If Harry Potter had Lord Voldemort, water quality managers and environmentalists have urban runoff and untreated stormwater, a toxic soup of pollutants that routinely make its way from the city's roadways and rooftops down to our waterways and oceans each time it rains.
Like He Who Must Not Be Named, urban runoff is difficult to pin down. It has no headquarters; urban runoff accumulates from millions of sources around the city and beyond.
The mixing of this foul brew begins whenever the rain falls. Rainwater -- which would normally seep into the soil to be filtered, cleaned and added to the groundwater supply -- instead meets impervious surfaces such as concrete roads and rooftops, sweeping up all the trash, animal feces, bacteria, oils, and residue we intentionally or inadvertently leave behind. The slush then makes it way to stormwater drains, and eventually into the waterways. The Council for Watershed Health estimates that on average 500,000 acre-feet of runoff escapes into the ocean from the Los Angeles basin, or about one-third of the county's annual water use.
The Pasadena City Council has signed off on a series of agreements between Los Angeles County Flood Control District (LACFCD) and the Arroyo Seco Foundation (ASF). The move grants the non-profit $3,271,000 for various water quality, environmental and recreation improvements in Hahamongna Watershed Park, a spot in Arroyo Seco where mountain meets urban plain. Bounded by the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in the north and the Devil's Gate Park in the south, the area is home to an unusual sagebrush habitat, uncommon especially near urbanized areas. Runoff from the San Gabriel Mountains north of the area also feeds Pasadena's groundwater basin supply.
Among the planned improvements is upgrading the Arroyo Seco water intake structure to capture the city's full water rights. Due to limitations in existing facilities, the city only realizes about 72 percent of its water rights. The upgrade promises to be more eco-friendly, allowing fish and other migratory species to pass in the stream rather than being blocked by the facility.
While the dust is still settling from the announcement of the Sixth Street Bridge design competition, another historic bridge is getting ready for the spotlight.
The Seventh Street Bridge is the subject of Councilmemeber Jose Huizar's motion introduced during the Ad Hoc Los Angeles River Committee meeting held on October 25. In the motion, Huizar points to the possibility of upgrading the historic bridge to create a new public space.
"It's not just about getting people from point A to point B. It's also creating a point C, which is the bridge itself as a destination point," said Huizar spokesman Rick Coca, echoing the councilman's sentiments on the Sixth Street bridge and applying it to its next-door neighbor. "The reason we like this idea so much is that it's similar in its goal."
Unlike other more straightforward structures, the Seventh Street bridge has a hidden atrium. The original three-arch bridge was built in 1910. In 1927, instead of tearing down the old bridge, the city built a new roadway on top of the structure, creating the Seventh Street Viaduct that we see today, which crosses the Los Angeles River and train tracks on either end.
Los Angeles, land of mystery draped in sunshine. You may think you know every inch of her terrain -- canyons, valleys and windswept sandy shores -- but you probably would be mistaken. Somewhere, there is still yet another facet of her left to be discovered, to be revealed only at the perfect time. In my case, another of those moments was about a month ago, when I first saw Natalie Montoya and Jeff Farrow's wedding photos.
Enveloped in pepper trees, fruit trees and flowers, Natalie and Jeff's nuptials seemed like a page out of a secret garden story, complete with an elegant hacienda background.
The setting was opulent, but also warm and appealing. All 200 of Natalie and Jeff's guests were basking under the warm afternoon glow and danced under the stars all night. It was perfect -- and it was all right here in Los Angeles.
"We live in Atwater Village," says Montoya, "We actually go walking along the L.A. River in the evenings, so we really wanted some place that would look like Los Angeles." The couple found it in the Los Angeles River Center, a hidden gem incongruously just around the corner from a Home Depot, a McDonald's and a Metrolink train yard, near the confluence of the L.A. River and the Arroyo Seco.
They walk among us, in plain sight. Their figures barely cause for a second look. Like us, they enjoy the feel of the sunshine on their skin and the gorgeous blue of the Los Angeles sky, but that is not all they go outdoors for. Birders are on a mission.
Most likely dressed in comfortable khaki shorts and sporting Captain Price-like boonie hats, birders congregate in nature preserves, parks, or just about any type of natural habitat in search of...well...birds. At the smallest sound of an unidentified warble, heads whirl in search of its source.
Ears perk, eyes squint to get a better look, hands finger the black binoculars that hang casually from their necks. Practice has given birders sharpened observation skills. As soon as they find their target, they take a few moments to enjoy it, and then the pens come out, jotting down one of their many finds for the day.
"The difference between a runner and a jogger is a race application," says Kris Ohlenkamp, Conservation Director for the San Fernando Valley Audubon Society. "If you've run a race, you're a runner. With birding, if you keep a list, you're a birder. Otherwise, you're a birdwatcher." Birdwatching may be a lazy day diversion, but birding is in a different league.
A Los Angeles landmark will soon be demolished to make way for a brand new icon that will turn all eyes toward the long-neglected L.A. River. This morning Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, along with Councimember Jose Huizar, announced the winner of the six months-long campaign for a design of the new Sixth Street Bridge, which will replace the aging bridge that currently spans across the river and three freeways, connecting Downtown to Boyle Heights.
