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LOS ANGELES RIVER

The City Project logoAmigos de los Rios logoAnahuak logoAsian and Pacific Islander Obesity Prevention Alliance logoAsian Pacific Policy & Planning Council logoRobert Bracamontes logoCalifornia League of United Latin American Citizens logoChatten-Brown & Carstens LLP logoCenter on Race, Poverty & the Environment logoCOFEM (Consejo de Federaciones Mexicanas en Norteamérica) logoConcerned Citizens of South Central Los Angeles logoFriends of the River logoSenator Tom Hayden (Ret.) logoLatino Coalition for a Healthy California logoLos Angeles Business Council logoLos Angeles Neighborhood Land Trust logoMia Lehrer + Associates logoMulticultural Communities for Mobility logoMujeres de la Tierra logoNational Parks Conservation Association logoNatural Resources Defense Council logoPrevention Institute logoSearch to Involve Pilipino Americans logoSierra Club logoSPARC (Social and Public Art Resource Center) logo

Los Angeles River

US Army Corps of Engineers Best Practice for Revitalizing L.A. River for All

The US Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) final river study analyzes the environmental, health, social justice, and economic impacts of revitalization along 11 miles of the Los Angeles River.

The study is a best practice for delivering the benefits of river revitalization for underserved communities. USACE recognizes there are disparities in access to green space for low-income communities and communities of color, these disparities contribute to health disparities based on those factors, and environmental justice laws and principles require agencies to alleviate those disparities.[1] The USACE analyses relies on The City Project’s work.

The City Project is working with diverse allies on the values at stake in river restoration. “The City Project, a local nonprofit research organization, was founded to find ways to improve park availability for all neighborhoods, regardless of ethnicity or income level,” as USACE notes. P. 3-62. Diverse values include:

  • Fun, health, and human development.
  • Conservation values including climate justice, clean air, water, and land, complete green streets with transit, biking, hiking, and safe routes to schools, and habitat restoration.
  • Economic values including local green jobs for youth and diverse contractors, wealth creation, and avoiding gentrification and displacement of residents and businesses.
  • Art, culture, history, and spiritual values, including Native American values.
  • Equal justice, democracy, and livability for all.

The USACE river study is not a model, but it is a best practice. USACE must address displacement and gentrification, for example, as well as active recreation, and require state and local recipients of USACE funding to comply with civil rights and environmental justice laws and principles. The river study provides important guidance as billions of dollars are slated to flow into the L.A. region in the years to come through federal funding and state and local park, water, and resources bonds.

LA River

Click on the map to enlarge the image

Green Access and Health

USACE documents disparities in access to green space and recreational opportunities in Los Angeles. “Much of Los Angeles is considered to be park deficient which refers to any geographic area that provides less than 3 acres of green space per 1,000 residents, as defined by California law.” P. 3-62.

“‘Many local organizations have stressed the importance of making sure that the River’s revitalization addresses environmental justice issues (See, e.g., the City Project’s work at: www.cityprojectca.org.). Of key concern in Los Angeles is the growing disparity of access to and use of open space resources, including parks, ball fields, and natural areas by those living in low-income communities of color.’” P. 3-86.

The study summarizes health determinants potentially affected by river revitalization. These include connections between health and employment, housing, nutrition, social cohesion, environmental hazards, transportation, education, outdoor access, social/economic support, community involvement, social equity, and community empowerment. Pp. 5-148 to 5-154.

Environmental Justice and Civil Rights Laws and Principles

USACE cites the President’s Executive Order 12898 on environmental justice and health, and related laws and principles. E.O. 12898 directs federal agencies to “develop environmental justice strategies to help Federal agencies identify and address disproportionately high and adverse human health or environmental effects of their programs, policies, and activities on minority and low-income populations. Environmental justice concerns may arise from impacts on the natural and physical environment, such as human health or ecological impacts on minority populations, low-income populations, and Indian tribes, or from related social or economic impacts.” P. 5-161.

The study also cites parallel state law. “In addition to its prioritization by the Federal government, California was one of the first states in the Nation to pass legislation to codify environmental justice in state statute, defining ‘environmental justice’ as ‘The fair treatment of people of all races, cultures, and incomes with respect to the development, adoption, implementation, and enforcement of environmental laws, regulations and policies.’ (Government Code Section 65040.12).” Id.

