The Los Angeles River was largely ignored or forgotten when councilman Ed Reyes took office in Council District 1. Perhaps in the eyes of the city, it was easier that way. Snaking through 51-miles of the county of Los Angeles, the waterway was overseen by 14 agencies, cities, public utilities, and companies. To wade it its bureaucratic waters was asking for complexity, but it could also mean meaningful change, which Reyes was after.
In 2002, Reyes inaugurated the Ad Hoc Los Angeles River Committee. As we sat underneath a shaded portion of the Rio de Los Angeles State Park, Reyes says, "I knew that if I could get the city to institutionalize the river's value where it's not a fashionable moment in politics or a sexy item for the day, I knew market forces would drive development on its own."
After a decade of running the Ad Hoc Los Angeles River Committee, the lawmaker accomplished an enviable string of projects that have made the river a more inviting place to be, rather than an intimidating concrete canal.
Within his term, the Ad Hoc committee helped pass Proposition O, which sets aside money for cleaning the city's waterways; adopt the Los Angeles River Revitalization Masterplan, a living document that continues to inform future projects along the waterway; and opened a number of parks along the historic waterway. Little by little, project by project, the rest of the city similarly saw the possibilities along the Los Angeles River.
It didn't stop there -- the rest of the country has acknowledged the river's potential. In the last year of Reyes' term, the Los Angeles River was selected for President Obama's America's Great Outdoors initiative, as well as being designated an Urban Waters Federal Partnership site. Its latest coup? The United States Army Corps of Engineers (Army Corps) endorsement of a $1 billion plan to rehabilitate an 11-mile section of the Los Angeles River from Griffith Park to downtown Los Angeles.
Though Reyes formally ended his career as city councilman last year, he is gratified by the enthusiasm and support of what was once an outlandish idea. The Los Angeles River's resurgence in the public consciousness is one that speaks to the determination of the many people he's worked with while untangling the issues of the waterway. But the river's story isn't over yet. Much more needs to be done, says Reyes.
"The biggest challenge now would be how different entities treat each other," reflects Reyes. With a $1 billion investment on the playing field, it would be tempting -- all too easy -- for non-profits and community groups vie separately for project funding, thus diminishing each other's work rather than building on it. "Rather than fighting with each other, groups could leverage projects that would create opportunities for each other." The government agencies involved in the redevelopment similarly have a large task in front of them, "to create a framework of laws that would increase access to communities in the neighborhood, benefit the environment, and provide jobs for those living by the river."
The seeds of an answer are already there, says Reyes. "You don't need to reinvent the wheel." Adopted in 2007, the Los Angeles River Revitalization Masterplan outlines 240 projects for revitalization along the river. It came not from the minds of city leaders, but as a result of a numerous community meetings. "The masterplan is showing you what the community wants to see."
That community now includes Reyes, a private citizen. Reyes currently lives in Mount Washington. His parents continue to inhabit their home in Cypress Park.
Though he is now organizing his archives with the help of Lauren Bon's Metabolic Studio, the same motivations stemming from his childhood experiences, which catalyzed his career, remain. He is looking for opportunities to continue advancing the goals of the Ad Hoc committee he chaired. "I hope people remember that my work was a reflection of what I saw my family needed to live in a respectful way. I never forgot what I went through."