2016-03-03 / Front Page

Opponents sneak up on Liberty Canyon catwalk

Cracks showing in bridge’s popularity
By Sylvie Belmond

Courtesy of NPS Courtesy of NPS Support remains strong for the plan to build a more than $50-million wildlife bridge across the 101 Freeway in Agoura Hills. But as the project begins to take shape, opponents are mobilizing.

The City of Calabasas hosted a Feb. 25 meeting titled “ 101 Freeway Wildlife Crossing: How Does It Benefit You, Your Business and the City?”

About 200 people came to Founders Hall to hear details about the financing, timing and feasibility of the proposed catwalk and how it will benefit the local mountain lion population and other wildlife.

Most people cheered the prospect of having a state-of-the-art wildlife crossing in their community, but some aren’t so keen on the idea, saying the benefits to wildlife are unproven and the money could be better spent elsewhere.

“I do not want that in my neighborhood,” Liberty Canyon resident Carl Betz said.

“With a debt approaching a half a trillion dollars in California, how do you justify spending a proposed $55 million of expenditure, whether the funds are earmarked or not, to the benefit of no taxpayer,” another man said.

A dozen speakers representing Cal Trans, the National Park Service and various nonprofit groups emphasized why the wildlife crossing is important.

In recent weeks the groups have been hosting meetings throughout the region to inform residents about the options for the bridge—which, in its early design, is expected to be the biggest in the world. An overpass traversing the 101 and Agoura Road is essential to preserve wildlife biodiversity in the Santa Monica Mountains, the proponents say.

One Jan. 13 workshop filled a room at Agoura Hills City Hall and another the following day drew 300 people to King Gillette Ranch south of Calabasas.

Betz criticized the City of Calabasas for promoting the crossing on the eastern border of Agoura Hills without involving residents of the community who will be most affected by the project.

“We’re harassed by coyotes continually. . . . Mountain lions are quiet, but they’re there and I don’t want any more of them,” he said.

Betz suggests a mountain lion might have been responsible for the death of Mitrice Richardson, a woman who went missing in 2009 after being released from the Lost Hills Sheriff’s Station.

Richardson’s remains were found in August 2010 in a rugged part of Malibu Canyon.

Julie Elginer, chair of the Calabasas Environmental Commission, said the Feb. 25 forum was organized in response to residents’ request. Many people in Calabasas have expressed interest in the wildlife corridor and they want to know what they can do to help make it a reality.

Liberty Canyon resident Sherry Ferber said the wildlife crossing would help to reduce human encounters with coyotes and other predators because it would provide a path by which the animals could disperse.

Panelists told the audience that the wildlife corridor will not divert any funds from transportation, road repairs and other public uses.

Much of the cost will be met through private and corporate donations. Only those public funds earmarked for wildlife protection will be used for the project, they said.

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