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The Los Angeles River is for Sale... But at What Cost?


Last New Year's Eve, L.A. River advocates were busy pushing a petition for real estate developer Trammell Crow to drop its option to purchase parcel G2 adjacent to El Rio de Los Angeles State Park, which was to expire at midnight. On January 1st Trammell Crow extended it for another six months to June 30, which now puts the fate of parcel G2 in question and the river's revitalization plans in limbo.

The 44-acre lot, currently owned by Union Pacific Railroad Company, would double the size of El Rio park, extending its boundaries to the edge of the L.A. River. It's an important piece of the puzzle in bringing the river closer to the surrounding areas of Elysian Valley and Cypress Park.

This week community leaders came face to face with Trammell Crow representative Brad Cox, Senior Managing Director of the Great Los Angeles Area. Public outcry has community leaders pushing the developer to drop the option, vouching for the city and state to accumulate funds to acquire the property and to avoid potential costly litigation.

Brad Cox on the left and Melanie Winter of The River Project on the right.
Brad Cox on the left and Melanie Winter of The River Project on the right.

Formerly a stock yard for rail cars, the soil is highly contaminated, providing the future owner one of two options: cap and build - unfavorable to environmentalists - or biofiltration and bioremediation - a process where natural bacteria is used to break down toxins over several years. The latter is advocated by L.A. River activists, but unfavorable to developers.

Cox tried to convince community leaders that it was in their best interests to let Trammell Crow keep the land option because, as he put it, another developer may be less likely to work with them to find solutions. Cox continued, "I candidly did not understand the whole history of the site before we got into contractual negotiations."

The history Cox is referring to has been in play for years. With the design of the River Revitalization Master Plan and the struggle for land ownership at sites such as Los Angeles Historic State Park and El Rio de Los Angeles State Park, it's hard to believe Cox, who has worked for Trammell Crow in Los Angeles since 2002 and for developer Cushman & Wakefield since 1996, was unaware of the issues surrounding the public land. He deferred blame to an associate in at a Trammell Crow office in Irvine for pursuing the G2 parcel in the first place.

So what are the options so far?

1. Trammel Crow would purchase the property and swap with the city and state for a more valuable public property such as in Hollywood or Downtown Los Angeles. It's speculated that the land is valued at $15 million and could be swapped for land valued at triple that.

2. With the little money that's left in Prop O, an L.A. City Bond to fund public health projects, and additional funds from other yet unknown resources, the city would try to purchase the property if Trammel Crow drops the option and if Union Pacific Railroad Company is willing to sell it (with lucrative tax breaks). However, the city and state are in a severe budget crisis.

3. Trammell Crow would work with the community and the city to develop the property, or it would develop the property on its own. If Trammell Crow chooses to purchase the property, litigation would likely be pursued by the city or river advocates and potentially cost the city considerable amounts of money.

Once the purchase option expires in June, Trammell Crow can extend the option for another six months, and again until the company finds the best option to capitalize on the property and wait out any damaging publicity.

It took more that ten years for community activist to work on the creation of the Los Angeles Historic State Park and El Rio de Los Angeles State Park. Let's hope that we don't have to wait until 2020 to see the G2 parcel transform into another green ribbon on the Los Angeles River.

In the meantime, the property will remain vacant and contaminated.

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