Supervisor Lovingood Lays Out Hollow Case Against Monuments

San Bernardino County Supervisor Robert Lovingood traveled to Washington last week to testify against the potential establishment of national monuments in the California desert, but his concerns rang hollow.  His most concrete complaints centered on the prospects of a long-shuttered gold mine located over 70 miles from the nearest San Bernardino County city and owned by a Canadian company.  Lovingood's testimony reveals that his opposition to the monuments is politically motivated, rather than practically rooted and that he is out of touch with his constituents.

Lovingood Picks a Battle Over Castle Mountains

Most San Bernardino County residents would fall in love with the Castle Mountains if they saw them.  But Supervisor Lovingood's testimony suggests he has a different vision for this remote stretch of the county.  Lovingood expressed concern to officials in Washington that the nearby Castle Mountain gold mine may have difficulty operating if a desert monument is established around this portion of Joshua tree-studded wildlands.  The monument proposal would not impede mine operations, according to the Senate, but Lovingood worries that the monument would scare away the mine's international investors and a chance at 300 jobs and $250 million in tax revenue.  Lovingood failed to mention that the tax revenue would be unreliable and that the jobs would probably go to Nevada, not San Bernardino County residents.

Joshua trees frame the Castle Mountains in the eastern Mojave Desert, San Bernardino County, California.  A Canadian mining firm has won County Supervisor Robert Lovingood's support to revive a gold mine here, over 70 miles from the nearest County town, and next to a national park. Photo by David Lamfrom.
Mining has been a centerpiece of both Lovingood's and Congressman Paul Cook's opposition to the desert monuments, yet San Bernardino County acknowledges that mining jobs accounted for approximately a tenth of one percent of the county's employment in 2014.  And even if the Castle Mountain mine's Canadian owners can wrangle the millions of dollars it needs from investors to resume operations, its remote location probably will draw workers from Nevada, not California.   The mine is located between the Nevada town of Primm and the California town of Needles.  Needles has a population of less than 5,000 people and is located over 70 miles from the mine.  The next nearest California city is Barstow, over 130 miles away.  You'll spend the money you earn at the mine on the gas it takes to get there.

The gold mine's proponents seem to be chasing a quick buck.  Gold prices are just now rising but could drop yet again, leaving the mine closed and workers out of a job.  Lovingood is pinning up the mine as some economic hope when it is barely more than a mirage. Nonetheless, the Senate has worked with the mining company to ensure that the monument proposal would not affect its operations.  The mine could begin operations today, if it so desired.  And even if it does, I bet most of the workers will be from Nevada, and most of the money will flow to Toronto.

Passing the Buck on Road Repairs

Passing the buck for his own leadership failures, Lovingood stated that the monument proposals would make it difficult to repair county roads and that the Department of Interior has a long list of deferred maintenance that impacts county transportation.

The stretch of Route 66 in San Bernardino County represents one of the most pristine segments of this historic road, coursing through desert wildlands that are preserved as earlier generations experienced them early last century.  The route courses through an area rich with history, from Native American cultural sites, the experiences of economic refugees in the Great Depression, and where Patton trained his troops for World War II.
Lovingood indicated that a monument designation would make it more difficult to repair Route 66 because the county would not be able to mine raw materials immediately adjacent to the road.  This seems like a ridiculous argument.  How often do road repair crews ask to mine your front yard for raw materials needed to fix the road?  Even if this were a valid argument, Lovingood has no excuse for the fact that the county has closed a significant portion of Route 66 for over a year because of damage caused by a rain storm in 2014.

The County is responsible for repairs to Route 66, but has failed to do so for over a year on a 30+ mile portion of the Mother Road.  County Supervisor Lovingood has no excuse for this failure. Image from San Bernardino County.
The county's closure of Route 66 is significant because tourists from all over America and the world travel to see this pristine stretch of Route 66, only to be turned around by bright orange traffic signs.  The last time I went camping in the desert I had to turn around and find an alternate site, turned back by the road closures.  Lovingood is busy spending county money on travel to Washington to oppose a monument, but he can't find the money to repair this road and advance the county's tourism economy?  Mojave Trails National Monument would protect a stretch of American heritage along this historic route.  It's time that the County also act as a good steward of this national treasure and repair Route 66.

Lovingood also complains that the Federal government has not been able to pay for maintainance on roads and infrastructure within existing national parks.  This is indeed a problem, but Lovingood seems to forget that Congress controls Federal spending.  He could have spent his time in Washington asking Congress to properly fund the Department of Interior.  Cutting a fraction of tax loopholes that allow corporations to do their banking in the Cayman Islands would quickly fill any funding shortfalls for our national parks, and much more.

Time for Leadership

It is time for San Bernardino County's leaders to shepherd the economy into a sustainable future and not drag it into an outdated past.  Mining is a big part of San Bernardino County's history, but it is not a big part of our modern economy.  San Bernardino County's website contains images of mining activities and the most recent image on the website (below) is from 1919.  Even if the county posted more recent photos, its own reports acknowledge that mining now constitutes a mere fraction of one percent of the county's employment.

A photo of miners from 1919. Image from San Bernardino County website.
San Bernardino County is home to some of the most beautiful, pristine landscapes in the nation. Tourists travel across the world to see our national parks and county residents enjoy spending weekends under starry night skies, or riding down a 4x4 route in the desert for rejuvenation or solitude.  But the county has done little to recognize these treasures.  I mentioned earlier that a portion of Historic Route 66 has been closed for over a year.  County Supervisor Lovingood has also not shown any leadership in pressing Washington to fund our national parks or to encourage tourism.  Instead, he is flying to Washington to protest his own constituents' efforts to protect our public lands from destruction.

It is not too late for Lovingood to step up to the plate and represent his District.  It should not be difficult. Nature has blessed San Bernardino County with an increasingly rare treasure - peaceful, pristine open space.  Let's manage this space responsibly for future generations.


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