Posts tagged Draft Lower Los Angeles River Revitalization Plan

Photos by Wendy Chan

After reading my colleague’s thoughts about the plans to revitalize the Los Angeles River, I was left with an overwhelming sense of sadness of its current state, emotions eventually counterbalanced with hopes of the river’s proposed future.

Growing up in Los Angeles, I regularly witnessed the river’s transformation from a gentle trickle in the summer into a powerful torrent during the fall and winter after a storm – its raw power sometimes barely contained within the concrete channel built to direct the flow safely out to the ocean. I remember  watching on the news swift water rescue teams pulling out people overcome by the river’s strong currents every year, caught by its surprising strength. Occasionally these stories would end tragically.

Memories like these embedded the idea the river was a dangerous place to be avoided – an unpleasant section of Los Angeles where drug deals happened, trash piled up, and graffiti covered its embankments. Why would anyone want to visit such a place?

But as a little kid, I didn’t understand the L.A River’s past before it was channelized, nor pondered the potential of its future. I simply thought of the stretch of concrete as a flood channel, not as a river. I remember when I first experienced a river as an adult; I thought of the flow of water back at home, suddenly realizing and recognizing the potential of the L.A River.

“The L.A. River could represent the identity of Los Angeles!”

The inklings of the river as a connection and artery between humans and local wildlife began to flow, and my thoughts about the river began to change. No longer was it an off-limits and dangerous place, but the opportunity to offer communities accessibility to nature, alongside a feature connecting all of the communities of Los Angeles it flows across.

The Lower Los Angeles River Revitalization plan is truly a community driven vision, one outlining strategies to turn a dream of a better Los Angeles River into becoming a reality. I’m inspired imagining a city of tomorrow not be defined by its freeways, but instead by the tributary whose history spans long before there was even a Los Angeles.

Photos by Calvin Abe

I get a good look at the Lower Los Angeles River (LLAR) and Compton Creek during my daily commute on the Metro Blue Line Train. Depending on the vegetation management activities of the Flood Control District and the season, what I see can be either hopeful or bleak.

In the summer, after a season of growth where sediment, vegetation, and wildlife establish their territory within both the soft bottom and concrete-lined waterways, I feel an optimistic hope that nature based infrastructure solutions can be restored to the region. Now, at the beginning of the rainy season when vegetation has been removed from the channel and replaced with high volumes of water flowing with suspended trash, pollutants, and dangerous levels of bacteria, it seems as if the ecological destruction caused by paving our watershed will never be mitigated.

However bleak my views about the river have become lately, there remains genuine reason for hope. In December of 2017, the Draft Lower Los Angeles River Revitalization Plan was released to the public, an important document outlining opportunities and constraints for significant future LLAR projects from Vernon to Long Beach. The plan can be viewed here.

The first pages of the document offer an eye opening assessment about the community living within the river corridor:

  • Poor (64.1% of households are considered low income and an estimated 2,500 homeless people live along the river)
  • Ethnically diverse (93% non-white)
  • Hot (only 2% of the watershed is covered by shade trees)
  • Without sufficient access to parks (1/3 of the people living within the river adjacent communities have 1/3 the park space than the current LA County average).

This Draft Lower Los Angeles River Revitalization Plan gets into the weeds in addressing site-specific revitalization project for 146 locations throughout the river corridor. The draft also proposes a Community Stabilization Toolkit to help ensure the community living and working within the river corridor is the same population that benefits from planned projects and programs when they’re implemented. The impressive analytics provided in the report will be valuable to the communities that will ultimately take the lead in realizing these efforts.

While many of the opportunities identified in the plan are sandwiched between the channel of the river and the 710 Freeway in the upper river segments, and do not restore the natural hydraulic and ecological functions of the river and flood plain, the middle and lower segments propose spreading basins, wetlands parks, and habitat corridors. Taken in aggregate, these river adjacent projects can have a significant positive impact on water quality.

It is disappointing removing concrete from the river channel is not considered feasible in this plan (except alternate configuration 3 at the Rio Hondo Confluence). However, the most significant impact of this plan may be in the tenacity the plan commits to finding buildable opportunities along the river corridor, combined with the proposed policies and programs for community stabilization. Taken together, this sober plan proposes an authentic vision of the Lower Los Angeles River that is a cleaner, healthier and better-connected version of its current state.

This vision of tomorrow’s river system does not displace people, funnel profits to private interests, or force an idealized version of another river from another place and time. Instead, the plan embraces the complex interweaving of natural and man-made systems representing the essential heritage of the Los Angeles River.