140531 big parade062.jpgThe Big Parade rolls through Ed P. Reyes Greenway in May

Ed P. Reyes River Greenway is Open, Sort of

Last May, a flock of pedestrians embarking on the epic Big Parade L.A. descended on a small unassuming street in Lincoln Heights on their way to the Ed P. Reyes Greenway. As the group entered through a pedestrian gate, a decidedly sad, homespun sign declared "Park Is Open" in spray painted block letters. It was a far cry from the polished tarpaulin that usually marked public projects, prompting those to wonder, "Is it really open?"

"It's 100 percent open," confirms Deborah Deets, from the Bureau of Sanitation's (BOS) Watershed Protection Division of the Ed P. Reyes River Greenway, a sliver of green space in industrial Lincoln Heights, by the Gold Line station.

The $4-million greenway finally opened to the public May 16, after local residents persistently called the Council District 1 office to help them re-open the facility. The park is open from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m., from March through October and 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. November through February, until "something permanent is set," according to an email from Council District 1 Deputy District Director, Jose Rodriguez. If Rodriguez's hesitant tone in that quote struck you, it should.

Completed last October, the greenway ran into some security snags that prevented it from opening to the public. At the heart of the issue is the fact that the greenway is not a park. It may seem like a park, because it offers free, open green space to the public, but legally and technically it is a wastewater treatment facility designed to clean water within a 135-acre drainage area.

"Calling the greenway a park is a misnomer," says Deets. "At a park, there are people who can respond to vandals or to reports of illegal activity. The Ed P. Reyes Greenway is a facility and it just happens to be beautifying your neighborhood. The Bureau of Sanitation isn't the Department of Recreation and Parks, we don't have rangers that can help ensure safety and security in the premises." If the greenway had been built as a park, many of the features it now has -- such as the bridge or basin -- would not have been built. "A lot of elements would not have been cost effective from a recreation standpoint."

That crucial distinction between park and facility puts the Ed P. Reyes Greenway in limbo-like territory when it comes to regulation. Though technically designed well, infiltrating runoff in one of the most polluted sites in the city, the greenway did not make plans for security and maintenance. Early arrangements with Young Nak Celebration Church fell through.

For now, the Bureau of Sanitation is taking on the operations load, which includes opening the pedestrian gates during the appointed hours, emptying the trash, and making sure the pumps are working, says Deets. The "extra stuff," such as picking up trash or pulling out weeds, would be the responsibility of the neighborhood. The most active community group involved in the talks is the Alta Lofts Neighborhood, but they haven't been given any formal authority on the site. "We haven't been given a golden key to the gates or anything," says Isaiah Longorio of Alta. "We're just doing what a friendly neighbor would do. The park is of great value to us. It would only benefit us to be vigilant and report suspicious activity such as vandalism or graffiti."

Mandates and responsibilities for the Greenway continue to be unclear, and the matter is now before Council District 1, which as promised to "explore options for having [the greenway] open for extended hours and for special occasions before/after set hours," and "what would be involved and required for either a non profit, group of people (including Alta), or individuals that are willing to help maintain site," according to Rodriguez's communication to the community group. The district gave no firm timeline to resolve these issues. No plans have been made to celebrate the park's opening either.

The district office has contacted the City Attorney to clarify procedures to handle signage and enforcement to prevent the homeless from establishing encampments on the site. This is just one example of the legal morass this greenway has encountered. CD1 Spokesman Fredy Ceja explains that at a park, the police have authority over illegal activities and can dissuade the homeless from setting up camp, but at this greenway there is no such clarity of responsibilities. "It's kind of a no-man's land. It's probably going to be like that for a while," says Longoria of the legal intricacies within just this 1-acre park. "We're still trying to figure all that out, but it's still one of the only places near us for us to enjoy on a daily basis."

Photos by: Carren Jao

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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