Ed Reyes served in the Los Angeles City Council from 2001 until 2013 as the representative of the 1st District. Growing up by the Los Angeles River, Reyes recognized the river's potential early on and incorporated it into his goals for his time in office. He chaired the Los Angeles River Ad Hoc Committee and focused a renewed attention on reviatlizing and sustaining the river and the surrounding area. Under his leadership, many projects including the completion of the Metro Gold Line and securing more public housing have succeeded.
Below are highlights from our conversation with Reyes; you can watch the whole interview above:
On his personal experience with the river:
To me, it became very clear that the river corridor-- the river itself-- was a healing place. It was our sanctuary. As kids, we went on our bikes, we could fish, cut catfish, we could see the flora and fauna. In there, because of acoustics, you don't hear the traffic, and for us, it was a real Shangri-La. So why couldn't we formalize that relationship? Strip away that which confines it: our laws, our rules, the rail lines, the cement, and offer a reprieve for folks who truly need access to this kind of environment.
On the transformation of the river so far:
Our urban waterway has been transformed from a flood control channel to a navigable water body, which means now you can float on it and not get arrested. It means you can go fishing. I mean, there are a lot of different elements now that allow us to have this interplay with the river, but it's because of those leaders in the past that brought together the necessary forces to say, we need to change this environment because of the looming needs of a growing population.
On how residents' attitude toward the river has changed:
The biggest difference between the workshops that occurred in 1991, '92, and today, is that people today believe something real could happen. They are now in a place where they feel they deserve this quantum change, that there is a sense of purpose. It is not just a ditch with a stream of water in it anymore. Back then, people did not believe they deserved this amenity. That this never happens in this neighborhood, we're stuck with the maintenance yards, we're stuck with the freeways, we're stuck with everything other communities don't want.
On the potential of the study:
If I look at the section of northeast LA as a microcosm, as a case example of what could be, I strongly believe we could duplicate this over and over again. Natural habitats themselves become the filtering process in cleaning the water. So if you have these cyclical patterns in which you intercede and breakout the cement, enhance flood control, make the channel wider, deeper, there's different shapes and ways in which you can do that. The flow of the water is so strong. It could clean our land. And there's ways to do it, if you give it a chance. But people need to understand, this study is the tip of the iceberg of what could be.
On what it means to have the river project focused on Northeast Los Angeles:
The sweetness of having this in northeast LA is that you've got some very symbolic but meaningful historical elements here. This is where that first night, the missionaries that were trying to put their stake on the ground to determine and define their missions, happens right there at Elysian Park, where the confluence hits the river. These are all new exchanges of knowledge, history, that our kids could appreciate and learn from. How sweet can you get? And literally, you can hold officials accountable up to city hall-- it's like a mile away. It's two train stops away from Lincoln Heights.