There are several best practice examples in addition to the final USACE study on how to use civil rights and environmental justice tools. These include the National Park Service (NPS) draft study to expand the Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area [2], and the NPS final study for the San Gabriel Mountains. [3] NPS’s national work on its Healthy Parks, Healthy People Community Engagement eGuide is also a valuable resource. [4]

The US Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) provides another best practice. Andrew Cuomo, as Secretary of HUD, withheld federal funds for proposed warehouses at what is now Los Angeles State Historic Park unless there was a full environmental review that considered the park alternative and the impact on people of color and low-income people. Secretary Cuomo relied on Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and Executive Order 12898. Secretary Cuomo acted in response to an administrative compliant filed by diverse community allies including The City Project. The creation of L.A. State Historic Park is one of the most signification environmental justice victories in Los Angeles, and the catalyst for the revitalization of the L.A. River according to Kevin de León, President Pro Tem of the California Senate. [5]

The Planning Process

The following planning process applies to federal agencies and recipients of federal funding to help ensure compliance and equity under environmental justice and civil rights laws and principles. This equity plan is what NPS and USACE are doing now through the cited studies, and what state and local agencies need to do as well to comply with these laws.

  1. Describe what you plan to do. For example, green the L.A. River.
  2. Analyze the benefits and burdens on all people, including people of color and low-income people. This includes demographic mapping and analysis. Who benefits, and who gets left behind? Follow the money. The analysis can include numerical disparities, statistical studies, and anecdotal evidence; impacts based on race, color, or national origin; inequalities based on income and wealth; and the use of GIS mapping and census data.
  3. Analyze the alternatives.
  4. Include people of color and low-income people in the decision making process.
  5. Develop an implementation and monitoring plan to distribute benefits and burdens fairly, avoid unjustified discriminatory impacts and intentional discrimination, and comply with civil rights, environmental justice and health, and environmental laws and principles.

The Federal Transit Administration articulates these compliance and planning principles in its guidance on Title VI and Executive Order 12898.[6] The US Department of Agriculture has articulated these compliance and planning principles as well.[7]

The report by the Environmental Justice Leadership Forum on Climate Justice provides guidance to engage in planning and analyses to implement the Clean Power Plan Rule under these laws and principles. See the Environmental Justice State Guidance: How to Incorporate Equity & Justice Into Your State Clean Power Planning Approach.

Conclusion

We look forward to working with USACE and diverse stakeholders to green the Los Angeles River with justice for all.

Click here for the public comments by diverse allies: Amigos de Los Rios; Anahuak Youth Sports Association; Asian and Pacific Islander Obesity Prevention Alliance; Asian Pacific Policy & Planning Council; Robert Bracamontes; California League of United Latin American Citizens; Chatten-Brown & Carstens LLP; Center on Race, Poverty & the Environment; COFEM (Consejo de Federaciones Mexicanas en Norteamérica); Concerned Citizens of South Central Los Angeles; Belinda Faustinos; Friends of the River; Tom Hayden; Latino Coalition for a Healthy California (LCHC); Los Angeles Business Council; Los Angeles Neighborhood Land Trust; Los Jardines Institute (The Gardens Institute); Mia Lehrer + Associates; Multicultural Communities for Mobility; Mujeres de la Tierra; National Parks Conservation Association; NRDC; Prevention Institute; Search to Involve Pilipino Americans; Sierra Club; Social Justice Consultancy; and SPARC. Overlapping allies submitted earlier comments.

Resources

[1] US Army Corps of Engineers, Los Angeles River Ecosystem Restoration Integrated Feasibility Report (September 2015). Relevant excerpts of the study are available here. The complete final study is available for download here.

[2] National Park Service, Rim of the Valley Corridor: Special Resource Study and Environmental Assessment (April 2015). See The City Project’s Blog Post NPS Rim of the Valley Draft Study Best Practice for Expanding Green Access, Health, and Environmental Justice for All.

[3] National Park Service, San Gabriel Watershed and Mountains Special Resource Study (April 2013). See The City Project’s Blog Post San Gabriel Mountains Best Practice Environmental Justice Framework for Parks, Health, and Conservation Values.

[4] National Park Service, Healthy Parks, Healthy People Community Engagement eGuide, available at http://www.nps.gov/public_health/hp/hphp/press/HealthyParksHealthyPeople_eGuide.pdf.

[5] See The City Project’s Blog Post Best Practice HUD Los Angeles State Historic Park Healthy Green Land Use for All.

