Steve Petzold | St. Francis Memorial Unnecessary

Editor’s note: This letter was submitted before President Trump signed a bill authorizing a monument at the site of the St. Francis Dam disaster.

As reported in a news article by Tammy Murga (Feb. 27), I stood up at a City Council meeting and voiced my opposition to federal legislation to establish a St. Francis Dam memorial in San Francisquito Canyon. On the eve of the 91st anniversary of the dam break and resulting tragic loss of life, I want to explain my reasons.

First, although it is not frequently mentioned, there are several markers already in place to commemorate this event. Outside Powerhouse No. 2, there is a dam fragment with a bronze plaque memorializing the event and the victims of the resulting flood. State Historical Marker 919 was placed on March 12, 1978, with the assistance of the L.A. Department of Water and Power and the Santa Clarita Valley Historical Society. Alongside the historical marker is a tall sign that provides historical information about the construction and destruction of the St. Francis Dam.

Downstream in Santa Paula, there is a memorial to two police officers who at great risk to their own lives drove through the area warning residents of impending flood waters roaring down the Santa Clara River toward the Pacific Ocean.

The markers are adequate and appropriate to commemorate the St. Francis Dam disaster and its estimated 450 victims.

Second, the legislation is horrific. It is an omnibus bill filled with hundreds of pet projects that could not pass individually, but collectively spread enough goodies around the nation to secure the votes necessary for passage. We cannot long afford omnibus bills while running an annual trillion-dollar deficit.

In regards to the St. Francis Dam, the secretary of agriculture is instructed to conduct planning for the design and construction of a visitor center near the site of the former dam within three years. No new monies are allocated for this work, but the secretary is obliged to use funds already allocated. This is often referred to as an unfunded mandate. There is zero interest from public officials to know how much this planning may cost in dollars and man hours.

Within four years the secretary of agriculture is mandated to develop a management program for the monument. There will be an ongoing expense in perpetuity to the federal government for a monument for which there is no demonstrated public demand. 

To the best of my knowledge, the Congressional Budget Office did not score Omnibus Senate Bill 47 to determine how much all the provisions would cost the federal government.

Even if the secretary of agriculture completes the design and management plans, it is doubtful that construction money from the federal government will ever be available.

If the city and private interests really want to memorialize the victims, it can be done for a lot less money and impact in San Francisquito Canyon and its environs.

At the council meeting I suggested that plaques could be placed at the city-owned San Francisquito Open Space Area, which includes the floodpath to the south. Another marker could be placed on Market Street near the building where a temporary morgue was established for local victims. The City could even declare every March 12 into perpetuity a day of remembrance for the flood victims.

Our local community can take the lead and not put an additional burden on the federal government.

To waste money on a memorial visitor center is pandering to local special interests and a tremendous folly. If we want to have better government in Washington, D.C., we need to collectively suppress our desire to force the federal government to do everything for us.

Steve Petzold

Santa Clarita

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