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Two L.A. River Recreational Zones a Possibility This Summer

Every year, more and more people are discovering the Los Angeles River, not by driving and spotting the bright blue heron signs, but by paddling sections of it and seeing the natural side of the historic waterway.

This summer season, Angelenos might get a double treat. There are plans under way to open both the Glendale Narrows and the Sepulveda section of the Los Angeles River for recreation.

This morning, City Council approved a motion to conduct the Glendale Narrows recreational zone once again this summer, from Memorial Day to Labor Day.

On February 10, at the Arts, Parks, Health, Aging and River (APHAR) Committee meeting, Mountains Recreation and Conservation Authority (MRCA) Chief Ranger Fernando Gomez and MRCA Deputy Executive Officer Walt Young discussed the results of last year's pilot program. As we reported last year, the program was well received by the community.

MRCA's report found that not only did the recreational zone benefit those who lived by the L.A. River, it also attracted visitors from as far as San Fernando Valley, San Pedro and the Westside. The program also helped improve perception of the Los Angeles River. Prior to the start of the season, 40 percent of survey respondents said rated their perception of the river as poor or very poor. After the season, the unfavorable rating drops to 14 percent.

Though the Glendale Narrows recreational zone is clearly an asset to the community, its biggest stumbling block now is finding funding in a short period of time. "By every measure, it was a highly successful program," said Young to the committee. "What MRCA brought to the table was the park-like structure: the ordinance, rangers, and quite frankly lots of money. Before the last season, I was 'stealing' internally from every section of the agency that I could."

Young continued, "The level of service we provided was far and above that which the [regulatory agencies] required. That's why you have such a glowing report and so many happy citizens. When something went wrong, we were simply there." During the last season, more than 1,000 man hours were invested in patrol with no additional funding from the city.

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To operate sustainably, the MRCA is looking to city council to help identify funding of $200,000 to $300,000, depending on the level of service it would like within the recreational zone. The agency has assured the city that it would still provide minimum funding and in-kind services, but it could benefit from additional funding. MRCA is recommending running the same program over again for the year, with an eye towards perhaps making the program permanent. The committee directed Chief Legislative Analyst to return after 30 days with potential funding sources for 2014.

The city has to move fast to ensure that the Glendale Narrows recreational zone pushes forward, points out Young. Though MRCA has received authorization from the city to run the program, there are still negotiations with regulatory agencies, finding vendors to run the kayaking programs and training staff to consider. "Four months go in a heartbeat," said Young, pointing out how soon the summer season begins.

Meanwhile, progress at the Sepulveda Basin has been more secretive. During the January meeting of the L.A. River Cooperation Committee, David Van Dorpe, Deputy District Engineer for Programs and Project Management for the US Army Corps of Engineers (Army Corps), expressed support for opening the Sepulveda Basin area for recreation this year.

Jay Field, Chief of Public Affairs at the Army Corps says the agency is still planning the recreational zone for 2014. "The team is working on the environmental assessment and the license to operate a recreational, non-motorized boating program at Sepulveda this summer," wrote Field in an email. The Army Corps also has yet to identify a kayak program operator for the season.

According to the Paddle the LA River website, last year's recreational zone in Sepulveda Basin did not push through because of "an unexpected delay in obtaining the permit."

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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