Power Line Plan Upsets Apple Growers in Oak Glen at Base of San Bernardino Mountains
By CASSIE MACDUFF
Visitors to Oak Glen this fall are getting a dose of environmental politics along with their cider, apple pie and fresh apples. A large billboard on Oak Glen Road where tourists enter the apple-growing enclave proclaims that Los Angeles' mayor wants to spoil the area with utility towers.
"LA Mayor (Antonio) Villaraigosa proposes to condemn our farmlands and destroy 30 miles of scenic beauty with shaved peaks and 200-foot electrical towers, including this scenic vista," the billboard says. A second billboard at Los Rios Rancho carries the same message.
Apple growers throughout the glen are displaying posters about the LA Department of Water and Power project, called Green Path North, with an artist's rendering of what the power lines will look like.
A computer-generated photograph shows a bucolic apple orchard against a backdrop of green hills dominated by gigantic transmission towers. Stacks of postcards displaying the photograph await visitors at checkout stands, pre-addressed to Villaraigosa with a message opposing the project.
DWP spokesman Joe Ramallo called the billboards alarmist fear-mongering by an opposition group. He said the DWP is considering six alternative routes for the power lines and hasn't picked one yet. The DWP delayed the project after running into fierce opposition over a proposed route through the Morongo Basin, and is committed to choosing the route with the least environmental impact, Ramallo said.
The billboards and mail campaigns are paid for by the Wildlands Conservancy, said David Myers, its executive director. The group printed 40,000 postcards and hopes to have 35,000 reach Villaraigosa. It probably won't have trouble meeting its goal.
"Everyone that sees it fills out a postcard," said Shirley Hudson, owner of the Snowline orchard since 1981. "This is a little piece of heaven up here and it'll ruin it."
Apple Tree gift shop owner Theresa Law, whose family has been growing apples in the glen for 77 years, said visitors are appalled when they find out about the project.
"They say, 'How could they do this, how could they spoil Oak Glen?' " Law said. "They come here because it's a rural area, virtually unspoiled."
As many as 20,000 people visit Oak Glen each weekend from Labor Day to Thanksgiving, said Alison Law-Mathisen, of Mom's Country Orchards. Customers are picking up 400 postcards a week at her shop.
The apple growers are worried about more than the towers. If the DWP gets easements through the San Bernardino National Forest, they worry it will tap water supplies.
"I have lateral wells that go into the side of the mountain," Theresa Law said. "If they drill into my wells, I might lose my water supply. It's what we irrigate with."
"If we don't have water, this whole community is dead," Hudson said.
Ramallo said the DWP has no plans to extract water; Green Path is strictly to bring alternative energy to LA.
DWP officials met with concerned residents in Yucca Valley in July to explain the project and its potential routes. Ramallo said they would be happy to meet with any group that would like a similar presentation.
I think Oak Glen should take him up on that.
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