The road has been long and the prize elusive, but it looks like the city is finally on the cusp of sealing the deal to purchase the so-called “crown jewel” Los Angeles River property at Taylor Yard called G2 parcel.
“We’re very close to acquiring the property,” said Arturo Chavez, Councilmember Gil Cedillo’s Chief of Staff. Chavez’ reveals this hesitantly, only because of the sensitive nature of the negotiations. The current effort started with a grant from the Mountains Recreation and Conservation Authority (MRCA), which the River LA had used to start analysis and negotiations. Then, the mayor’s team brought Union Pacific to the table and councilmember Gil Cedillo initiated a council motion that committed the city to negotiations.
Negotiations also have funding behind it. The Mayor’s office has a $40 million budget identified for G2 parcel’s acquisition. The current plan is to source this by issuing municipal bonds, a move that needs city council approval. The state of California also plans to utilize $25 million in unused park and water bond funds, announced California Senate President pro Tempore Kevin de León last September. Santa Monica Mountains Conservancy (SMMC) will have to apply for Wildlife Conservation Board to be granted the funds.
This isn’t the first time the city has heard such good news. Every so often, metaphorical silver threads bolster the city’s hopes. It sometimes takes the guise of budget lines in the Proposition O funds, which was eventually zeroed out in favor of other projects. Or, it can also be city council motions to check the status of negotiations for the critical land’s purchase.
But perhaps the finish line is finally in sight. According to Chavez, two key factors have changed in the last few years.
First, the city finally has a willing seller in Union Pacific.
Second, City Council has approved the environmental report for Alternative 20, the $1.3-billion plan to revitalize the Los Angeles River, solidifying G2 parcel’s role in the ambitious plan. A motion by Councilmember Mitch O’Farrell’s now asks for all Alternative 20 projects to go through his River committee as well as the Budget committee to ensure everything is financially sound.
With G2’s role addressed in Alternative 20, the city has been given the missing piece to proceed with purchase: a clear reason. “[The city] can’t just purchase property without a purpose. We have to be specific about it. The previous negotiations had the property being purchased for Proposition O, a water project, but now that’s changed because Alternative 20 has been approved.” Chavez says.
G2 is widely considered a lynchpin acquisition. Without it, the Los Angeles Revitalization would lose much of its impact.
“This site would create a 42-acre green space in the middle of the city, providing extensive habitat restoration and a key access point so that local communities can connect to the river's natural beauty,” said the Mayor’s press secretary Connie Llanos. “The parcel is included in both the City's Los Angeles River Revitalization Master Plan and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers' Los Angeles River Ecosystem Restoration project. The surrounding parcels have already been developed into the Rio de Los Angeles State Park, the Sonia Sotomayor Learning Academies, and the Taylor Yard Transit Village." Thanks in large part to the work of community leaders, including Melanie Winter and Raul Macias, who fought against industrial development at the 250-acre Taylor Yard, which G2 parcel sits on a portion of, in the 1990s and early 2000s.
According to Ellen Mackey, Senior Ecologist with the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California, the G2 parcel is one of the few large undeveloped areas by the river left in Los Angeles. Its sprawling proportions could help restore our emaciated riparian habitat by slowing the flow of water and letting it infiltrate into the ground, where it is cleansed and added to the city’s groundwater.
Not only does it play an outsized role for the city, but specifically to the northeast communities under Cedillo Chavez points out. “Apart from the G2 Parcel, there is literally no access to river in the Northeast.” City acquisition of the 42-acre property would give communities such as Cypress Park, Glassell Park, Lincoln Heights and Boyle Heights access to the river.
Christopher Kroll of California State Coastal Conservancy agrees. He said to KCET in a 2013 interview, “The Rio de Los Angeles state park isn't complete really until it touches the river," said Kroll, "It's really important that someone gets that in the public, whether it's the state or the city.”
But before the city can plan its ideal future by the river, it first needs to sign on the dotted line and there are proper procedures to be followed. Endless details need to be cross-checked by various city departments and approved by City Council.
One potentially thorny issue to address is who will undertake the clean up of the former locomotive engine maintenance yard. As the landowner, Union Pacific is ultimately responsible for cleaning up the soil contamination, or at the very least, ensuring that someone see that it is done.
If everything goes smoothly, Chavez does hope to see G2 in the City’s hands by the end of the year. However, knowing the mind boggling moving parts required to execute a deal like this, it would be prudent not to set our calendars on this very optimistic estimate.
Chavez cautions Angelenos not to expect overnight transformations. “It’s not all going to happen by tomorrow. This is a long-term project that will unfold for generations to come.”