Hundreds gathered at a community meeting Tuesday night and called on the Obama Administration to designate the San Gabriel Mountains a national monument.
The designation would increase protections for the area, bring additional funding and improve services such as signage and garbage removal.
The standing-room-only meeting left hundreds of would-be attendees unable to enable to enter the auditorium of the Baldwin Park Performing Arts Center. At one point, they chanted, "We want a national monument."
Forest Service officials said that they had no idea so many would show up for the meeting, which held a capacity of 400.
“If we did, we would’ve picked a larger venue, but we didn’t think that there’d be this big of a turnout,” said Nathan Judy, a spokesman for the Forest Service.
The United States Department of Agriculture called the meeting to take public comment on a proposal to turn hundreds of thousands of acres of the San Gabriel Mountains into a national monument.
Many in the crowd sported yellow stickers that read, “I Support a National Monument.”
Congresswoman Judy Chu introduced a bill this June that sought to include the region in a proposed national recreation area. With two weeks left in the congressional session, it's unlikely the bill will make it to the House floor for a vote.
Last week, Chu called on President Obama to declare a slightly smaller portion of the area a national monument. The designation confers many of the same protections as a national recreation area but does not require congressional approval.
"The great thing about that bill is it laid the groundwork for a national monument area and still lays out the possibility that we can be a national recreation area sometime in the future," Chu said.
She said that the timeline for a monument designation is much shorter than that of a national recreation area.
"The exciting thing about the monument proposal is that it could make the process so much more speedy," Chu said.
Not all of the attendees were sold on the idea, however. Amelia Valinsky-Fillipow recently bought a cabin in Big Anita Canyon and showed up, because she wanted to know what a national monument designation would mean for her property.
“I’m afraid that our cabin’s going to be taken away or not being allowed to be re-permitted,” Valinksky-Fillipow said.
Several of the officials gathered stressed that the meeting was just the beginning of the process and that more analysis needed to be done.
Robert Bonnie, undersecretary for natural resources and environment for the US Department of Agriculture, was there representing the administration. He was non-committal when asked whether the President would make the designation.
“There’s obviously a lot of interest in this from this community. That’s why we’re here. We want to listen.We want to be better partners with the community, and hopefully this will help us do that," Bonnie said.