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Two L.A. River Park Projects Debut in the San Fernando Valley

Rebecca Andrade with her son Matias and his friend taking advantage of the park | Photo: Carren Jao

If you've ever been waiting in line for ride at Disneyland or Universal Studios, you might have an inkling of what the scene looked like this week at the corner of Sepulveda and Valleyheart Drive South.

Though not quite as crowded as a theme park ride, dozens of residents came out with their children and pets in tow to witness the opening of a ¼ mile segment of the planned Valleyheart Riverwalk Park -- yet another bead in the so-called emerald necklace the city is looking to build, which would link green spaces from the Los Angeles River.

"The idea is really to link all these green spaces in a chain across the Valley and eventually to Long Beach," says Michael A. Shull, General Manager, Department of Recreation and Parks.

This park, which broke ground nearly two years ago, has been eagerly awaited by the public. Many of them have even made use of it, even before its official opening.

Anne Maddox, who lives nearby, said she's very happy to see the project completed. "It's cleaned up a lot," she said, adding that the river area used to be a neglected place where people used to throw trash and generally disrespect the infrastructure. The chain link fence is now replaced by a comparatively more appealing, yet spare wavy barrier.

Jim Gross, a North Hollywood resident, even made a special trip with his pet Chloe to see the proceedings. Gross, who blogs at Canine Angeleno, has been walking the Los Angeles River for about ten months along with his canine companion. He said, "the Valley has really come a long way when it comes to projects on the river. Since I've been blogging, there have been maybe five additions already." Gross is similarly happy to see so many green projects blossom in this part of the Los Angeles River.

The newly opened riverwalk at Sepulveda and Valleyheart Drive S. | Photo: Carren Jao
The newly opened riverwalk at Sepulveda and Valleyheart Drive S. | Photo: Carren Jao

Rebecca Andrade, who lives just across the park, said, "We're very happy this is here." Andrade's two sons Christian and Matias helped break ground on the project almost two years ago. Her family has been walking the path even in its shabby incarnation, even more so now. "We'll be here every day," she said.

It is not the only cause for celebration. Earlier that morning, the city broke ground on a ½ mile segment further downstream on the corner of Whitsett and Valleyheart Drive South, south of the future Zev Yaroslavsky L.A. River Greenway Trail. This south bank was previously used as a maintenance access road. This section would eventually link with the already built bike path between Whitsett and Coldwater Canyon avenues to the east, although cyclists and pedestrians would still have to use the Ventura Boulevard stoplight to cross the street safely.

"Those types of connectivity is very expensive to implement," commented Deborah Weintraub, Chief Deputy City Engineer for the City of Los Angeles. "We're not waiting until we have all the money to do anything. We're executing the river parks piece by piece." Weintraub is optimistic that once the community sees the benefits of these string of parks, more public support will materialize to fund better connectivity between these patches of green along the river.

Dubbed the Los Angeles Riverfront Park Phase II, the city issued the project as one contract, which was eventually bid out and implemented by the same contractor. The combined project cost $4 million and was funded by Proposition K funds, a voter-approved bond measure from 1996 that guaranteed $750 million for park upgrades.

Though the two projects are separated by almost three miles for now, they share the same design genes. Both were designed by Mia Lehrer and Associates (MLA) who created a pedestrian and bicycle path that meanders through native plantings, including California sycamores (which would eventually grow to provide ample shade along the path), Fremont cottonwood, Coast Live oaks, and Valley oaks. "It's great to see this project come at a time of drought," said Lehrer. "People can see that we can still have beauty and shade and greenery without using a lot of water."

North Hollywood resident and LA River walker Jim Gross with his pet, Chloe | Photo: Carren Jao
North Hollywood resident and LA River walker Jim Gross with his pet, Chloe | Photo: Carren Jao

Though this year, the native plants will still be watered on an intermittent basis using MP rotators that use up to 30 percent less water. MLA Principal Jeff Hutchins said that the goal is that within three years, the park will have no need for any artificial watering at all.
The project also adds a total of 29 LED fixtures that will help residents take advantage of the amenity even on cool nights, bike racks, drinking fountains, and Mutt Mitt dispensers. Seating throughout the paths will encourage contemplation along the river, while educational signs (including one about outgoing Councilman Tom LaBonge), will help remind the public of the river's place in the city.

In his remarks during the ribbon cutting at Sepulveda and Valleyheart Drive South, Mayor Eric Garcetti reminded people of the bigger picture. "We're witnessing this concrete strip going through a major change in the city. It's a miracle of the city reawakening to its past. Eventually, this will be part of greenery that will twenty times longer than Central Park." An ambitious vision that will offer Angelenos -- a fourth of whom living within walking distance of the Los Angeles River -- an accessible place to play by the cooling water.

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