One of the last remaining vestiges of a 2,000-acre expanse of coastal habitat, the 600-acre Ballona Wetlands has been a disputed subject with environmentalists, community groups, and public agencies all having divergent ideas of its future.
Just before the end of January, the Annenberg Foundation, a new player in the ongoing conversation on the wetlands, stirred up debate by signing a memorandum of agreement with the California Department of Fish and Wildlife (CDFW) to build a $50-million interpretive center in the Ballona Wetlands Ecological Reserve.
Conversations between CDFW and the Annenberg began sometime last year, according to Annenberg spokesperson Liza deVilla Ameen. "It's always been part of our mission to advocate through improved communication respectful stewardship of our environmental resources in this living city," she said. "We felt that the state had a similar goal and vision around the Ballona Wetlands project."
To most newcomers in Los Angeles, the Los Angeles River is much like a mythical creature--often spoken of, but never actually experienced. That has thankfully changed over the past decade.
With projects large and small, the city has repeatedly rallied in favor of reviving this waterway and, in the process, returning the 51-mile river back to Los Angeles guided by the Los Angeles River Masterplan. The masterplan outlined a 20-year blueprint for the development and management of the river. In it, Angelinos could see a different vision of Los Angeles. As a result, the city has seen a growth of projects around the river and interest especially in the Glendale Narrows.
On January 24, Los Angeles is taking another step forward to take advantage of the growing public interest in the river by launching the Northeast Los Angeles Riverfront Collaborative (NELA RC), a holistic, collaborative urban planning effort to take advantage of the River as an economic development asset. The collaborative takes up the mantle left behind when the state's Community Redevelopment Agencies were dissolved last year, but with added emphasis on inter-agency cooperation and community-based approaches.
"The idea here is to use the [Los Angeles] river -- which has historically been a flood control basin -- and envision it as an actual fully-functioning river and to use that to create a district where it'll be a unique feature," said Louis Morales of Tierra West, project manager of NELA RC. Morales came on board the project December last year.
A meeting between conservation groups and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Wednesday turned out well, according to Kris Ohlenkamp, Conservation Chair of the San Fernando Valley Audubon Society. "It at least established where we were in agreement. We are in agreement about removal of non-native vegetation, about the use of herbicide and about re-planting." The question now comes to down to the specifics.
Over the holidays, the SFV Audubon, the Sepulveda Basin Wildlife Area Steering Committee (SBWASC), and other conservationists were taken by surprise at the extent of damage the Army Corps had caused clearing the south side of Burbank Boulevard. The resulting backlash resulted in the community and legislators calling for answers, as well as measures to prevent similar incidents.
Unlike eyes that can close, our ears cannot choose not to hear, nor can our noses choose not to breathe.
Ever since Tuyen Dinh moved into a Los Angeles River-adjacent home in Elysian Valley ten years ago, he had made a practice of guarding his children from the sinister effects of air pollution stemming from the Metrolink's Central Maintenance Facility (CMF), also known as Taylor Yard, little more than 400 feet away from where we sat one afternoon.
"If I smell any diesel fume coming this way, I have to keep my children inside the house," said Dinh, who has a background in mechanics and understands the possibly harmful effects of diesel engine emitted by these trains, if left unchecked. Noise was also a problem. Trains would pull in, horns would go off at odd hours, waking residents.
Last year, the World Health Organization elevated diesel to a "known carcinogen" level. A 50-year study undertaken by the National Cancer Institute showed that nonsmoking miners heavily exposed to diesel fumes had seven times the normal lung cancer risk of nonsmokers. It could also increase the risk of heart attacks. The EPA has found that diesel fumes aggravate asthma, bronchitis and can cause premature death. Most worrying of all is that its effects are felt even more by children, the elderly, and those that already have pre-existing respiratory or cardiovascular conditions.
A flock of birds flew overhead, almost like one dazzling, mercurial organism, soaring and skating this way and that. Then, suddenly, another flock appeared in the opposite direction, as if on a crash course. I couldn't take my gaze away. How would these birds negotiate such a confusion of wings?
I needn't have worried. As if guided by a second sense, the not-so-warring flocks kept on flying toward each other, like two waves in the sea meeting, greeting and finally dispersing. It was a marvelous sight, a testament to the amazing agility of avian navigation. And I wouldn't have seen it had I not been at the site of the ongoing Malibu Lagoon Restoration Project, just across the Malibu Country Mart.
