L.A. River Restoration Environmental and Health Justice Alternative 20

by Robert García and Ramya Sivasubramanian
on November 20, 2013 5:00 PM

Diverse allies, including the Los Angeles Business Council, civil rights, health, and environmental justice organizations, youth advocates, and mainstream environmentalists have submitted public comments on greening the Los Angeles River to support Alternative 20 -- the best alternative to help ensure healthy, livable communities for all. Senators Barbara Boxer and Dianne Feinstein, Members of the House, Mayor Eric Garcetti, the L.A. City Council, the County Board of Supervisors, and other elected officials support Alternative 20.

The Army Corps of Engineers released its draft river restoration study (the Study) in September 2013. The dual purposes of the Study are to restore 11 miles of the river, from Griffith Park to downtown, and to provide recreational opportunities in the restored ecosystem.

Alternative 20, called RIVER (Riparian Integration via Varied Ecological Reintroduction), provides for an investment of $1.04 billion in the future of Los Angeles and our children. Alternative 20 includes habitat and wetlands at Piggyback Yard, widening at Taylor Yard, restoration of natural bed river sections at Glendale Narrows, terracing the river near Riverside Drive, transitions or connections between existing riverside corridors and sections of the river lined in concrete, and restoration of wetlands in the channel itself. Alternative 20 widens the river near Bette Davis Park in Griffith Park, restores the confluence with Verdugo Wash, and restores wetlands connecting the river to the L.A. State Historic Park. Alternative 20 restores twice the river length compared to the Corps' preferred Alternative 13.

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Anahuak Youth Sports Association at Rio de Los Angeles State Park : Photo: The City Project.

The draft Study recognizes much of Los Angeles is park poor, income poor, and plagued by disparities in green access:

Much of Los Angeles is considered to be park deficient [with] less than 3 acres of green space per 1,000 residents, as defined by California law. . . . In general, access to parks and acres of parkland per 1,000 residents is lowest in areas that have the highest number of families below the [annual household income] line of $47,331. . . . The City Project, a . . . nonprofit . . . organization was founded to find ways to improve park availability for all neighborhoods, regardless of ethnicity or income level.

River restoration projects should be prioritized to serve people in areas with the greatest need, as shown in the map. Alternative 20 best serves those needs.

Click to enlarge

The final Study must include a compliance, health, and environmental justice analysis for several reasons. Communities along the river have high levels of health disparities for both outcomes and exposures. River restoration will clearly and significantly affect those disparities. There are significant differences in health impacts between alternatives. It is necessary to understand these impacts of river restoration. The value of this analysis goes beyond weighing the alternatives and extends to how river restoration relates to climate change, strategic growth initiatives, and the national prevention strategy for health and wellness. Information from a well-done assessment will make a difference in decisions made.

Judy Baca and Carlos Rogel of SPARC and UCLA restoring the Great Wall of L.A., which is a best practice for monuments celebrating diversity along the River | Photo: The City Project.

Judy Baca, a UCLA Professor and Artistic Director of SPARC (Social and Public Art Resource Center), speaks eloquently on River access and public art.

If public parks are not accessible to the diversity of all people, then what spaces are? Where can people meet and share the sense that they are citizens of a common land? Where do we find places of respite, open places to meet that speak to a shared sensibility about what it means to be a citizen of our city, of our state and country? In the court rooms? In the schools?

Public art like the Great Wall of L.A. is greatly influenced by the people for whom the art is made. The artist captures a strong image or idea that has great resonance within the community.

The Sonia Sotomayor Learning Academies and L.A. River School, adjoining Rio de Los Angeles State Park, is a best practice for joint use of schools, pools, and parks. The school is a best practice for educational programs on the values at stake in river revitalization. The L.A. Unified School District has raised $27 billion for school construction, built over 130 new schools, and modernized hundreds more since 1998. Each $50 million created 935 annual jobs, $43 million in wages, and $130 million in local business revenue. Hundreds of acres of land were cleaned up. Most important, the future became brighter for generations of children. This is a best practice example for how river revitalization should brighten the future of Los Angeles for generations to come.

Former State Senator Tom Hayden emphasizes that the river can revitalize and unify the L.A. region.

Every big city in the United States has a river except for Los Angeles. The L.A. River is barely a river at all. So it's not an environmental problem, it's a real estate and growth problem. The project must ensure water flows through the river. The restoration of the river must be more than a trickle down and must involve more than token steps towards environmental justice. Alternative 20 promotes these goals. The lesser Alternative 13 would be a barrier to progress for many years ahead.

The values at stake in river restoration include health and active living; economic vitality; multi-benefit projects to promote clean water, air, and land, habitat protection, and climate justice; sustainable communities with complete green streets, safe routes to school, affordable housing, and joint use; public art, culture, and heritage projects; Native American and spiritual values; and Transit to Trails.

River restoration should serve these values, equal access, and democratic decision making. The final Study and river revitalization should:

  1. Ensure compliance with equal protection laws and principles that provide for equal access to the benefits of river restoration.
  2. Include a compliance, health, and environmental justice analysis that addresses the impact of river greening on all communities.
  3. Include a health impact assessment for river revitalization.
  4. Promote economic vitality through green jobs and contracts for diverse local youth and other residents.
  5. Provide an implementation plan for equal access and alleviating disparities.
  6. Celebrate diverse cultural, heritage, public art, and Native American values.
  7. Restore Griffith Park on the East Bank of the L.A. River.
  8. Provide transportation alternatives, including bike trails, complete green streets, safe routes to school, and Transit to Trails that takes urban residents on fun, educational, and healthy river, mountain, and beach trips.
  9. Ensure full and fair public participation in the decision making process.
  10. Serve these diverse values through a fully funded, balanced Alternative 20.

Click here for the public comments by diverse allies: Amigos de Los Rios, Anahuak Youth Sports Association, Asian and Pacific Islander Obesity Prevention Alliance, Asian Pacific Policy & Planning Council, Robert Bracamontes, California League of United Latin American Citizens, Chatten-Brown & Carstens LLP, Center on Race, Poverty & the Environment, COFEM (Consejo de Federaciones Mexicanas en Norteamérica), Concerned Citizens of South Central Los Angeles, Belinda Faustinos, Friends of the River, Tom Hayden, Latino Coalition for a Healthy California (LCHC), Los Angeles Business Council, Los Angeles Neighborhood Land Trust, Los Jardines Institute (The Gardens Institute), Mia Lehrer + Associates, Multicultural Communities for Mobility, Mujeres de la Tierra, National Parks Conservation Association, NRDC, Prevention Institute, Search to Involve Pilipino Americans, Sierra Club, Social Justice Consultancy, and SPARC. Overlapping allies submitted earlier comments.

Top: Rio de Los Angeles State Park adjoining the Sonia Sotomayor Learning Academies and L.A. River School

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