By ELLEN ENDO, Rafu Contributing Writer
Arnold Maeda never thought he would be fighting to protect a place he once detested, but on Saturday the 87-year old Nisei urged Los Angeles Department of Water and Power (LADWP) officials to reconsider plans to build a 1,200-acre solar ranch in the Owens Valley.
Maeda was among 120,000 persons of Japanese ancestry unjustly imprisoned in desolate War Relocation Authority camps after the outbreak of World War II. Manzanar was one of 10 such camps.
“I’m a Manzanar survivor,” Maeda declared at an LADWP public meeting. “I detested that area for 40 months (the time he spent imprisoned there). They classified me 4-C. Do you know what 4-C is? It’s an enemy alien. I was born here!”
Three years ago, LADWP initiated a process to identify a location large enough to accommodate miles of photovoltaic solar panels mounted on tall metal poles.
Learning that the proposed solar ranch would be situated close to Manzanar’s doorstep, Manzanar National Historic Site (MNHS) Superintendent Les Inafuku requested that an open meeting be held in Los Angeles. Although the designated comment period had closed Nov. 4, LADWP General Manager Ronald O. Nichols agree to schedule a public meeting for Nov. 16 and extended the comment period until Nov. 26.
Thirty people testified Saturday. Nearly all said they support pursuing alternative forms of energy but oppose the Owens Valley location.
Charles Holloway, LADWP environmental assessment manager, explained that Owens Valley was chosen after weighing on a number of factors and presented a visual simulation showing that the solar panels would have a low profile.
Offering testimony were representatives of the Manzanar Committee, Japanese American Citizens League, Big Pine Paiute Tribe, Lone Pine Paiute-Shoshone Nations, Audubon Society, Nikkei for Civil Rights & Redress, and descendants of Manzanar incarcerees.
In 1992, Manzanar was designated a national historic site and, in 2004, the National Park Service opened an interpretive center to study, preserve, and educate the public about Manzanar’s history. Today, MNHS welcomes 82,000 visitors annually.
“I have worked with the National Park Service 38 years, but my experience with Manzanar has been different than any other place. When you think of Trail of Tears (Oklahoma), Central High School in Little Rock, Ark., Martin Luther King Jr. (National Historic Site in Atlanta), and Manzanar, these are sites of conscience,” Inafuku told those gathered.
“This is a spiritual place to Native Americans,” Mary Urashima of the Historic Wintersburg Preservation Task Force in Huntington Beach reminded LADWP. “I have to wonder if federal law applies here.”
The Orange County community leader described Manzanar as “a project where infrastructure and human rights collide in a big way.” She remarked that currently a number of sites important to Asian Americans are in jeopardy; namely, Tuna Canyon Detention Station in L.A., Historic Wintersburg in Orange County, and Riverside Chinatown. “We have the technology now. You can look elsewhere.”
Thanking the LADWP for its efforts in getting L.A. off fossil fuels, Manzanar Committee Co-chair Bruce Embrey added, “The natural environment surrounding Manzanar is an indispensable element in understanding what those incarcerated in America’s concentration camps experienced.
“Manzanar stands as a stark reminder to all Americans of both the fragility and the resilience of our country’s democratic traditions. In this sense, Manzanar is actually a monument to our Constitution, to civil rights and to our democratic way of life.”
Nancy Takayama, San Fernando Valley JACL representative, recalled memories of family fishing trips driving through the Owens Valley when her parents would point in the direction of Manzanar and say, “We used to live there. We used to go fishing there.”
“As a child, I often wondered, ‘Why would you live in a desert?’” she said.
Ken Inouye, past National JACL president and current JACL Pacific Southwest District governor, suggested, “By re-siting the location (of the solar ranch) you will show respect to the Japanese Americans whose rights were violated. Please understand that the site has special meaning.”
The proposed solar ranch is comparable in size to the city of West Hollywood, Ellison Trinidad pointed out. “I admire the DWP’s move for more renewal energy, (but) a recent UCLA study mapped potential solar sites right here in Los Angeles,” he added, noting that the City of L.A. owns over 300,000 acres in the Owens Valley. “We should be better stewards of the land.”
Businessman Philip Anaya said the comments from the public meeting held Oct. 28, 2010 in the Owens Valley are not included in the draft Environmental Impact Report (EIR), nor have the minutes from the fall 2010 scoping meeting(s) been made available. He also asked LADWP to extend the current comment period beyond Nov. 26.
Mike Prather, a conservationist who has lived in Lone Pine since 1980, said his biggest concern is with “the large-scale transformation of the landscape.”
Stacey Toda, a fourth-generation Japanese American, held back tears as she spoke of family members who were incarcerated at Manzanar. “This is part of my family’s history.” She said she looks forward to taking her children to Manzanar. She warned LADWP executives to take heed. Even though the older generation is gradually passing away, she said, “you have another generation of people who are speaking out…”
“We do support renewable energy,” emphasized Inafuku, who has guided Manzanar for the past five years. Maeda agreed, saying he appreciated the fact that the LADWP officials “put deep thought” into their plans.
“We just wish these (solar) projects would be smart from the beginning,” Inafuku added.
The final EIR is projected for completion in the first quarter of 2014 or early in the second quarter, after which it will be submitted to the LADWP Board of Commissioners.
Interested persons may send comments in writing by email to [email protected] or [email protected] or by regular mail to Nadia Parker, Environmental Planning and Assessment, LADWP, 111 N. Hope St., Room 1044, Los Angeles, CA 90012.