La Verne Magazine
Winter 1998

"La Verne's Borders: North, South, East and West"

Fishing for Public Land

by Christie Reed
photography by Ryan Sones


Catching the last few minutes of a yellow and red sunset, Sam Preece, 68, waits patiently for the ring of a bell signaling a bite on his line at Puddingstone reservoir in Bonelli Park. "I find myself here three or four times a week trying to catch these fish for the past 10 years or so, I reckon," says the retired bus driver.

It's all in the name of fun. More rides, taller slides and more reasons for Southern Californians to venture to Raging Waters. That is what California's largest water park is attempting to achieve with a proposed master plan that has been written and re-written since 1986, according to Dennis Bertone, the San Dimas mayor pro tem and co-chair of the Coalition to Preserve Bonelli Park.

Raging Water's master plan is "not necessarily to develop, but to control another 110 acres of the Park," explains Bertone. The additional 110 acres sought by the water park would increase the park's size from 49 acres to 160 acres.

"They want to take the nine acres of parking and convert it to rides," says Bertone.

Included in the plan is an "entrance village" that will dedicate 40,000 square feet of land to offices, shops and food courts. A 1,000-seat amphitheater will also be constructed, as well as 36 acres of land dedicated to parking.

The problem with Raging Water's master plan, which was just reviewed in a public hearing on Oct. 28, is three-fold, according to Bertone.

"The problem is not Raging Waters. It's their location. They are trying to do it [develop] in a public park," says Bertone.

The land, named after city supervisor Frank G. Bonelli, was deeded to the city of San Dimas in 1971 and has been controlled by the county since 1964. Giving this property to a private organization such as Raging Waters could cause considerable political problems, adds Bertone.

"They could deny access [to the park] unless they are willing," admits Bertone.

Bonelli Regional Park, the home to Puddingstone reservoir and 1,800 acres of hilly land tucked in the Southern corner of San Dimas and La Verne, provides more than just opportunities to fish, sunbathe or jet ski. Within the hills and trees that occupy the land lives the endangered coastal California gnatcatcher.

The bird, which is listed under the Federal Endangered Species Act, has been found where the additional offices and parking lots are going to be built, according to the mayor pro-tem.

The blue-gray gnatcatcher was found three years ago in the San Dimas park.

"The gnatcatcher has been found in two locations in Los Angeles County -- Palos Verdes and Bonelli Park," he explains.

Aside from the endangered bird, the land which Raging Waters hopes to develop is "the most sensitive habitat" in Bonelli, he says.

"It is near the water. There are several animal species and some wetland," he claims. "Any wetland in an urban area is significant."

Growing in the wetland is the only black walnut grove in the park. "When they build around the grove, they will alter its drainage and root system," says Bertone.

"The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Services remains concerned about the impact of projects authorized by the master plan on the threatened coastal California gnatcatcher, coastal age scrub, wetlands and wildlife resources in general," wrote Gail C. Kobetich, a wildlife service field supervisor, in a letter to the Los Angeles County Parks and Recreation Department.

Not only will irreparable environmental damage result, Bertone and other environmentalists foresee Raging Waters continuing to develop the acreage as they try to remain a viable participant among the theme parks.

"Even though they say they are not going to develop it all, eventually it will all be developed," predicts Bertone. "In five to 10 years, all 110 acres will be developed."

While the coalition defended Bonelli Park as a plant and animal habitat at the Oct. 28 hearing, Raging Waters was also well-represented, recalls Bertone.

Four carloads of expansion advocates spoke at the hearing, which lasted close to five hours.

According to the advocates, the economic benefits they perceive, such as employment of youth, would outweigh environmental issues.

But, those in favor of preserving Bonelli Park, cannot foresee Raging Waters withering away without this extra land.

"Raging Waters is already the largest water park west of the Mississippi," he claims. "If they cannot expand, they will still be the largest water park."

Rodney Cooper, the director of Parks and Recreation for Los Angeles County, will report his decision on the expansion in a closed public hearing in the first part of 1998.

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