June 26, 2017 - From the June, 2017 issue

New Zev Yaroslavsky L.A. River Greenway Trail a Model for Community-Led Revitalization

With California poppies and purple lupine in full bloom on a delightful Saturday in June, L.A. County Supervisor Sheila Kuehl, Community Conservation Solutions, the Mountains Recreation and Conservation Authority, many other elected officials, and over 200 community members celebrated the Grand Opening of the Zev Yaroslavsky L.A. River Greenway Trail in Studio City. Serving as a precedent for native habitat restoration along the concrete encased segments of the L.A. River, the project will naturally capture stormwater runoff and provide relief from urban heat island. TPR is proud to present an excerpt of remarks from the leaders who made this project a reality. 

Zev Yaroslavsky

“Preserving the environment for our future generations is what its all about—whether the Paris Climate Agreement, cap-and-trade, or all of this local work here in Los Angeles— all of the work that we do is to ensure there is a planet for future generation.” - Zev Yaroslavsky

"These projects bring the community to our urban waterways, and increase the amount of rainwater we capture.” – Sup. Sheila Kuehl

Esther Feldman, Community Conservation Solutions (CCS) President: The plan was to do something that’s not been done on the concrete segments of the river, which is to use native plants not just as a landscaping tool, but to re-create natural habitats that you would have seen in the Valley 100 years ago.

CCS’ team of restoration scientists, engineers and landscape architects developed an ecosystem-based design for the earthen banks above the concrete walls, integrating 40 species and planting over 3,000 native trees, shrubs, grasses and plants. CCS’ design included connecting to other river trail segments to create a continuous 4-mile walking trail loop. The site features interpretive, handcrafted metal artwork to tell the river’s natural and human history, including the River and Mountains Entry Gate at Whitsett Avenue and River Story Panels along the fence.

Restoring a natural environment along the river’s banks sets a model for sustainability, especially for the sections of the river where the concrete-lined channel and urban development dominate the river’s edge. Native trees and plants have deep, wide and dense root systems. They help stabilize the river’s steep banks, absorb high volumes of rainwater, create a healthy soil environment and help keep pollutants out of the river. 

This natural forest is adapted to Southern California’s climate and will not need irrigation once it matures. A half-mile bioswale integrates engineering and nature to, with a bioswale planted with native grasses combined with underground pipes and catchment to naturally capture, clean and infiltrate urban runoff, improving water quality in the L.A. River.

This natural forest is good for the climate, too. The L.A. River Greenway Trail’s native trees, shrubs and plants will grow both tall and wide, have long life-spans, and keep reproducing—so they can store a lot of carbon. This helps reduce greenhouse gases that contribute to climate change and provides much-needed shade that reduces the energy needed to cool our city.  When fully grown, this part of the L.A. River will annually store carbon equal to 80,000 vehicle miles.

This section of the L.A. River looks wild for a reason. This mixture provides the rich diversity of habitats that birds, butterflies, insects and other wildlife need to survive.  We hope that everyone will come on down to the river and take a stroll, enjoy the wildflowers and the trees, sit for a while and watch the river flow by. 

Sheila Kuehl, L.A. County Supervisor: We are looking at ways to become less dependent on water that comes from elsewhere, and more able to use our own. This multi-benefit project includes one-half mile of native and drought tolerant landscaping, rest areas, walkways for the neighborhood, and includes the much-needed stormwater runoff capture we need. This will help to cleanse the water before it enters the river.

This project signifies a critical link to other amenities along the LA River. The 51 miles of river start here in the San Fernando Valley, and then goes all the way through Downtown Los Angeles to Long Beach.  This Valley project will help residents understand the connectivity of the river and what it represents for the entire region. As many of you travel to the other end of my district, which ends at the Pacific Ocean, you understand the importance of water recreation in LA. Now, the Third District is going to be the district that goes from the ocean to the river.

Other projects such as the Los Angeles River Headwaters project in Canoga Park, the Valleyheart Greenway, and Ernie’s Walk in Sherman Oaks. These projects bring the community to our urban waterways, and increase the amount of rainwater we capture. The County provided more than half a million dollars for this project.

