March 19, 2007 - From the March, 2007 issue

City of L.A. Releases Long-Awaited Master Plan to Enhance L.A. River

The dream of a restored, natural L.A. River has persisted almost since the first bucket of concrete hardened in its channel a half-century ago, and last month it came a step closer to reality with the release of the L.A. River Master Plan. Devised by the L.A. Bureau of Engineering in conjunction with a host of public and private entities, the draft master plan take as a wide-ranging view of the ecology, economy, culture, and urban fabric of the river. As the draft now goes out for public comment, TPR was pleased to speak with City Engineer Gary Lee Moore about this historic plan.

Gary Lee Moore

After 18 months, the L.A. River Revitalization team released its draft master plan for the L.A. River. What does the plan entail?

We're excited to have the master plan available for public review. The over-arching goal was to create a continuous greenway for the river. And within the master plan, there are four goals.

One was to revitalize the river: to enhance water quality, enhance public access, and restore a functional ecosystem.

The second goal was to "green" the neighborhoods. During this planning process, the communities said that even if we have a great river, we still must ensure that their neighborhoods connect to the river. This connection can be made by adding trees, green medians and increasing public art.

The third goal was to capture community opportunities and foster civic pride. We want to provide opportunities for education and public facilities and to celebrate the cultural heritage of the communities and the river.

The last goal was to create value by increasing employment, housing, and retail along this corridor-and doing so in a way that uses environmentally sensitive urban design and focuses on under-served areas and disadvantaged communities.

On what portion of the river does this plan focus?

The river starts in Canoga Park and goes 51 miles to the Long Beach harbor, 32 miles of which are in the city of Los Angeles-starting in Canoga Park and ending at the edge of Vernon at Washington Boulevard. The plan focuses on the 32 miles within the city of Los Angeles.

What challenges do civic leaders and environmentalists have to confront to realize the plan's goals?

Many people have asked us, "What's different about this plan? What will prevent this plan from just sitting on the shelf and not being implemented?" What is exciting about this plan is the management structure that we have proposed. There are three components. The first is the governmental, where we're looking to form the Los Angeles River Authority. This would be a joint powers authority between the county and the city of Los Angeles that would address the improvements in the river right of way.

The Army Corps would join the Authority by a memorandum of understanding. This entity would seek the state and federal funds necessary to implement the physical changes to the river.

The second part of the management structure would be entrepreneurial and would take place under the direction of the Los Angeles River Revitalization Corporation. This entity would direct public and private financing for river-related and neighborhood projects alongside the river's right of way. It would address issues such as how to enhance the neighborhoods and how to get public-private partnerships going.

The third is the philanthropic aspect. That would be the Los Angeles River Foundation, which would work with the community, celebrating the river.

What projects will emerge as this process continues?

We have included a list of 239 projects to begin the implementation of the plan. The projects vary from parks, bike paths, pedestrian bridges, trails, and ecological restoration. Also included as part of this list are 20 larger projects that we call "opportunity areas." These areas are part of the river and are also outside of the river where we can make some dramatic changes.


The list was narrowed down to five opportunity areas to further detail the potential for changes. The five areas include Canoga Park, River Glen, Taylor Yards, Chinatown/Cornfield, and finally Downtown Industrial between First and Seventh streets. The Taylor Yard project is an opportunity to take the concrete out of the river and build a wetland. Canoga Park has an opportunity for a great community park and the naturalization of the concrete channel.

Last year in TPR, Friends of the Los Angeles River founder Lewis MacAdams praised the master plan process but advocated setting the bar very high, at the level of a swim-able, fish-able, boat-able river. Is Mr. McAdams reaching too far? Is this within the realm of possibility within our lifetime?

I think it is possible. What is exciting about this plan is that we've proposed projects that have components of water quality improvement whenever possible. When the Army Corps built the river, it had a single purpose of flood protection-i.e., get the water out as fast as possible. The river has done an excellent job of doing this. Today, that is not enough. We must make sure that all the water that enters the river is not polluted.

Let's talk about governance and the possibility of a joint powers authority. Clearly, collaboration between the city and the county will be essential to realize the master plan's goals. Is that kind of collaboration emerging?

The county has been a great participant all during the development of this plan. We've had high-level meetings with their staff and have worked directly with the county supervisors. They did a master plan in 1996, and we've continued the partnership that was started then. One of the recommendations that we plan to bring to the City Council is for the council to approve the plan and then forward it to the county and ask the supervisors to adopt it as well.

As you suggested, when the Army Corps of Engineers came in 70 years ago, they were only given one task: to stop the flooding and speed the water through the channel. That led to the "concretization" of the river. Some will critique the current plans as once again being too engineering-oriented. You suggest that the goals of the plan are broader than mere engineering solutions. Is that the case?

As part of the framework of the plan, we are going to restore the ecological function of the river and transform it into an amenity for residents and visitors. The Army Corps has taken this to heart, and they are building on this plan and performing a detailed feasibility study. We've identified projects that are directly related to ecological restoration-a direct link with the Army Corps' current mission of restoring this river.

This plan is in the public comment phase. What is the nature of the responses you are receiving?

People are very supportive of and excited by the vision of the master plan, including the addition of open space. They want to make sure that there is a balance between walking paths and sports fields. There have also been questions regarding potential land use changes along the river.

This plan does not change existing land uses. As part of the recommendations to Mayor Villaraigosa and the City Council, we will be requesting that the Department of Planning update the ten community plans that are adjacent to the river to address land use issues.

Much of this work is funded from Prop O. What does that bond mean to this project and others like it in the city?

This study funded by the Department of Water and Power. As we begin to implement the projects, I think there are excellent opportunities for funding from Prop O. Additionally, with the passage of Proposition 84 in November of 2006, there is another great source of revenue that can be used to implement this plan.

We are really looking forward to the adoption of the plan and the beginning the implementation.


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