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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.

Though city leaders and others strongly defend the document, some acknowledge that improvements to the final plan are necessary.

Leaders of the Alianza de los Pueblo del Rio, a loose coalition of Latino organizations, last week said the plan focuses too much on beautifying the concrete channel’s riverside property and not enough on the mostly poor, park-starved communities that surround it.

“The plan as it stands now could be called the L.A. River Gentrification Master Plan,” said Robert Garcia, executive director of the nonprofit City Project, which provides legal and research aid to the Alianza. “It’s utterly incomprehensible why they would have ignored all of our input, not cited any of our work, not cited any of our maps and our statistics on children’s health and the lack of parks.”

Leaders of the Alianza scrambled last week to put together a rebuke of the Los Angeles River Revitalization Master Plan before public comment on the draft ends March 27.

The group finds itself in a strange position: once heralded by city leaders for generating excitement and feedback about the master plan and now on the offensive for more input.

The report, which Garcia said will be released this week and presented formally to the Council’s Ad Hoc River Committee, assails city officials for paying lip service to issues like public health and gang prevention in urban communities without offering detailed solutions.

“One of our biggest concerns is that it utterly disregards human health and the need for places for physical activity in parks and schools to improve health,” Garcia said.

The plan identifies 239 improvement projects along a 32-mile stretch of the river. They include everything from pocket parks to creating more than 4,600 housing units near Chinatown. Implementing all of them would cost more than $2 billion.

However, only two of the 87 proposed park projects include any sports fields or facilities.

Councilman Ed Reyes, who chairs the Ad Hoc River Committee, defended the plan even as he praised the Alianza’s success in garnering feedback. He acknowledged the need for more active parks, but said those uses must be balanced with other concerns, like flood control.

“Where possible I will advocate for the active space,” he said.

Additionally, Reyes said, two obvious sites for heavy recreation use – the new Los Angeles State Historic Park at the former Cornfield and the Rio de Los Angeles State Park at Taylor Yard – are overseen by the state Parks Department, not the city.

“What it speaks to is the need to have the state redefine its definition of parks,” Reyes said, “especially in the urban centers, and that’s a cultural shift for the state.”


Making Waves
The complaints don’t stop at more soccer fields.

Last week officials with the William C. Velasquez Institute, a nonprofit Latino policy center and member of the Alianza, criticized the plan’s environmental impact report for using demographics that, they say, grossly underestimate the impact on Latinos.

The study looked only at neighborhoods within a half mile of the river, while Latino leaders say the city should consider the overwhelmingly Latino neighborhoods within one to three miles that would be affected.

City officials have said they will include broader statistics but not redo any of the analysis.

The master plan has also been attacked for failing to include specific measures to help spur local jobs and build more affordable housing.

Alianza leaders said they have been championing these issues to city officials for 18 months at more than 50 meetings. By organizing families to participate in the city-sponsored workshops, and even spearheading their own well-attended meetings, the Alianza became the overwhelming voice, said Reyes and others.

Reyes added that the Alianza’s input will inform future details. “The implementation arms… the governing structure itself, I believe, is where you’re going to see those details emerge,” Reyes said.

Garcia is skeptical.

“If that’s their approach than why are they so specific as to everything else, such as pocket parks, paseos, promenades, linear parks and ecological restoration?” he asked.

While Alianza chafes at the plan, other groups who participated – as well as some that didn’t – applaud the initial results.

Russell Brown, president of the Downtown Los Angeles Neighborhood Council, said his group is impressed by the overall concept, though they disagree with some of the details.

Brown called the plan “an interesting first step,” and said many of the DLANC members were “surprised it was this far along,” because they had been less involved in the process. The Friends of the Los Angeles River, a longtime activist group, has also signaled its approval.

James Rojas, a planner for MTA who runs Spring Street’s Gallery 727 (where a current exhibit allows visitors to make their own models of the river plan) takes issue with the complaints of those who are upset with the master plan.

“Some of the funnier critiques I’ve heard is that it’s not going to solve gang violence. That’s not the river’s problem, or a design problem, that’s a much larger social problem,” Rojas said. “It’s not going to solve world hunger.”

Contact Evan George at evan@downtownnews.com.