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L.A. River Access Bill Will Increase Education and Recreation on the River

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Locked gates at the L.A. River. Photo courtesy of Friends of the L.A. River
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Friends of the Los Angeles River (FoLAR) is a non-profit organization founded in 1986 to protect and restore the natural and historic heritage of the Los Angeles River and its riparian habitat through inclusive planning, education and wise stewardship. This column will support our efforts toward a swimmable, fishable, boatable Los Angeles River.

Last Monday the Caifornia State Assembly, following the lead of the State Senate, voted 55 to 25 in favor of the L.A. River Public Access bill, SB 1201.The bill, originally written by Friends of the Los Angeles River in collaboration with the Frank G. Wells Environmental Law Clinic at UCLA, first saw the light of day last October at a joint L.A. River hearing organized by State Senator Fran Pavley and Assembly Member Felipe Fuentes. SB 1201 was carried by State Senator Kevin de León and "jockeyed" across the Assembly floor by San Fernando Valley Assembly Member Bob Blumenfield.

The bill may very well be the first piece of L.A. River legislation passed by the California State government since the River was channelized more than seven decades ago. The bill was delivered to the governor's desk on Thursday, August 16. He has until September 30 to sign it.

The hero of the legislation is State Senator Kevin de León. When faced with multiple unfriendly amendments that would have gutted the bill, Senator de León stood fast, refusing to, he said, "codify the status quo. The status quo on the river is not good enough." When the City of Long Beach came out against the bill, arguing that the River should not be used for recreation, Senator de León convinced them to drop their objections.

SB 1201 will fundamentally alter the way the River is governed. It calls for the L.A. County Department of Public Works' Flood Control District to amend its nearly 100-year-old mission of flood control and storm water management to:

include in the objects and purposes of the district to provide for public use of navigable waterways under the district's control that are suitable for recreational and educational purposes, when these purposes are not inconsistent with the use thereof by the district for flood control and water conservation.

Currently, L.A. County Public Works has more than fifty management goals. None of them relate to education or recreation on the River. SB 1201 requires the Flood Control District to provide recreational and educational access to navigable waterways under their jurisdiction.

One immediate piece of business FoLAR will take up with the County if and when the bill takes effect in January (if Governor Brown does not sign it by September 30, it goes into effect anyway) is the creation of a one-stop river access permitting process. For last year's Gran Limpieza, FoLAR's Great Los Angeles River CleanUp, we had to get fifteen different permits. Every other organization wanting to work or play in the river has faced similar frustration and delays. This should be accomplished in a relatively straight-forward manner. But a one-stop permitting process is only one step towards safe and responsible river governance. After all, you don't need a permit to go to the beach, do you? Why should you need one to go to the River?

If you want to see more activities and access on the L.A. River, support SB 1201 -- let the governor know that you want to see the bill become law.

Lewis MacAdams reading a draft of the legislation, with Joel Reynolds from NRDC next to him. Photo courtesy Office of Senator Fran Pavley.
Lewis MacAdams reading a draft of the legislation, with Joel Reynolds from NRDC next to him. Photo courtesy Office of Senator Fran Pavley.

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