[6] Federal Transit Administration, Environmental justice policy guidance for Federal Transit Administration recipients, Circular (FTA C 4703.1) (Washington, DC: Department of Transportation, Aug. 15, 2012); FTA, Title VI Requirements and Guidelines for Federal Transit Administration Recipients, Circular (FTA C 4702.1B) (Washington, DC: Oct. 1, 2012); Letters from FTA to Metropolitan Transportation Commission and San Francisco Bay Area Rapid Transit District (Jan. 15, 2010 and Feb. 12, 2010), available at www.cityprojectca.org/blog/archives/38688.

[7] Office of Civil Rights, U.S. Dep’t of Agric., DR 4300-4, Civil Rights Impact Analysis (2003), available at www.ocio.usda.gov/sites/default/files/docs/2012/DR4300-4.pdf


L.A. River Restoration Environmental and Health Justice Support Alternative 20

Diverse allies, including the Los Angeles Business Council, civil rights, health, and environmental justice organizations, youth advocates, and mainstream environmentalists have submitted public comments on greening the Los Angeles River to support Alternative 20 — the best alternative to help ensure healthy, livable communities for all. Senators Barbara Boxer and Dianne Feinstein, Members of the House, Mayor Eric Garcetti, the L.A. City Council, the County Board of Supervisors, and other elected officials support Alternative 20.

The Army Corps of Engineers released its draft river restoration study (the Study) in September 2013. The dual purposes of the Study are to restore 11 miles of the river, from Griffith Park to downtown, and to provide recreational opportunities in the restored ecosystem.

Alternative 20, called RIVER (Riparian Integration via Varied Ecological Reintroduction), provides for an investment of $1.04 billion in the future of Los Angeles and our children. Alternative 20 includes habitat and wetlands at Piggyback Yard, widening at Taylor Yard, restoration of natural bed river sections at Glendale Narrows, terracing the river near Riverside Drive, transitions or connections between existing riverside corridors and sections of the river lined in concrete, and restoration of wetlands in the channel itself. Alternative 20 widens the river near Bette Davis Park in Griffith Park, restores the confluence with Verdugo Wash, and restores wetlands connecting the river to the L.A. State Historic Park. Alternative 20 restores twice the river length compared to the Corps’ preferred Alternative 13.

Anahuak Youth Sports Association at Rio de Los Angeles State Park | Photo: The City Project.

The draft Study recognizes much of Los Angeles is park poor, income poor, and plagued by disparities in green access:

Much of Los Angeles is considered to be park deficient [with] less than 3 acres of green space per 1,000 residents, as defined by California law. . . . In general, access to parks and acres of parkland per 1,000 residents is lowest in areas that have the highest number of families below the [annual household income] line of $47,331. . . . The City Project, a . . . nonprofit . . . organization was founded to find ways to improve park availability for all neighborhoods, regardless of ethnicity or income level.

River restoration projects should be prioritized to serve people in areas with the greatest need, as shown in the map. Alternative 20 best serves those needs.

Click to enlarge

The final Study must include a compliance, health, and environmental justice analysis for several reasons. Communities along the river have high levels of health disparities for both outcomes and exposures. River restoration will clearly and significantly affect those disparities. There are significant differences in health impacts between alternatives. It is necessary to understand these impacts of river restoration. The value of this analysis goes beyond weighing the alternatives and extends to how river restoration relates to climate change, strategic growth initiatives, and the national prevention strategy for health and wellness. Information from a well-done assessment will make a difference in decisions made.

Judy Baca and Carlos Rogel of SPARC and UCLA restoring the Great Wall of L.A., which is a best practice for monuments celebrating diversity along the River | Photo: The City Project.

Judy Baca, a UCLA Professor and Artistic Director of SPARC (Social and Public Art Resource Center), speaks eloquently on River access and public art.

If public parks are not accessible to the diversity of all people, then what spaces are? Where can people meet and share the sense that they are citizens of a common land? Where do we find places of respite, open places to meet that speak to a shared sensibility about what it means to be a citizen of our city, of our state and country? In the courtrooms? In the schools? Public art like the Great Wall of L.A. is greatly influenced by the people for whom the art is made. The artist captures a strong image or idea that has great resonance within the community.

The Sonia Sotomayor Learning Academies and L.A. River School, adjoining Rio de Los Angeles State Park, is a best practice for joint use of schools, pools, and parks. The school is a best practice for educational programs on the values at stake in river revitalization. The L.A. Unified School District has raised $27 billion for school construction, built over 130 new schools, and modernized hundreds more since 1998. Each $50 million created 935 annual jobs, $43 million in wages, and $130 million in local business revenue. Hundreds of acres of land were cleaned up. Most important, the future became brighter for generations of children. This is a best practice example for how river revitalization should brighten the future of Los Angeles for generations to come.

