The Reservation Next Door

Exclusive Report

3 mins read
A rocky mountain with trees in the background
The Henninger Flats campground, within hiking distance of Altadena and Pasadena. Photo: Google Earth

Among the Pasadena suburban demi-dramas recorded on, a New Years Eve post entitled Last Resident LA County Firefighter Vacates Henninger Flats speculated that something may be going on at the primitive Los Angeles County campground.

Make that definitely going on.

Local News Pasadena has confirmed that the County is planning to transfer ownership of Henninger Flats to the 700-member Tongva tribe, thereby creating a new tribal reservation in the San Gabriel Mountains and within a five-mile uphill hike of Altadena and Pasadena.

According to Helen Chavez, Assistant Chief Deputy and Communications Director for Supervisor Kathryn Barger, Tongva representatives have expressed strong interest in the property. In turn, County agencies including the Los County Fire Department, the real estate division of the Department of Public Works, along with a representative of the County’s Chief Executive Officer have met to “get their arms around some of the details,” said Chavez.

Those details include the County’s desire to maintain public access to the 230-acre Henninger Flats area, which remains a popular hiking destination. In addition to County-maintained fire roads to the site, there are property assets currently in place at the campground including a locked restroom facility and other structures, picnic tables and signage.

“When it comes to transferring ownership of Henninger Flats, we are at a very early phase of discovery and planning,” said Supervisor Barger. “At the onset of the pandemic, the area’s upkeep was discontinued due to staffing shortages experienced by the Los Angeles County Fire Department.”

“My top priority is keeping Henninger Flats accessible to hikers and the public at large,” Barger continued. “It’s a special space that requires significant resources to cultivate and maintain it.”

“The County needs to figure out what the maintenance costs entail,” said Chavez. “And then we can articulate that to the Tongva representatives. Negotiation will be an important next phase.”

The timing of those negotiations with the Tongva is likely to be within the first months of 2024, after tribal members conclude their traditional winter seclusion.

But why is Henninger Flats of special interest to the Tongva?

One reason involves securing federal recognition for the tribe, which could lead to the development of Los Angeles County’s first Indian casino.

A bill, H.R. 6859, was introduced in mid December by Los Angeles-area congressperson Sydney Kamlager-Dove “to extend the Federal recognition to the Gabrielino/Tongva Nation, and for other purposes” under the federal Indian Gaming Regulatory Act.

Those last four words are a clear indication of what’s to come, whether at the Henninger Flats site or elsewhere, possibly in Kamlager-Dove’s 37th Congressional District, as part of a land swap or straight purchase arrangement once the tribe is federally recognized as a sovereign entity under the Act.

Kamlager-Dove’s bill has amassed the backing of multiple organized labor unions including the Teamsters and Unite Here Local 11, representing approximately 32,000 hospitality workers.

The bill will require bipartisan support in Congress to pass, and any proposal for development of a casino would require the input of local communities, many of which were blissfully unaware that the reservation land acquisition was being planned.

For example, Dorothy “Dot” Wong, a member of the Altadena Town Council, responded simply “not aware” when asked if she knew about the plan to create a Tongva reservation near her home.

Barger addressed the issue by stating, “I’m supportive of exploring a partnership that will meet the needs of stakeholders and the community at large. I believe we can do this right, but it will take careful canvassing and planning.”

Beyond the property development issues, the Henninger Flats area probably holds special significance for the tribe. It may have been the location of a small Tongva village known as Topisibit, a trading partner with the northeast Pasadena-area Tongva village of Puntitavjatngna. Both settlements were leveled by Spanish ranchers in the late 1700s, with the surviving indigenous population forcibly relocated to the Mission San Gabriel Arcángel in what is now Alhambra.

In other words, Henninger Flats may be one of the Tongva’s ancestral homes.

On a clear winter’s day, you can view that ancestral home from practically anywhere in Pasadena. Just look north, toward the mountains above Eaton Canyon.

At night, Henninger Flats is completely dark. That may change.

Corrections (1-16-2023)
We have subsequently learned that the Gabrielino / Tongva Nation is not involved in the potential transfer of Henninger Flats. It is another organization, with ties to the Gabrielino-Tongva Band of Mission Indians. Additionally, we did not make clear that the current plan does not include construction of a casino on the Henninger Flats property. Finally, current discussions do not involve establishment of a federal tribal reservation. A follow-up article regarding what we’ve learned since the publication of The Reservation Next Door is forthcoming.
The short URL of this article is:

Phil Hopkins

Phil is the Associate Publisher of Local News Pasadena. He is a 35-year resident of the city and his favorite local delicacy is the Combo Grinder at Connal's.
Email: [email protected]


  1. As the cofounder of the Tongva Taraxat Paxaavxa Conservancy, this article is filled with mistruths and inconsistencies. Our conservancy is its own 501C3, not affiliated with the “Tongva Nation.” They were not involved in our work in the past, not the present and certainly not in the future. Our mission statement and goals are to preserve land, culture and educate, not open a casino. Next time, please reach out to the actual people doing the work.

  2. This group known as the Tongva are not state recognized. Why is the county bypassing the San Gabriel Band of Mission Indians who have been state recognized officially since 1994 and have ancestral lineage to this area? This group known as the Tongva are not state recognized. Why is the county bypassing the San Gabriel Band of Mission Indians who have been state recognized officially since 1994 and have ancestral lineage to this area?

  3. It’s seems there’s a lot of speculation in this article about the tribe’s intentions. Did you try to interview them? I’m wondering why you didn’t include that in the article.

  4. There are many hikers for whom “the daily” includes a hike to the Ranger Station. Some of us start as early as 4:30; others, including me, begin at 5:30 so we are at our desks by 9, refreshed by nature. For those doing the trek to Mt Wilson, the hike may begin far earlier, say 3:30 or 4. First, it is imperative that the wildness be preserved; even the thought of a casino up there is incomprehensible and catastrophic to our wildlife brothers and sisters. Second, I understand that the historic (I am an architectural historian and can attest to its significance and retention of integrity) steel and glass fire lookout, dating back to the early 20th century, has been dismantled and its parts taken to a fire museum in Riverside. Why? Why not leave it in a setting perfectly suited for its purpose? It was a memory of fire concerns and actions taken to preserve the forest and human life.

  5. What Tongva Group is going to get this land?
    William K Henninger was my GG Grandfather
    Thank You

  6. I’m a Kizh/Gabrieleno native elder. I speak for no Gabrieleno tribe,splinter,hypen group or nation.I speak for my ancestors. If ownership of Henninger Flats is to be transferred then transfer the land BACK to the Henninger decendents. My sister Corine was married to Dean Henninger.If the countywants to give the land back to Gabrieleno natives, then my sister can fill any and all federal, state, county or city requirements because I have the Acuna family genealogy. The Henninger family can also trace their ancestral beginning to California Mission natives/Dieguinos.s So if the county of LA wants to rightthe wrong to my ancestors and want to join in land acknowledgement and returning native land back, then look no further then the Henninger family. The Henninger and Acuna families are one of the best documented native family in all of Dieguino and Gabrieleno territory. We would compare our native documents against any and all PRETENDIANS!!!

Comments are closed.

Latest from Politics

Accessibility Tools