Last year, Supervisor Solis and I authored a motion that directed our Public Works Department to undertake a transparent community-based stakeholder process to develop an updated master plan for the entire 51 miles of the LA River. Just recently, we passed a motion in the Board to look at a way to fund water resilient green infrastructure. We worked in collaboration with over 25 organizations to come up with a framework that will invest in projects just like this throughout the region and capture the stormwater before it runs to the ocean. This will reduce our dependence on imported water and help us tackle climate change.

Col. Kirk Gibbs, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers-L.A. Region: We are proud to partner on this tremendous community project. We look to continue our work to make the LA River a true destination.

As a quick update, we continue to discuss the design phase for the recent Congressionally-authorized Los Angeles River Ecosystem Restoration Project, which is an 11-mile stretch very close to where we stand. We are working closely with the city, and we hope to enter into a design agreement with the city of Los Angeles shortly. It will be a groundbreaking effort.


The Corps take great pride in partnerships and relationships that provide opportunities to restore ecosystem benefits and increase green space along the river.

Adrin Nazarian, Assemblymember: Let’s thank the state agencies that have helped partner on this project: CalTrans, the Natural Resources Agency, and the Santa Monica Mountains Conservancy. As this river was traversed hundreds of years ago by our original inhabitants, it was the lifeblood of these communities. Bringing our river back is a vital component of our ecosystem. I hope we can incorporate local businesses into the new river economy and support our own communities. Let this be a merger of our natural and manmade ecosystems. 

Irma Munoz, Chair of the Los Angeles Regional Water Quality Control Board: The people with a rebellious spirit have made this day possible. These elected officials and community leaders are true change-makers.  When we remember history and remember ‘la madre tierra,’ you understand the importance of the river.  A special thanks to Esther, whom I call “the woman who proves the power of one.”  

When I go out and talk to cities, they are scared to death about complying with the MS4 permit (Municipal Storm Water Program to regulate storm water discharges from municipal separate storm sewer systems). They have fear in their hearts and we try to put facts in their heads. We need to communicate that this is a shared water vision for all of our future generations and us. This trail is a piece of the puzzle that has so many pieces to it that we do not know what it will ultimately look like. But the future will be brighter because of our actions here.

Barbara Romero, Deputy Los Angeles Mayor: Let me first thank Joe Edmiston, who has led the Mountains Conservancy with vision and wisdom. This project is part of a larger vision, and it is not possible with Joe’s spirit and determination.  Our communities are feeling the impacts of climate change already. This project is just one example of how we can take control of our destiny.

We now have alignment between the city, county, and state for a plan, and the recent unanimously supported County motion reinforces the support for investing in our water resources. It is a huge milestone that we went from not even considering a countywide measure for stormwater, to unanimously support.  Today’s project shows that we are on our way, but that we need continued public-private partnerships to fund the full 51 miles of this beautiful river.

Zev Yaroslavsky, former Los Angeles Supervisor: Before I declare today a success, I will ask my expert advisor, my three year old grandson what he thinks of this beautiful trail. It is all about the Gabriels of the world to why these projects are so needed. Preserving the environment for our future generations is what its all about—whether the Paris Climate Agreement, cap-and-trade, or all of this local work here in Los Angeles— all of the work that we do is to ensure there is a planet for future generation. As Congressman Sherman said, we just need to do it one mile or five miles at a time. We are not going to finish the job in our lifetime, but we are not free from the obligation to do what we can.

Let me also thank Joe, who is the Robert Moses of the environment of Los Angeles. It started with the Santa Monica Mountains, but now your fingerprints are over the region. From the San Gabriels to Baldwin Hills, you’ve managed to transform the region. If anyone can tell me what the Santa Monica Mountains have to do with the San Gabriel Valley, please do let me know. But none of us stopped you and you have made such a difference with projects like the Tujunga Wash and this one here.

Also, having previously tried to do a stormwater initiative, I know that you all are embarking on doing very important things for this region. These are very exciting times for Los Angeles.  I would like to thank my longtime staff who are here today, Alisa Belinkoff Katz, Maria Chong-Castillo and Bonita Trujillo. These are the idealistic, pragmatic, problem-solving people that make it all run.  It has been a privilege to serve you and spend your tax money judiciously on these types of projects. 




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