In summary

Being able to access parks and other open space is good for our mental and physical health – and it helps address the climate crisis.

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By Thomas Wong, Special to CalMatters

Thomas Wong is the board president of the San Gabriel Valley Municipal Water District and the board chair of Nature for All. He lives in Monterey Park.

Some of my favorite childhood memories are from spending time at our local parks in Los Angeles – on the playground with my brothers, learning to swim at the pool and picnicking on the grass. 

During the pandemic, many of us developed an even deeper appreciation for green space in our neighborhoods. Meeting at a park with family or friends has been the safest way to connect with each other. 

Protecting nature benefits all of us. Being able to access parks, trails and other open space is not only good for our mental and physical health – it’s critical to addressing the climate crisis. 

Scientists say we need to conserve 30% of lands and waters by 2030 because safeguarding natural areas is one of the most effective strategies to combat climate change. Conserving natural areas also helps ensure future generations will have access to the outdoors. 

The Biden administration and Gov. Gavin Newsom have committed the nation and our state to this ambitious “30×30” goal. In order to reach 30 x 30, Congress must pass the PUBLIC Lands Act, which would protect more than 1 million acres of public lands and more than 500 miles of rivers near Los Angeles and statewide. 

This legislation is championed by Sens. Alex Padilla and Dianne Feinstein. It has passed the House of Representatives and recently had a hearing in the U.S. Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources. I urge the Senate to pass the legislation this year. 

The PUBLIC Lands Act contains key protections that are critical to achieving 30×30. Here in Los Angeles, the Angeles National Forest provides one-third of our county’s drinking water. The legislation would expand the San Gabriel National Monument to include the western Angeles National Forest, permanently safeguarding clean drinking water for millions of Angelenos. The legislation would also preserve drinking water sources for communities along the Central Coast and in Northwest California. 

The PUBLIC Lands Act would increase access to nature for communities who don’t have easy access to open space. This is another driver behind 30×30. Spending time in nature has proven health benefits that have become even more important during the pandemic. 

Passing the PUBLIC Lands Act would permanently protect places in the San Gabriel Mountains, which provide Angelenos with 70% of our open space and are a particularly important place for communities who may not have a park close to home. The legislation would also designate a National Recreation Area in the San Gabriel Mountains, which would help expand access for surrounding communities and enhance their experience in the natural spaces. 

30×30 is supported by Californians across the political spectrum. A recent poll found that 75% of California voters surveyed support 30×30 and 62% said it should be an urgent priority for the state. Moreover, 62% of voters surveyed also said that Californians across the state deserve access to open spaces. 

The PUBLIC Lands Act also has strong support throughout the state. Members of our state Senate and Assembly and local elected officials from the Los Angeles, Central Coast and Northwest California regions recently signed a letter asserting that the legislation would benefit climate efforts, access to the outdoors, public health and economic recovery.

With this year’s record-setting wildfires and extreme heat on top of the ongoing pandemic, it’s safe to say that we are living through unprecedented times. And yet, despite these incredible challenges, I remain optimistic because of nature-based solutions like 30×30 that will help address the climate crisis and build stronger and healthier communities. Passing the PUBLIC Lands Act this year would be a significant step forward in achieving these goals.

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