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L.A. River 'Crown Jewel' Parcel Purchase Zeroed Out in Favor of Albion Project

The NELA River Collaborative project builds upon the growing momentum of efforts already underway to transform the Los Angeles River into a "riverfront district" and to create a focal point of community revitalization. For more information on the collaborative visit www.mylariver.org


The dreams of creating a 100-acre green open space that truly connects to the Los Angeles River seem to be dying of a long, lingering disease. Last month, the Proposition O Citizens Oversight Advisory Committee (COAC) and Administrative Oversight Committee (AOC) approved zeroing out the funds set aside for the purchase of Taylor Yard's 44-acre G2 parcel. The committee agreed to move $11.455 million of the budget to another phase of the Albion Dairy Project, and the remaining $985,000 to Prop O Contingency funds.

This marks the second time Taylor Yard funds were used towards Albion Dairy. In 2009, $12.56 million of Prop O funds were similarly transferred to complete the acquisition of a 6.34-acre Albion Dairy property, bringing the total purchase price to $17.56 million, 12 percent over the property's appraised value of $15.9 million. What was once a formidable $25 million budget set aside to purchase and build what is repeatedly called the "crown jewel" of the Los Angeles River is now a line item that simply reads TBD.

According to Mark Gold of the COAC, the move was supported by Councilman Ed Reyes' office, who apprised the committee that purchase scenarios weren't panning out at the Taylor Yard G2 parcel. "We're at the stage where the funds we were anticipating to leverage from other sources were not transpiring," said Reyes. "If I didn't use that fund for Albion then that area would have suffered. The Albion site is very deserving of that type of value."

Development of the Albion site would increase acreage of an existing recreation center to about 10 acres total, and would manage runoff in the surrounding 233 acres of Albion Street.

"We've discussed the [G2 parcel] twice a year, for the last five years. [Union Pacific] is not a willing seller," said Gold. "When it came to the Taylor Yard project, it was time to stop holding a certain amount of money hostage in the hopes that someday the landowner would change his mind."

Gold sees the transfer of fallow funds as a good thing. "This is example of government working where it was flexible enough to move forward on a project."

Based on the memo, the $11.455 million would go toward implementing water quality elements -- something not budgeted for in the multi-million purchase of the Albion Dairy property. An additional $10.5 million still needs to be sourced to build the proposed recreational features and future phases of the site, though part of that is assured with Proposition 84 funds.

Though $3 million of the original $17.56 million was set aside for demolition and remediation, it now appears $5 million of that newly transferred money would go toward "additional geotechnical investigations" as the result of "new contamination 'hot spots' discovered even as remediation work was in progress." (The author arrived at this figure by comparing the figures on Table 1-2 of the Phased Cost Estimate of the project to the figures supplied by the Bureau of Sanitation.)

Albion Dairy project rendering

The additional investment in Albion Dairy is disappointing and worrying to Melanie Winter, executive director of The River Project. "I didn't support it the first time. I certainly don't support it the second time," she said. "We had to do serious due diligence when we purchased the Rio de los Angeles State Park. They didn't do their due diligence at Albion. I don't think Taylor Yard should pay for their lack of planning. It's frustrating to have lip service paid by the city on this. For them to point to Taylor Yard as something important to them, then drain the little bank account that we have for it for an unknown quantity that turns out to polluted. We don't even know the value of it with respect to water quality."

In contrast, Taylor Yard has been on the California State Coastal Conservancy's radar since the early 1990s. In 2004, the Conservancy worked with California Department of Parks and Recreation in planning for Taylor Yard and Cornfield properties. In 2002, the Conservancy released a feasibility study encompassing the whole 244-acre site that includes what is now Rio de Los Angeles State Park, the Sonia Sotomayor Learning Academies, and the G2 parcel.

Though findings from the 2002 report would have to be revisited given the developments in the other parcels, Christopher Kroll of the Conservancy says it's imperative to secure the G2 parcel. "The Rio de Los Angeles state park isn't complete really until it touches the river," said Kroll, "It's really important that someone gets that in the public, whether it's the state or the city. It's just the location, so near downtown and the fact that it's got the Rio de los Angeles right next to it. The G2 parcel would be a complement to Rio de Los Angeles Park, which is more of an active river recreation. The G2 could be the more natural passive park outside of the state park."

To stress their commitment to the property, the Conservancy has indicated it is willing to contribute a few million to a possible purchase of the G2 parcel, but without the Prop O funds, it wouldn't be able to attract any seller's interest.

When asked about the future of the Taylor Yard G2 Parcel, Reyes says he's not giving up. "I'm hoping there's another vehicle, another set of scenarios we can work with."

Rumors of a possible land swap with Trammell Crow continue to loom. Of which, Reyes also remains noncommittal. "I cannot say that's the end of it. I haven't heard that formally. I do know that's a desirable scenario that still needs a lot of work."

Water advocates might breathe a sigh of relief should Trammell Crow formally drop its option at the G2 parcel, fearing the developer's involvement would only result in increased costs. As L.A. Creek Freak wonders in this 2011 post on the same issue, "Is this a ploy -- common enough in local environmental conservation/acquisition efforts -- to up the property value with entitlements and re-sell to the City/State for a big return?"

Despite lack of funding at the Taylor Yard G2 site and his term ending this year, Reyes says he'll continue to fight for the parcel. "I really believe that G2 is one of the crown jewels that we cannot let go of, and we've got to continue working on strategy through other state entities to allow us the resources."

How is your Proposition O money being spent? Keep track of the fund's progress at the Proposition O site.

Top: G2 Parcel at Taylor Yard adjacent to the L.A. River and Rio de Los Angeles State Park. Photo by KCET Departures.

About the Author

Carren is an art, architecture and design writer and an avid explorer of Los Angeles. Her work has been spotted on Core77, Dwell, Surface Asia, and Fast Co.Design. You can find her online and on Twitter. 
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I'm confused. Mr. Gold says Union Pacific isn't a willing seller, but Trammel Crow has had an option on the property for the past couple of years? Hmm, good oversight COAC! Also, in what imaginary world is it possible for Mr. Reyes - who chairs the Planning and Land Use Management Committee for the City - to "not have heard" of the land swap concept? And to deem it a "desirable scenario" to falsely inflate the price of the property? Ugh. Both these gentlemen are mighty cavalier about how they spend public funds.

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Watch carefully. Reyes who is now termed out will emerge as a highly paid consultant to Spring St. development interests. Without a doubt the Taylor Yard parcel is the crown jewel. Reyes is shifting the funds to his own future kingdoms, not to benefit the river as a whole and to complete what is obviously the most important element. It's bold alright.

Now can we all stop introducing Mr. Reyes as the river's savior? Can we instead look for rigorous and focused leadership? The LA River is not a stepchild for whom any old parent will do. It needs stewardship that is more determined than our current appointed and annointeds.

All: keep an eye on the money, where like a seasonal river it often flows towards the the lowlands...