Councilmembers make full-court press for billion-dollar river restoration

Pushing for the billion-dollar restoration option, from left, are councilmembers Cedillo, LaBonge and O'Farrell. in the center, back, is California State Assemblymember Jimmy Gomez (D., 51st District) (Jim Burns)
Pushing for the billion-dollar restoration option, from left, are councilmembers Cedillo, LaBonge and O’Farrell. in the center, back, is California State Assemblymember Jimmy Gomez (D., 51st District) (Jim Burns)

In preparation for what could be remembered as an historic city council vote, three councilmembers made their case poolside for the most expensive restoration of the Los Angeles River at over $1 billion. It was a continuation of a public relations campaign over the summer to convince Washington to open its strained pocketbook in favor of a local project with considerable political capital.

The press conference, strategically held at Downey Pool, close to both the river and Los Angeles State Historic Park, presaged the first time since 2006 that the city would declare its priority publicly. Ironically, its partner, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, didn’t attend.

“I think you’re going to see an unprecedented push and an unprecedented effort of collaboration. We are dead serious about this, and we are aspiring to work together, to collaborate, to pool all the resources, working with the state, but also preparing to go to Washington, working with the Army Crops of Engineers to get the biggest package that we can for the city,” said newly elected Councilmember Gil Cedillo.

He, together with council colleagues Mitch O’Farrell and Tom LeBonge, made it clear that the city wants the federal government to spend $1 billion over the next several years to restore the Los Angeles River to  at least a semblance of what it once was, as will be outlined in the Corps’ Los Angeles River Ecosystem Restoration Feasibility Study (ARBOR), which cost $10 million and seven years to complete.

Even though the actual study, along with its four restoration alternatives, won’t be released by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers until Sept. 20, politicians and river advocates are lining up in support of the most expensive plan. After ARBOR’s release, there will be a 45-day public comment period and a public meeting on Oct. 17. Although a month away from the report’s official release by the Army Corps., the broad outline has been available for weeks.

A few hours later, the Los Angeles City Council voted unanimously “to endorse a Los Angeles River Ecosystem Restoration Feasibility Study alternative that results in the most expansive ecosystem restoration.”

Last week, Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti sent a letter to Washington advocating for the same thing.

“The ARBOR study Alternative 20 will begin to reweave the city and the watershed together,” said Lewis MacAdams, who established Friends of the Los Angeles River, and is now considered the “grandfather” of the current restoration effort. “It will bring the river together with the mountains, and it will bring the people together with the habitat, miles of concrete will be destroyed. It would begin to payback with this billion dollars all the work that’s been done to destroy the L.A. River.”

MacAdams recounted how, as an old-time Army Corps of Engineers fighter, he was surprised to be invited to a teleconference between the L.A. District and the national headquarters in Washington a couple of months ago. He went on to say he was shocked when I saw what was going to become the proposal of the L.A. district, Alternative 20.

By contrast, Alternative 13., said to be favored in Washington and the least expensive of the plans, has a projected cost of just under $450 million to pull concrete and make other habitat changes along the 11 miles of the river from downtown to Griffith Park.

“We’re Los Angeles. We deserve a $1 billion investment in the Los Angeles River. We’re going to fight for this,” O’Farrell said.

See you on the river, Jim Burns


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