Weighing In on L.A. River ARBOR Study [Part Four]; Unanimous Support for Alt. 20


Over 200 residents attended the public presentation of the Los Angeles River Ecosystem Feasibility Study or ARBOR (Alternative with Restoration Benefits and Opportunities for Revitalization) Study.

The comments reveal tellingly public opinion on the more expansive Alternative 20. All the comments given were in support of this more than $1-billion option. Watch the full proceeding in this recording.

Less than a month is left to make your thoughts known. With the clock ticking down, we continue to garner thoughts from those working along the river on how this could affect Los Angeles.

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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 TreePeople, an environmental advocacy group that promotes sustainable ecosystems in Los Angeles; Jack Eidt, founder and publisher of a website that constantly deals with the question of earth's sustainability; and Mia Lehrer, whose firm is a mainstay in Los Angeles River projects.

Here's what they had to say:


Based on our 40 years dedicated to restoring Los Angeles' urban land to function as a living watershed, TreePeople supports Alternative 20. This Alternative provides the highest value to our city in environmental, economic, and social terms. For too long, L.A. has been managed as a concrete drain, sending water over streets and pavement to the L.A. River, where the polluted water goes out to sea. Not only is water flushed away, but also money, as we pay mounting costs to mitigate the pollution and replace local rainwater with imported water for our water supply. Alternative 20 does the most to restore nature, and the natural functions of a healthy watershed, via habitat restoration on key large parcels of land. It provides the most tree canopy - sorely needed to protect L.A. residents from extreme weather, including heat waves, droughts, and flooding. And it revitalizes much-needed green spaces in areas particularly affected by environmental justice issues.

TreePeople believes this Alternative will do the most to improve not only our environmental health, but the physical health of our residents, which research increasingly shows to be closely tied to the amount of nature we can access in our urban landscape. It does the most to connect Angelenos to local water, something we are currently too divorced from. The City of Los Angeles imports nearly 90% of its water from distant and increasingly impacted sources. Having a functioning river ecosystem in our city will connect Angelenos more closely to local water as a resource, not as waste. It will help us to more clearly understand the cost-effective ways that we can create a clean, secure, local water supply by harvesting, storing, and conserving our rainwater, rather than throwing it away. This is a once in a lifetime opportunity.

How would this Alternative change Los Angeles?

Alternative 20 would create a huge change in the way that Angelenos view the urban-nature interface. This would impact not only the residents in the immediate river communities, but across the region.

Something about the L.A. River captures the imagination. Having a restored river ecosystem in the middle of our city would create a massive mindset shift for Angelenos, and make our connection to nature, and our role as caretakers of our water supply, much more real.

At TreePeople we work every day to make the connection between the land outside our front doors to our rivers and our ocean. At TreePeople Center for Community Forestry, our LaKretz Watershed Education Center teaches thousands of school children a year the connection we have as city dwellers to the Los Angeles river and a clean, local water supply. Students get to see firsthand the damage and pollution resulting from too many paved surfaces. Having a restored river will be an educational as well as recreational resource that will make a big difference to our entire city.

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

While we understand that the nature of this study is ecosystem restoration, we strongly believe in integrated government functions -- meaning integrated programs and projects that create greater efficiencies and save the city money. One thing we would like to see as the designs move forward is increased attention to the opportunities presented for multi-benefit projects (i.e., projects that not only restore habitat, but also contribute to increasing our local water supply, and decrease our water pollution). There have been many originally unanticipated costs to the environment and our economy from channelizing the river. We believe that we should look at restoring as many of the original benefits as possible given this amazing opportunity to revitalize the L.A. River.


Jack Eidt, Director of Wild Heritage Planners and Publisher of the environmental website, WilderUtopia.com

If Houston can move forward on its $1 billion reclamation of their Buffalo Bayou system, Los Angeles can certainly do the same. I favor Alternative 20 because it best understands the process Los Angeles must undergo to reconnect its people and wildlife to the river, as well as rethink the natural systems at play.

How would the Alternative you've chosen affect Los Angeles neighborhoods?

I work as an urban planner for Wild Heritage Planners, advocating for green-built-cities interconnected by public transit, bicycles, and walking, that protect open spaces and wilderness habitats. Choosing the more ambitious option will only further encourage gentrification of the neighborhoods along the river, improving the environment and the local economy. We must also take steps to protect the integrity and affordability of existing neighborhoods, as considerable mixed-income housing opportunities exist in the area and must not be lost. By increasing public access to the river, these local communities with nowhere to walk from their overcrowded apartments could suddenly set out on an odyssey on their bicycles, race each other across the river bridges, and relax and read a book as the river flows by. Maybe they could walk to work at a new river-oriented-development as well.

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

I think Alternative 13 is an excellent beginning, but we have to get more ambitious, or we might be waiting a generation more to breathe life into our river.

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

Let's just say even Alternative 20 does not nearly approach the massive endeavor we face in reorienting the people of Los Angeles with the maligned Southern California hydrologic cycle, water flowing down from the mountains, replenishing underground aquifers and greening the riparian valleys through the lowlands all the way to Long Beach and the Pacific Ocean. Small restoration projects threaten to be washed away by a potential deluge or dried to a bone by drought that will happen as part of the ongoing process of greenhouse-gas-induced climate disruptions. I work with the SoCal Climate Action Coalition 350 Group, and we would like to see more action in this study and in the community to protect the city from climate change, while cleaning up the runoff flowing down the watershed into the ocean, which is basically a sewer for all our sins. We can and will do better.

Anything else we should take into consideration?

Today, earth scientists, urban planners and designers, hydrologists, neighborhood activists, and even real estate developers and civil engineers agree on the importance of reclaiming and restoring our river as a habitat, an ecosystem, a watershed, and a world class place to live, work, and play.

Public agencies like the Army Corps don't always think big, so here the activists in the community are speaking it loud. The time is now. Alternative 20 for a greener, more sustainable L.A.!


Mia Lehrer, founding principal of Mia Lehrer + Associates

I support Alternative 20. It's the most comprehensive. It provides access, connectivity and generates urban vibrancy as a result. This alternative includes all the confluences in the reach and in addition includes the Piggyback Yards, Cornfields and in general modifies the channel the most.

Alternative 20 removes the most concrete and this piece of infrastructure that was intended to be solely for flood protection needs to be recalibrated. Instead of a gash between east and west it needs to bridge the communities along its path socially, economically and environmentally. Los Angeles deserves the support of the federal government.

The Army Corps focuses on ecosystem restoration and flood protection because of their mission and that is understandable. On the other hand, this channel impacts millions of people, millions of acres of development and the dynamics of a channel through a city needs to be valued.

Visit our L.A. River series to hear more of Mia's thoughts on the river.

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