Ask about the Los Angeles River, and many Angelenos might point you to its most celebrated stretches in Glendale Narrows. But last weekend a crowd of about a hundred gathered farther west, in Winnetka, to witness the official opening of the $11.5-million Los Angeles River Headwaters greenway, where the Los Angeles River is formed by the confluence of Bell Creek and Calabasas Creek in Canoga Park.
"It's great," says June Thierry, a resident of the neighborhood for 22 years and counting. "It used to be abandoned and desolate, but now people are walking up and down the path. The only problem we have now are the graffiti artists."
One of the 239 projects outlined in the Los Angeles River master plan, the L.A. River Headwaters project started in 2012 and finished at an $11.5-million price tag, with $1.9 million coming from the Proposition 84 River Parkways Grant program. The cost come largely because of the unseen work involved in transforming the concrete waterway into a green space, says Cung Nguyen, the river's watershed manager for the county's Department of Public Works. Nguyen pointed out that to build the 1.25-mile trail, which loops around to 2.5 miles, the Department had to build two bridges and two underpasses. One bridge lies underneath your feet as you enter De Soto. It transforms the culvert into a walkable area, where you can access the trail. A bridge construction usually costs about $3 million, which accounts for the project's price tag.
Speaking to a group of residents and supporters, Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky said, "The location is significant. Without starting at the headwaters we can't complete an amenity that would someday cross all 51 miles out to the sea." The project comes at the heels of the North Valleyheart Riverwalk opening last month, and proves that little by little, the greenway gaps in the Los Angeles River are dwindling.
Apart from giving residents a green space to jog, bike or stroll on, the five-acre greenway is also outfitted with native and drought tolerant plants. A rain garden collects water from a 50-square-mile area and could capture up to 587,000 gallons of water. "It would save enough water for five families of four in a year," notes Mark Pestrella, chief deputy director of the county Department of Public Works.
Though the opening of the greenway is a significant step forward, work remains to be done. The trail abruptly ends at Mason Street further east, where gates prevent access for residents. Nguyen says DPW is working with the city to connect the greenway to the Los Angeles River bike path.
One other issue that remains is a perennial one of security. David Uebersax, chair of Winnetka Neighborhood Council's Public Works and Transportation committee, is glad the a green space is finally open to the public, but says security could still be an issue, now that residences with relatively low fence heights fronting the river are accessible to the public.
Unlike most of the city, the headwaters occupies an area overseen by the Los Angeles County, so any security concerns would be routed to the county sheriffs rather than the Los Angeles Police Department. The area is also only a block away from the Orange Line stop, which is the territory of yet another agency, the Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority (Metro). Rather than rely fully on a county agency that may have their hands full watching over a whole county, the neighborhood council's next step is to form a River Watch, similar to a neighborhood watch that would increase the safety of the neighborhood. Uebersax still hopes to work with the Sheriff's Department, but is setting up a system where the community can also help itself.
Photos: Carren Jao