On the Banks of Change: Implementing a Plan for the Los Angeles River

Photo credit: Matters of Scale 3 via photopin (license)

by Jeremy Loudenback

Last year, when the Army Corps of Engineers signed off on a $1.08 billion plan to revitalize an 11-mile stretch of the Los Angeles River, momentum for the project turned from a trickle into a swift current of expectations.

Though a modest “back to basics” message has been a consistent theme of his young administration, Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti’s most impressive accomplishment so far might be helping broker the approval of the most expensive and far-reaching of three plans to re-make the Los Angeles River.

The new plan would transform several key areas of the river by removing the concrete channel that has encased the river since the 1930s, promote ecological restoration of industrial sites close to downtown, and perhaps most importantly, create an “emerald necklace” by connecting to other parks in the area, including the Los Angeles State Historic Park near Chinatown.

The billion-dollar plan still needs to be approved by Congress, but advocates are already reimaging the ways in which the river might be transformed from a concrete-paved storm drain into a dynamic urban oasis. The ideas laid out in the 2007 Los Angeles River Revitalization Plan represent a lush vision of recreational and cultural opportunities for a city starved for parks and vibrant civic spaces. By connecting the long-neglected river to an important swath of Los Angeles, proponents hope the city could reclaim a connection to the area’s natural habitats as well as forge a dramatic new identity for the city.

Despite encouraging news in recent months—the Army Corps of Engineers approval of the new plan and the city’s likely purchase of the Taylor Yards parcel—several hurdles remain. The city still needs to acquire the 113-acre Piggyback Yards tract in Lincoln Heights from Union Pacific, though the rail company now wants a lot more for the site than the sum originally budgeted in the billion-dollar proposal.

And gentrification from residential and commercial development related to the riverfront development is already occurring in neighborhoods like Frogtown, raising questions about how forthcoming plans for the Los Angeles River will impact working-class communities near the river. Many also wonder if local businesses and existing environmental groups will be able to find a way to benefit from the massive changes now underway.

Los Angeles River revitalization efforts will also need to create effective governance processes to address the needs of many different groups from the public, private, and nonprofit sectors as well as funding streams that will likely include federal, state, and city money. The river itself snakes through six different cities in its 51-mile trip from the San Fernando Valley to the Pacific Ocean in Long Beach, and current river restoration efforts will need to engage with other river development projects, such as a proposed plan to revitalize parts of the Los Angeles River in Southeast Los Angeles County.

Next Thursday night, March 26, the Bedrosian Center presents an opportunity to consider the future of the Los Angeles River development with a panel discussion gathering some of the many stakeholders, decision makers, and visionaries who are working to implement a bold new plan for the future of Los Angeles.

LA River Revilatization flyer front_Page_1Panelists include:

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