Community Enthusiastically on Board for Arroyo Seco Restoration


Los Angeles residents and its local officials may be focused on the $1 billion restoration plan for Los Angeles River, but communities in the northeast have their eyes trained on a similar U.S. Army Corps of Engineers project that aims to restore the Arroyo Seco.

Officially called the Arroyo Seco Watershed Ecosystem Restoration Integrated Feasibility Study, the project has been going on since 2001 -- even longer than the more celebrated Los Angeles River study, which started in 2006.

Last night, a crowd of about forty gathered inside Highland Park's Ramona Hall to hear the latest updates by the Army Corps. Though no actual alternatives have been released, the Army Corps presented a timeline that seemed to indicate its commitment to wrapping this study up and, ideally, seeing this actually realized.

In her short presentation, Priyanka Wadhawan, the planner for the study, unveiled a timeline that was surprisingly immediate. By spring this year, the Army Corps plans to unveil four or five alternatives. Based on feedback, it will tentatively select a preferred plan by winter. 2016 will be reserved for reviews and by 2017, the agency aims to have everything finalized in a final document, called the Chief's report. A further investigation however reveals the timeline has already been adjusted from its last presentation October 2014, where the community was promised alternatives by winter last year.

Vision for Arroyo River Parks

Vision for Arroyo River Parks

Small delays aside, the Arroyo Seco restoration found no naysayers in the room. If anything, residents were eager to ensure that they weren't left behind in this wave of enthusiasm for river-adjacent restoration, and possibly, development. Wadhawan was quick to note however that the Army Corps is only responsible for restoration of "the quality and quantity of aquatic, wetland and riparian habitats. The main objective of the Army Corps is aquatic restoration." Anything beyond that is not part of the agency's study.

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One after the other, community members came forward, offering precious leads about the area's other natural and cultural resources. Scott Cher of the Arroyo Seco Foundation presented the organization's ambitious Arroyo River Parks vision, which aims to integrate more than 30 parks and open spaces along the concretized Arroyo Seco. "We want the parks to be viewed as part of the river and the river to be part of the parks," testified Tim Brick, managing director of the Arroyo Seco Foundation.

Doug Jacobs is one of the organizers behind Teatro Arroyo, which aims to establish a center for theater arts and culture in Highland Park. "There were five theaters along Figueroa, from Avenue 20 to 60, and they dwindled along with the concretization of the river."

Louisa Van Leer of the Highland Park Heritage Trust similarly emphasized the community's cultural resources and the need for any restoration to take them into consideration. "There are many interesting museums just within 15 minutes walking radius of the Sycamore Grove Park and the Arroyo Seco." Van Leer fears that should the community fail to point out these local gems in the area, any restoration in their area will be passed over for those in other areas within the scope of the study such as Pasadena.


Arroyo Seco in its natural state near the Angeles National Forest | Photo: Alyse & Remi/Flickr/Creative Commons

To date, the Army Corps has yet to release any alternatives, but its study area consists of the 47-square mile Arroyo Seco watershed, a subwatershed of the Los Angeles River watershed. The area extends from the Angeles Forest downstream for 11 miles until it reaches the Los Angeles River Ecosystem Restoration study area. It encompasses four municipalities: La Canada Flintridge, Pasadena, South Pasadena, Los Angeles, and the community of Altadena.

In the last 150 years, the lower and middle part of the watershed has been extensively urbanized. "It's a dichotomous type of area," said Wadhawan. The upper portion of the watershed is relatively undisturbed, yet the middle and lower portion is very developed. The Devil's Gate dam sits in the area, as well as the channelized Arroyo Seco and multiple-lane freeways. Much of the former floodplain is now replaced by concrete.

The Army Corps is currently studying nine areas: the Hahamongna area, Flint wash, the 210 Freeway near Oak Grove Drive, Brookside area, Lower Arroyo Seco Park, South Pasadena Island, the Arroyo Seco in Los Angeles, Sycamore Grove Park, and the Rainbow Canyon.

The agency is planning another scoping meeting sometime in March to update the public on its progress.


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