Former State Senator Tom Hayden emphasizes that the river can revitalize and unify the L.A. region.

Every big city in the United States has a river except for Los Angeles. The L.A. River is barely a river at all. So it’s not an environmental problem, it’s a real estate and growth problem. The project must ensure water flows through the river. The restoration of the river must be more than a trickle down and must involve more than token steps towards environmental justice. Alternative 20 promotes these goals. The lesser Alternative 13 would be a barrier to progress for many years ahead.

The values at stake in river restoration include health and active living; economic vitality; multi-benefit projects to promote clean water, air, and land, habitat protection, and climate justice; sustainable communities with complete green streets, safe routes to school, affordable housing, and joint use; public art, culture, and heritage projects; Native American and spiritual values; and Transit to Trails.

River restoration should serve these values, equal access, and democratic decision making. The final Study and river revitalization should:

  1. Ensure compliance with equal protection laws and principles that provide for equal access to the benefits of river restoration.
  2. Include a compliance, health, and environmental justice analysis that addresses the impact of river greening on all communities.
  3. Include a health impact assessment for river revitalization.
  4. Promote economic vitality through green jobs and contracts for diverse local youth and other residents.
  5. Provide an implementation plan for equal access and alleviating disparities.
  6. Celebrate diverse cultural, heritage, public art, and Native American values.
  7. Restore Griffith Park on the East Bank of the L.A. River.
  8. Provide transportation alternatives, including bike trails, complete green streets, safe routes to school, and Transit to Trails that takes urban residents on fun, educational, and healthy river, mountain, and beach trips.
  9. Ensure full and fair public participation in the decision making process.
  10. Serve these diverse values through a fully funded, balanced Alternative 20.

Click here for the public comments by diverse allies: Amigos de Los Rios; Anahuak Youth Sports Association; Asian and Pacific Islander Obesity Prevention Alliance; Asian Pacific Policy & Planning Council; Robert Bracamontes; California League of United Latin American Citizens; Chatten-Brown & Carstens LLP; Center on Race, Poverty & the Environment; COFEM (Consejo de Federaciones Mexicanas en Norteamérica); Concerned Citizens of South Central Los Angeles; Belinda Faustinos; Friends of the River; Tom Hayden; Latino Coalition for a Healthy California (LCHC); Los Angeles Business Council; Los Angeles Neighborhood Land Trust; Los Jardines Institute (The Gardens Institute); Mia Lehrer + Associates; Multicultural Communities for Mobility; Mujeres de la Tierra; National Parks Conservation Association; NRDC; Prevention Institute; Search to Involve Pilipino Americans; Sierra Club; Social Justice Consultancy; and SPARC. Overlapping allies submitted earlier comments.

Top: Rio de Los Angeles State Park adjoining the Sonia Sotomayor Learning Academies and L.A. River School

This Green Justice column originally appeared on KCET SoCal Departures


YouTube River Videos


Dan Rosenfeld of Urban Partners, Anahuak’s Raul Macias, and The City Project’s Robert García discuss river revitalization, justice, and displacement. Plasmatics Concepts The Los Angeles River.

Civil rights hero Chi Mui discusses the community struggle to stop warehouses and create the Los Angeles State Historic park at the Cornfield. “Nothing like this has ever happened in Chinatown before,” Chi said. “We’ve never had such a victory. And now, every time people walk with their children down to that park, they’ll see that great things can happen when folks come together and speak up. We can renew our community one dream at a time.” BBC Documentary Who Killed the Los Angeles River?


River Revitalization and Justice

Quieren el Río para el puebloThe Los Angeles River stretches 52 miles through diverse communities from Canoga Park in the San Fernando Valley through downtown to the ocean in Long Beach. The City of Los Angeles has published an L.A. River Revitalization Master Plan. The L.A. River plan should promote democratic participation and equitable results in the revitalization of the Los Angeles River with healthy parks, schools, and communities. We seek economic, environmental, equitable, and healthydevelopment for all communities along the River for generations to come.

The River, one of the most environmentally degraded in the world, runs 52 miles through some of the most underserved communities in the region. Community revitalization along the River that puts children and families first can serve as a best practice example for community redevelopment throughout the country.

