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All or Nothing: Mayor's L.A. River Lobbying was 'a High Stakes Gamble' (Video)





A segment based on this story was produced for KCET's award-winning TV show "SoCal Connected." Watch it here now.

The tireless work of L.A. River advocates was rewarded on Thursday when the Army Corps of Engineers recommended an ambitious $1 billion plan that would pump new life into the long-neglected waterway.

Known as Alternative 20, outlined as part of the ARBOR study, the plan would focus on 11 miles of the 51-mile river, restoring 719 acres of habitat between Griffith Park and downtown. The decision was the culmination of months of lobbying by advocates including Mayor Eric Garcetti, whose numerous visits to the White House to fight for the more comprehensive plan helped to secure the deal. The Army Corp previously had been in favor of the $453-million Alternative 13.

At the announcement at Marsh Park in Elysian Valley on Thursday, Mayor Eric Garcetti thanked President Barack Obama for giving him the opportunity to speak to him about the importance of revitalizing the L.A. River. Also in attendance at the event were councilmembers Gil Cedillo, Jose Huizar, Tom LaBonge, and Mitch O'Farrell, who commended Mayor Garcetti's efforts.

In an exclusive interview immediately following the event, Mayor Garcetti told us why the L.A. River is so important to the city's past and future, and to him personally; his thoughts on the NELA Riverfront Collaborative (of which we are the media partner); as well as an insight into the city's relationship to the federal government when it comes to projects like the L.A. River revitalization that could benefit the country's economy as a whole.

Below are highlights from our conversation with Mayor Garcetti; you can watch the whole interview above.


On lobbying the federal government in securing funds for the L.A. River:

I was going to keep pushing and pushing and pushing because I knew I was pushing for something that wasn't a political favor. It wasn't a, you know, zero sum game, give us a little bit more in L.A. It was do it right or maybe don't even do it at all.

On how the city will spend the funds allocated for L.A. River revitalization:

This is like building a rail line. It doesn't happen in a single year. You don't need a billion upfront. In fact, we couldn't even spend a billion this year. What you have to do is the engineering studies, begin to take up the concrete, buy the parcels of land, link them with the bridges. And, we've got a good plan to do that, but since that'll happen over a decade, we now have to get the money each year from the federal budget and we have to get the money locally.

On the possible displacement of long-time residents along the river:

Nobody's house is going to be taken. Nobody can be kicked out of rent stabilized apartments close to the river. And people in public housing won't be moved, and those developments won't be brought down. What we have to insure though is that new people who want to live who are just graduating from high school or college and looking for an affordable place to find an apartment or even buy a home won't be priced out in future years.

On why redevelopment along the river is important:

We have so much land along the river which is underutilized or poorly utilized, land that's full of industrial uses, railroad tracks that cut off the community from the river, and underutilized space that I'm confident that smart developers coming to this city and asking for favors from us about the height or the density, in exchange we can ask for good things for the community back. More parks, more cafes, bike paths, affordable housing, jobs locally, so that people can actually live and work in the same community and reduce traffic.

On the NELA Riverfront Collaborative:

I think the emphasis on good planning was probably the best thing that came out of that. Planning seems like this esoteric academic thing that people do in universities or city halls. At the end of the day it's a really simple question. What do you want to see in your neighborhood? And, what can we help to make that happen?

On working with the community on city planning:

I've always believed all the answers lie not in city hall or in, you know, a university, a think tank, or in a corporate boardroom. They exist where people live.

Related articles:
Feds Okay $1-Billion Los Angeles River Project
An Introduction to the L.A. River Ecosystem Feasibility Study
Gamechanging L.A. River Study Released, $442 Million Plan Recommended
Weighing In on L.A. River ARBOR Study
Talking L.A. River with Councilmember Mitch O'Farrell

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