HNTB Corp. will see its ambitious design become a reality as the veteran firm was announced as the winner among three finalists (others being AECOM and Parsons Brinckerhoff), at a press event that fittingly took place on the Sixth Street Bridge. The decision was unanimous among the nine-member panel that includes architects, community leaders, and local residents.
The mayor proudly noted that while this was an international competition, the community was involved in every step of the way, including most recently, four community presentations last month, and that the process should be a model for future public works projects. "For the last seven years, I have been saying everything we do has got to be transparent, everything we do has got to be above board, everything we do has be based on talent and on quality."
With a series of arches that pay homage to the current bridge, HNTB's design incorporates elements that address the city's emphasized focus to bring more walking, biking, and increased park space along the new structure.
Architect Eric Owen Moss, a member of the panel, explained the reasons for selecting HNTB's proposal: "People have said that the tradition of innovative architecture in Los Angeles belonged to a particular generation or a particular period of time...I think that the charge for the committee was that Los Angeles' tradition of non-tradition in design and architecture was sustained, and I think we've done that."
He continued, "The project is likely to be an important icon -- I think that it's essential to say that it's an aesthetic icon, it's a poetic icon, it's an architectural icon, and it's a social icon. What is unique about [HTNB's] perspective is to stretch the content and conception of the project from Boyle Heights to the eastern part of Downtown Los Angeles."
The current Sixth Street Bridge, built in 1932 -- despite its role as one of the most recognizable L.A. landmarks (you can see it in countless number of movies and car commercials) -- must be replaced due to a condition commonly known as "concrete cancer." This incurable disease stems from a high alkali content in its cement, leading to a reaction with the sand that causes cracking, and eventually structural failure.
Construction on the new bridge is expected to start in 2015 after approval from the Board of Public Works and the Los Angeles City Council. The project, which will create nearly 5,000 jobs, is expected to be completed in late 2018 and opened in 2019, according to the project website.
Top: Model of design for the new Sixth Street Bridge | Photo by Justin Cram
Little more than two months after the L.A. River Iconathon invited designers to create a set of signage that communicates information about the river, the Noun Project has released twenty symbols relating to the Los Angeles River.
"Symbols are one of the most potent forms of communication, they can transcend cultural and language barriers and deliver concise information instantaneously and efficiently," said Edward Boatman, co-founder & Creative Director for the Noun Project. He points out that these suite of symbols can also be used by other river-adjacent municipalities around the world.
Ideas such as soft bottom, water quality, and river confluence, among others, can easily be conveyed with these symbols to the multi-ethnic residents living around the L.A. River. Each symbol can be downloaded free from the Noun Project website, and can be used in a variety of media, such as event posters, apps and wayfinding signs.
According to Sofya Polyakov, co-founder & CEO of Noun Project, these L.A. River symbols are significant not only because of their physical presence, but also because of the public process that each symbol went through to be created. "The symbols created during Iconathons are a representation of what we want to see in our city. Having the public engage in creating a visual language around the L.A. River helps raise awareness of the river and the revitalization effort."
The symbols made their debut at the Los Angeles River Revitalization Corporation's "Let's Talk River" event held October 7th. The Noun Project hopes it will be the beginning of many more sightings to come.
Are you working on a river-related project? You can download Los Angeles River icons for free here.
When working on long-term challenges, there never seems to be a time to stop and celebrate. On October 12, a breakfast gathering to celebrate the 10th anniversary of the city's Ad Hoc Committee on the Los Angeles River may have been the rare occasion when the city took its time to take stock of how far it has come in saving its historic waterways.
At the beginning, the City Hall rotunda was flanked by booths manned by city and community groups working toward the revitalization of the Los Angeles river. They included the City of Los Angeles Stormwater Program, Friends of the Los Angeles River, Heal the Bay, the River Project, and Save L.A. River Open Space.
Remarks from First District Councilmember Ed Reyes (who heads the ad hoc committee and recently presented with a park named in his honor), Councilmember Tom La Bonge, Congresswoman Lucille Roybal-Allard and California State Senator Kevin de León gave the audience a glimpse of how much perception and public support around the Los Angeles River has changed.
But perhaps the most telling of all presentations was Reyes' City Council presentation detailing the milestones of each year of the Ad Hoc Committee's existence.
Here's a refresher:
Today wasn't just another groundbreaking among a growing series of parks along the Los Angeles River. It was also a tribute to the ongoing efforts of Councilman Ed Reyes (CD1) to establish a massive greenway along the long-neglected 52-mile waterway.
The Los Angeles River, which has been encased in cement since the 1930s to protect the fast-growing city from life-threatening floods, has recently been a primary focus of the city to roll back the damage. As Chair of the Ad-Hoc River Committee, which celebrates its 10th anniversary on Friday, Councilman Reyes has overseen the establishment of the Los Angeles River Master Plan, echoing the 1930 Olmsted Brothers plan to establish an "Emerald Necklace" along the river:
"Continued prosperity [in Los Angeles] will depend on providing needed parks," read the Olmsted Report, "because with the growth of a great metropolis here, the absence of parks will make living conditions less and less attractive, less and less wholesome. . . In so far, therefore, as the people fail to show the understanding, courage, and organizing ability necessary at this crisis, the growth of the Region will tend to strangle itself."