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Weighing In on L.A. River ARBOR Study [Part Five]; Alt. 20 Restores Twice as Much as Alt 13

Two weeks to go before comments close on the Los Angeles River Ecosystem Feasibility Study, or ARBOR (Alternative with Restoration Benefits and Opportunities for Revitalization) Study. With the clock ticking down, we continue to garner thoughts from those working along the river on how this could affect Los Angeles.

The four alternatives that are currently being considered are:

  • Alternative 10, or ART (ARBOR Riparian Transitions), is the minimally acceptable alternative that costs $346 million. It would result in a 93 percent increase in habitat. Work includes: minimal restoration at Taylor Yard, but not at the other confluences, widening of Taylor Yard by 80 feet with a small terraced area by the Bowtie parcel, restoration at Piggyback Yard.

  • Alternative 13, or ACE (ARBOR Corridor Extension) is a $453-million project that include all the features of Alternative 10, and will increase habitat by 104 percent. Work includes adding a side channel behind Ferraro Fields, widening of over 300 feet in Taylor Yard, and tributary restoration on the east side of the Arroyo Seco watershed. The Army Corps currently supports this alternative.

  • Alternative 16, or AND (ARBOR Narrows to Downtown), is a $757-million project that includes the features of both Alternative 10 and 13 with extensive work on the Piggyback Yard. It would increase habitat by 114 percent.

  • Alternative 20, or RIVER (Riparian Integration via Varied Ecological Introduction), includes all the elements of previous alternatives with the restoration of the Verdugo Wash and the wetlands of the Los Angeles State Historic Park. Habitat would increase by 119 percent at the cost of $1.04 billion.

    *****

    This week, we hear from the Alexander Robinson, director of Landscape Morphologies Lab, a research laboratory affiliated with USC that frequently studies waterways in Los Angeles; Grove Pashley, a resident of Elysian Valley, most recently involved with the L.A. River Kayak Safari, which brought Angelenos kayaking on the Los Angeles River; and Arthur Golding, an architect who was involved with the original charettes conducted for the ARBOR study.

    Here's what they had to say:

    Alexander Robinson, Director of Landscape Morphologies Lab

    I support Alternative 20. When I looked into it I was surprised how simple and significant the difference is between Alternative 13 and 20. Linearly speaking, Alternative 20 "restores" approximately twice as much of the existing river channel as Alternative 13.

    By restoring twice as much of the river's run, a much larger swath of adjacent communities becomes integrated with a restored river in a way that will not happen if we keep the existing concrete channel. Furthermore, the expanded linearity of the channel ecosystem also has major implications in terms of improving overall habitat connectivity and ecosystem resilience.

    Even so, Alternative 20 only restores little more than half of the 11-mile ARBOR reach, leaving miles of existing concrete channel intact, while alternative 13 restores half as much and basically all within one reach.

    What would you say to the Army Corps backing Alternative 13 (ACE) option?

    My understanding is that the reason why we need the Army Corps is that they are the only entity with the means (both technically and financially) to actually modify the concrete channel that they built. While I committed to their holistic approach to ecosystem restoration, would Angelenos (or animals) consider this restoration a success if we keep two thirds of the ARBOR reach River channel as is, including a major confluence?

    Well fortunately, and I believe that it represents a triumph for the Army Corps study, Alternative 20 is considered a "Best Buy". Not only is it a bargain, but it's also the only acceptable option. [The Army Corps] needs to realize that once people understand more they will accept nothing less.

    Is there an issue you think the Army Corps should have focused more on in the study?

    Due to their mission the Army Corps is limited in what they can actually address in this study. They can be innovative about flood management and habitat, but due to various reasons, not much else. That being the case, I'd like to see a much richer discussion about how they intend to design the river and "restore" it. Clearly, we are not ripping out the current river just because it lacks habitat - it is also a visual affront to us as a "natural" feature and our poor relationship with it has been shaped by its unrelenting concrete. Because the next version will still need a lot of hard surfaces, the Corps should carefully consider how to design these so that they reach towards the beauty of natural features and can inspire the best possible relationship with its residents, one that doesn't precipitate any more future revisions. I don't think a "restoration" should look like the same engineered design, but now with vegetation!

    ARBOR Channel Analysis | Courtesy of Alexander Robinson

    Grove Pashley, Elysian Valley resident

    I support Alternative 20 because it will allow the maximum amount of connectivity to the various proposed bodies of wetlands, especially the Piggyback Yards which I believe is a vital area for ecosystem restoration.

    This connectivity will make a healthier watershed for all the wildlife which once flourished along the Los Angeles River. So much biodiversity was lost when the LA River and the various tributary canals were built over 80 years ago. Alternative 20 is a great opportunity for the Army Corps to restore this. To not do so now could be a lost opportunity in the future and the cost much greater. Since it's the Army Corps mission to restore these lost ecosystems, it should be their mission to tackle as much as possible at this time.

    How would Alternative 20 affect your neighborhood?

    The bigger and healthier the river the more abundant the wildlife. Alternative 20 does this. The majority of Los Angeles residents are disconnected with the natural world such as what can be restored in these areas. Our interactions with nature enhance our quality of life and make for happier, healthy, and productive humans. I know that's the way it is with me personally.

    This is such a great opportunity for bringing the natural environment to the people. There will also be numerous economic benefits for the surrounding area with Alternative 20.

    What would you say to the Army Corps backing Alternative 13 (ACE) option?

    I understand the Army Corps cost reasoning behind Alternative 13. However I believe Alternative 13 is thinking too small when considering the long-term benefits for what this river will offer for many generations to come, not just for the people but for the wildlife and the endangered species such as the Bell's Vireo. Alternative 20 may cost $1.04 billion, however the cost would be spread out over many years and when considering so many generations will benefit from this, the Alternative 20 plan, I think its a bargain for the city over the long run.

    Is there an issue you think the Army Corps should have focused more on in the study?

    Watershed safety measures are missing.


    Arthur Golding, Architect

    The confluences where major tributaries join the main stem of the Los Angeles River are significant places in our urban landscape. The 1996 Los Angeles County overview master plan for the River recognized their importance, calling for park space at each confluence, and these key sites were featured in the City's 2007 Los Angeles River Revitalization Master Plan. The Corps' preferred alternative calls for restored habitat at the Arroyo Seco confluence, but it ignores two others. Only Alternative 20 properly includes greening the confluences.

    The Alternative 20 pricetag of $1 billion is a great deal of money, representing a major investment in the future of Los Angeles. But it's important to recognize that it will be only a beginning in the revitalization of the River, which will require multiples of that amount as it is implemented over the next few decades. Alternative 20 should be seen as a floor, not a ceiling. It's a good start, a down payment, and it is the minimum needed.

    Climate change, whatever its causes, is a fact. As severe weather events become more frequent, Los Angeles will need improved flood protection. Ecosystem restoration incorporating large open spaces designed to accept, slow and hold flood waters can yield a safer, more resilient response to flooding. Maximizing habitat restoration, as proposed by Alternative 20, is the path to a safer Los Angeles.

  • 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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