Christine Saponara, City of Los Angeles Department of City Planning


The NELA River Collaborative project builds upon the growing momentum of efforts already underway to transform the Los Angeles River into a "riverfront district" and to create a focal point of community revitalization. For more information visit www.mylariver.org

The Los Angeles Department of City Planning will conduct a targeted Community Plan update that will consider zoning refinements for multiple land uses, neighborhood stabilization, urban design standards, River access points, and mobility linkages to increase access and recreational opportunities to the River in NELA:



My name is Christine Saponara and I'm the city planner in charge of the vision plan for the Northeast L.A. River visioning project.

Originally in early civilization in Los Angeles we had this river. And the river was a lifeline in the city. It gave us water, it gave us recreation. It was the green spine of the city for all its residents. This kind of continued and people were happy with it until some weather events came and basically caused major damage in the early 1900s. So the river was turned into: let's take this from a river and tame it and concrete it and make it a flood control channel so that we can protect the city and make sure that this type of weather event doesn't destroy the city again. So the river went from a river to a piece of infrastructure that was basically neglected and hidden in the backgrounds of the city. But in the 1980's it basically resurged and people had a newfound respect for what that resource is. We're lucky as a city to have a river, especially since we're in a desert-like city. So that effort basically gained momentum and by 2005 the city said you know we need to create a blueprint to take this river from a flood control channel that we've neglected for such a long time and turn it into this riparian, recreational interface with the city and bring the communities to the river and also use the river as a connection between all the different communities of L.A. And so that is how the L.A. River Master Plan was born. It basically had four main goals: to revitalize the community, capture opportunity both economic and recreational, to revitalize the riparian interface, and the final one is to just bring communities together. And so that's where we are today, trying to actualize what the L.A. River Master Plan is in this small Northeast L.A. community area.

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The Los Angele River Revitalization Master Plan is essentially a 20 to 50 year blueprint for what we want the river to look like and within that we have short term and long term goals. The short term goals are what you see today. We're planning parks in the area, we're putting bike trails where we find fit. Wherever we find opportunities to purchase land and build something nice, we do. For the long term goals we are hoping that it becomes more than just a flood control channel. We're hoping to bring the river out to the communities and the communities into the river. Take out the concrete walls, the trapezoid concrete walls, remove any type of negative uses around the river and put in uses that are more river friendly and natural and community friendly.

The purpose of the river being concreted is very important to us. It protects the city from flooding and that is something that we'll always need because we'll always have weather events that come and they're unexpected but you know the L.A. River master plan tries to look at flood protection in a different way. Perhaps we don't need all the concrete walls if we can capture all the rainfall on the land. For example in the valley we have lots of alluvial soils that can capture all the rainwater and have it percolate into the river system instead of having it flash in to the concrete channel and go straight out to the ocean.

The Glendale Narrows area, is soft bottomed river and it actually looks like a real river. It's a great place to start looking at the goals of the master plan and implementing it on a smaller scale. Northeast L.A. is really, I think of it as a case study for what the entire river can look like one day. And we're looking at this concentrated area and seeing what we can do on a small scale with community development, with bringing the community to the river, using the resources that we have for developing park lands and creating community spaces and hopefully if we're successful doing this in this small portion we can take that, the lessons that we've learned and apply it for the entire 32 miles within the city and hopefully within the 51 miles of the entire Los Angeles River.

The city planning department is drafting the Northeast L.A. River Vision Plan. And it's essentially the first vision plan that the city has ever produced and what we're trying to do in this vision plan is look at the Northeast L.A. area and take a concentrated look at the strengths and weaknesses. Strengths that are economic, recreational, different strengths that the community has and then the weaknesses, and essentially taking those and creating a plan for the future for a sustainable river.

The difference between the master plan and the vision plan is that the master plan is looking at the entire 51 miles. The vision plan is looking directly at the Northeast L.A. area.

So essentially looking at investment opportunities for recreation, for improving the bike path, improving the pedestrian path, improving the riparian interface between the river and the community, and connecting the communities to the river.

At the city we refer to people who work on the river as river brother and river sister and the reason that we do that is because the river interfaces with so many different departments and agencies--not just at the local level but at the federal level and at the state level--and you know we all have to work together in order to create something that is good and concentrate our efforts to produce something that the community can enjoy.

I envision a riverfront district where people can work, live and play all within the same area. Without ever having to get into a car. And this area, the NELA area, is perfect for that. We have a rich industrial core in the north portion, we have a variety of different residential neighborhoods within the center of the area, we have lots of commercial boulevards that are wonderful, that people love to visit.


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