 

Children of color living in poverty without access to a car have the worst access to parks, and to schools with at least five acres of playing fields in the Los Angeles region. These children disproportionately live along the length of the River that lies within the County, but not within the City. Children of color disproportionately live in the areas along the River with the highest levels of child obesity and the worst access to parks and recreation. Click on the map for all image sizes and more maps and analyses of green access and equity.

1001 Los Angeles River Park Access and Schools for Children of Color Living in Poverty with No Access to a Car

The City Project, the Alianza de los Pueblos del Rio, and others submitted public comments on the draft L.A. River Revitalization Master Plan and draft environmental impact report to implement ten equal justice principles for healthy parks, schools, and communities. The Policy Report Healthy Parks, Schools and Communities: Mapping Green Access and Equity for the Los Angeles Region guides and inspires our comments.

The City of Los Angeles must work together with the County and other municipalities and agencies to ensure equal access to public resources along the full 52 miles of the Los Angeles River, not just the 32 miles within the City. Planning for the full length of the River should be included as part of Southern California’s Integrated Regional Water Management Plan, to achieve compliance with clean water and civil rights laws.

The area from El Rio de Los Angeles State Park to the Los Angeles State Historic Park and El Pueblo de Los Angeles should be connected to serve as a best practice example for community development.

Within a three mile radius of Taylor Yard, 59% of the population is Latino, 19% lives in poverty, and 14% has no access to a car. Within a three mile radius of the Cornfield, 63% of the population is Latino, 33% lives in poverty, and 36% has no access to a car.

The Los Angeles River can unite the city across racial, ethnic, and economic lines and link all of Los Angeles together as one community through space and time.

“Were it not for the Los Angeles River, the city that shares its name would not be where it is today. Were it not for the Los Angeles River, Los Angeles would not be at all. The Los Angeles River has always been at the heart of whichever human community is in the basin: Gabrielino village, Spanish outpost, Mexican pueblo, American city. The river has been asked to play many roles. It has supplied the residents of the city and basin with water to drink and spread amidst their grapes, oranges, and other crops. It has been an instrument by which people could locate themselves on the landscape. It has been a critical dividing line, not only between east and west, north and south, but between races, classes, neighborhoods. . . . [T]he river has also been a place where ideas and beliefs about the past, present, and future of Los Angeles have been raised and contested.” William Deverell, Whitewashed Adobe.


Browning the Green Movement

“The Alianza de los Pueblos del Rio formed after [Robert] Garcia and others decided that development of a new L.A. River was a symbolic and literal convergence of a myriad of issues confronting L.A.’s Latino population. To be left out of the discussion, they realized, was to be left high and dry, as the river shifts directions into the future. Instead, the alliance which includes[The City Project], the Anahuak Youth Soccer Association, Re-mapping L.A., Mujeres de la Tierra, and the William C. Velasquez Institute, spearheaded river meetings and community outreach that have ballooned into a comprehensive new platform of urban Latino environmentalism. Part legal strategy, part organizing principle, this green movement en español has put people–immigrants and poor people, mostly–at the center of an issue traditionally focused on flora and fauna, and which has pitted some environmentalists against immigrants.” Evan George, Los Angeles Alternative.


Watery Disputes: Controversy and Complaints Follow New L.A. River Plan

by Evan George

Last month, the City Council rolled out an ambitious plan to revitalize the Los Angeles River from Canoga Park to Downtown. The massive report capped an 18-month campaign of unprecedented community outreach.

Now, less than two weeks before the draft plan enters its final stage, the most vocal and well-organized coalition involved in that process is up in arms, claiming its input has been marginalized.

Read More »


L.A. River Award

The City Project’s work received the L.A. River Award from the
City of Los Angeles “for extensively publishing research and
findings on urban parks and their benefits for the River, receiving
national recognition in your efforts to revitalize the River, and for
your contribution to the greening of the River through your work on
the Cornfields and Taylor Yard State Parks.” Councilman Ed Reyes presents the Award to Robert Garcia, Executive Director and Counsel, Erica Flores Baltodano, Associate Director, and Chris Hicks, Staff Attorney.


Water Quality Award

The City Project’s work received the 2005 Water Quality Award
from the Los Angeles Regional Water Quality Control Board “for making
an important contribution to restoring habitat along and water
quality in the Los Angeles River” by helping to create the Los
Angeles State Historic Park at the Cornfield and El Rio de Los
Angeles State Park at Taylor Yard.