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L.A. River Justice

The United States Environmental Protection Agency has declared the Los Angeles River “traditional navigable waters.”

Declaring the L.A. River “navigable” is a huge victory for the River — and for diverse people along the River.

Very importantly for the Environmental Justice community and the people along the River, declaring the River navigable makes clear that the Public Trust doctrine applies to river revitalization, as well as clean water protections.  The public trust doctrine reinforces the requirement that government agencies must distribute the benefits and burdens of revitalization equally along the River.

The Los Angeles River Project Office published the report Los Angeles River Access and Use: Balancing Equitable Actions with Responsible Stewardship (the River Report) in June 2009 in response to a City Council resolution.  The Report notes that “The City’s River revitalization efforts must balance human interests in accessing and using the River with improvements that will ensure an environment supportive of healthy, sustainable biodiversity. . . .  The River offers one of the nation’s and the world’s most significant opportunities to introduce meaningful environmental value back into the post-industrial urban landscape.”

As emphasized in the River Report, citing the work of The City Project:

“Numerous 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: 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. Whole generations are growing up in Los Angeles without any meaningful relationship to the natural environment. . . . The River offers an opportunity to redress environmental justice problems by not only providing numerous new green spaces, but also by ensuring free access to them.”

The River Report emphasizes the need for River revitalization to address:

  • Compliance with equal justice laws and principles, as one of the six major goals for River revitalization. These laws include Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 its regulations, and parallel state laws under Government Code 11135 and its regulations. These laws prohibit intentional discrimination based on race, color or national origin by recipients of federal and state funds, respectively, as well as unjustified discriminatory impacts regardless of intent.
  • Environmental Justice along the River.
  • Human health and childhood obesity, including health impact assessments in River revitalization.
  • Economic justice and green local jobs.
  • Transit to Trails to take inner city residents on river, mountain and beach trips.
  • Shared use of parks and schools.
  • Public art along the river.

See River Report at pages 5, 20-21, 25-27, 36, 40, 43.

The City Project’s public comments submitted at the time of the draft River Report are available on the web at

Click here to read the story about the navigable waters: Louis Sahagun, L.A.’s River Clears Hurdle, L.A. Times, July 8, 2010.

The New York Times cites revitalization of the Los Angeles River as a best practice example for “more sustainable, livable and socially just cities.”

Learn more about river justice here.

Click here to download the City of Los Angeles River Report.

View from Griffith Park on the East Bank of the Los Angeles River