A project led by the California State Parks (and includes the California State Coastal Conservancy, the Resource Conservation District of the Santa Monica Mountains, Los Angeles Waterkeeper, and the Santa Monica Bay Restoration Foundation), the site sits at a neighboring watershed, but I couldn't help but be curious about the possibilities of restoring a wetland the Federal government has filed "impaired" for the last 20 years.
If all goes to plan and permits are signed off quickly, this summer the Los Angeles River at Glendale Narrows will be the site of frolicking and river rambling, as Angelenos finally get to play on the river for free.
The proposal outlining a pilot recreation zone within a five-mile area of Glendale Narrows from Memorial Day to Labor Day was put before the Los Angeles River Cooperation Committee (LARCC) -- a joint working group that comprises government bodies with interests in the L.A. River -- on January 7.
"This is an evolutionary step. It's not the same thing as the Paddle the L.A. River program," said Barbara Romero, Director of Urban Projects of the Mountains Recreation and Conservation Authority (MRCA), who attributed much of the proposal development to the work of Walt Young, MRCA Chief of Operations, "It's not just about boating. It's more about access."
If you have walked and biked in Los Angeles, you would have probably noticed a strange thing whenever you do either one of those activities exclusively for extended periods of time: when you're walking, you'd begrudge cyclists; when biking, you'd wonder why pedestrians can't get out of the path soon enough. The same drama is being played out not just here, but also across the Pacific.
In a world where cars remain the prevalent means of getting around, why can't the transportation underdogs get along? Perhaps they can, if given the proper introduction.
Enter, the first "Share the Path" event in Elysian Valley.
Held in collaboration with the Elysian Valley Neighborhood Watch (EVNW), the event aims to educate cyclists and pedestrians on these subtle road rules and relationships on the river path.
A unanimous decision by the Supreme Court today sided with the Los Angeles County Flood District on the debate over pollution from urban runoff.
On the question of "Does the flow of water out of a concrete channel within a river rank as a 'discharge of a pollutant'? The Supreme Court says "no." The court based its opinion on a previous finding from 2004's South Florida Water Management District versus Miccosukee Tribe, in which "we accepted that pumping polluted water from one part of a water body into another part of the same body is not a discharge of pollutants under the Clean Water Act." It then reversed the Ninth Circuit decision, which was in favor of environmentalists.
The original lawsuit was filed by the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) and Santa Monica Baykeeper in 2008. It sought to hold local governments accountable for untreated stormwater runoff that picks up high levels of pollutants on its way to the ocean.
"The court actually made a very narrow opinion and did not determine that the county is not responsible for its pollution. In fact, it didn't close the door. The county is still responsible for pollution that leaves its stormdrains and reaches the waterways in Los Angeles," says Liz Crosson, Santa Monica Baykeeper Executive Director. The group is currently evaluating its options to see what are its most viable next steps.
How could this have happened? What do they really want? How can we prevent this from ever happening again? These three questions were at the center of community discussions at last night's Encino Neighborhood Council (ENC) Parks Committee meeting, held at the Balboa Sports Complex in Encino.
Despite the weeks that have passed since the San Fernando Valley Audubon Society (SFV Audubon) first discovered the decimated wildlife area on the south side of Burbank Boulevard, there have been no satisfactory answers from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.
So far, the Army Corps has said it proceeded with this Vegetative Management project to temper lewd conduct, drug dealing, homelessness and illicit activities rampant in the area. "There are huge amount of large debris because of the homeless population. Large trees can also become problems when maintaining the flood gates," said David Van Dorpe, Deputy District Engineer for Project Management, United States Army Corps of Engineers, Los Angeles District during a meeting of the Los Angeles River Cooperation Committee, a joint working group of major entities overseeing the Los Angeles River area, earlier the same day. Dorpe also clarified that bulldozers were not used during the clearing of the 43-acre area.
A man wearing a blood red hoodie cycled past me as I walked through the devastated remains of a Sepulveda Basin's South Wildlife Reserve. His solemn expression brooked no greeting. On his bike, he glided on the newly carved dirt roads left by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. Fallen trees and charred leaves were littered on either side of him.
As I walked, I heard the soft squish of my shoes hitting the soil. Every so often, I stop and an eerie, incessant rustle starts on my side. I look and, after a few minutes, I see a small bird looking for refuge amid the ruin. This lush area now looked the way I would have imagined the forest to look after fires licked it clean in "Bambi." Nature, it appears, was banished; in its wake, an air of desolation settled.
By now, you may have heard that while the rest of us were planning our holidays last December, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers were leveling an area in San Fernando Valley's Sepulveda Basin. The project was a Vegetative Management plan "to optimize wildlife habitat and native vegetation," according to the 2011 Sepulveda Dam Master Plan.