa Subbotin, spokeswoman for Utah Republican Congressman Bob Bishop, who chairs the subcommittee where Chu's bill is stalled.
(Editing by Eric Walsh)