The Meaning of Hahamongna

The original settlers of the region were sometimes called the Hahamongna Indians. The word means "Flowing Waters, Fruitful Valley" in the native Tongva language.

Hahamongna News


Land conservancy's co-founder to hand over reins





Janette Williams, Staff Writer


Pasadena Star-News


Tim Wendler and Nancy Steele walk through Old Marengo Park Tuesday. After 11 years as the president of the Arroyo & Foothill Conservancy (AFC), Steele has stepped down from the posiition.(SGVN/Staff Photo by Walt Mancini)

ALTADENA - Nancy Steele has presided over the former Altadena Foothills Conservancy since it started 11 years ago as a scrappy group fighting to stop development of a few acres of wilderness in its own backyard.

Now Steele, co-founder and board president of the re-named Arroyo & Foothills Conservancy, is stepping down from the lead role as the group marks its successful decade-long effort to buy and preserve 41 acres of Rubio Canyon.

Steele said it's time for a change as the conservancy positions itself to be a regional player in the public land-acquisition stakes.

"If a nonprofit is to survive it needs to grow beyond the founders and the founding board," said Steele, who will remain on the board after two-year member Tim Wendler takes over as president.

"It has to be identified less with the specific leadership and more with the staff and, obviously, the mission," she said. "Really, what I and other founding board members have been doing the last several years is getting the organization to that place where it can grow up and be its own organization with its own identity."

Expanding the board to nine members - with plans to add more - and hiring Executive Director John Howell last year was a signal the conservancy is in it for the long haul, Steele said.

Hiring staff "made all the difference," she said.

"You can be proud of an all-volunteer nonprofit," she said. "And yet I think that was really holding the organization back."

Completing purchase of the first major parcel of Rubio Canyon in 2009 led to an "outpouring" of support, Steele said.

"Suddenly people were eager to make donations, once they saw we were successful," she said. "No one wants to throw their philanthropic dollars away."

The conservancy's roughly $900,000 budget this year - raised through grants and donations - went toward land purchase, programs and operating expenses, Howell said.

Wendler, a member and former chairman of Pasadena's Hahamongna Watershed Park and the Recreation and Parks Commission, said a "periodic change of leadership" is good for the health of any organization.

"It's an outgrowth of the increase in our mission over the past few years, looking at areas of Pasadena, Glendale, La Ca ada Flintridge and La Crescenta as well as Altadena, our traditional center point," Wendler said. "I think it's all part of the maturing process."

Under Steele's leadership, the conservancy has built a solid record, Wendler said, citing the Rubio Canyon parcel, its part in preserving 15 acres along the Chaney Trail Corridor in west Altadena and planning for a 25-mile regional trails system.

"That clearly gives us a strong reputation with funders and landowners," he said.

Don Bremner, a longtime board member of the Pasadena Sierra Club, said Steele "has been the sparkplug" for the conservancy's efforts.

"From the beginning, her vision of acquiring and preserving open space engineered these acquisitions, most recently at the mouth of Rubio Canyon," Bremner said, adding that it could help close a gap in the historic Altadena Crest Trail.

"That acquisition, helped by sizeable contributions from the public, demonstrated their ability," Bremner said. "They demonstrated they are a serious player."

Steele said the conservancy's next project is acquiring land in La Crescenta, which she declined to specify, marking its first move out of the Altadena foothills.

But her focus now is on what she called the "next big step forward" for the conservancy.

"We want to become a nationally accredited land trust ... in a process whereby an organization has to prove its structure and organization is sufficient to buy, hold, operate and protect land in perpetuity," Steele said. "We actually started the process a long time ago when the board formally adopted standards and practices and I'm leaving to actually focus on that for the next year or two on the board."

Wendler said he is ambitious for the conservancy, and wants to build on the "several hundred" supporters it already has.

"I'm thinking big while being realistic about what's possible," he said. "If you set the bar low, you may never be that impressed by the results. If you set the bar high, you do your darndest to reach it."

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