State To Fund Habitat Restoration Along L.A. River in Studio City

The project site. | Image: Courtesy of Community Conservation Solutions
The project site. | Image: Courtesy of Community Conservation Solutions

California's Department of Transportation has awarded $339,000 to Community Conservation Solutions (CCS), a group spearheading a project they say will clean polluted urban runoff and provide easy access for the public to the Los Angeles River. The grant will restore native habitat by planting over 4,000 trees and shrubs between Coldwater Canyon and Whitsett boulevards along the L.A. River in the San Fernando Valley neighborhood of Studio City.

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A concept plan developed by Mia Lehrer & Associates, a landscape architecture firm working with CCS, hopes to develop regional public access along the river. "Incrementally we're starting to see these planning projects starting to take hold," said Mia Lehrer, who has worked on cleaning up and beautifying the river for at least 20 years. "Improvements and projects that are underway. It takes decades of planning before you can actually start digging."

The habitat restoration work is expected to begin nine to 12 months from now. "It's going to look incredibly different," said Lehrer. "It will allow not only to get more shade but also to protect the embankment from erosion."

A rendering of the L.A. River Natural Park gateway and entry plaza in Studio City. | Image: Courtesy Save LA River Open Space
A rendering of the L.A. River Natural Park gateway and entry plaza in Studio City. | Image: Courtesy Save LA River Open Space

The work is part of a larger effort to work with officials to create a natural park along that part of the L.A. River that Lehrer sees as gaining support. The vision includes taking over the adjacent Weddington Golf & Tennis where a condominium project is now proposed.

"It's a labor of love to build community," said Lehrer. "You encourage a younger generation of designers to understand that part of the role as designers is that we hold some important tools to help citizens solve problems and visualize what the solution will be."

Other projects impacting the River are also underway. Glendale's City Council approved a $800,000 in funding though Measure R to construct two bridges -- one which will connect a trail between the two phases of riverwalk and another which runs over the River to Griffith Park. In the future a third phase of the project will include a bridge to connect the walkway to North Atwater across the Verdugo Wash.

Yet another project, from the L.A. River Revitalization Project, plans to create the La Kretz Atwater Bridge which will connect Atwater to Griffith Park. That project received a $4 million donation from Morton La Kretz, covering most of the $5 million in estimated costs.

Lehrer praised the project, suggesting the bridge will be "iconic" and a "gateway" for many communities, including equestrian enthusiasts.

In February State Senator Kevin de Leon introduced SB 1201, a bill that seeks to widen access to the River. If successful the bill would amend the 1915 Los Angeles County Flood Control Act, which primarily allows the Department of Public Works' role on the River to flood and storm water control. SB 1201, which was authored by the Friends of the Los Angeles River with assistance from UCLA's Environmental Law Clinic, would also create a State Los Angeles River Interagency Access Council made up of members from the State Department of Fish and Came, the California EPA and the State Lands Commission.

Meet Mia Leher in this video from KCET's Departures: L.A. River. Watch more videos of her here.

"I grew up in the third world -- in El Salvador -- where there's a lot of abuse of the natural world. For me, I think, the surprise was to end up educated in the U.S. realizing it happened everywhere," said Lehrer, who would take her children with her to clean up the L.A. River. "Pulling out sofas, dead animals, and shopping carts out of the L.A. River was pretty enlightening."

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