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Jessica Lass’s Blog

Los Angeles has a river?

Jessica Lass

Posted February 28, 2012

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I recently joined 25 fellow Angelenos on a river walk tour of one section of the Los Angeles River. Specifically, we toured part of the former rail yard known as Taylor Yard, or the “G-1” parcel to you wonky types, along a section of the river known as the Glendale Narrows. NRDC has been involved in reclaiming open places and parkland around and in Los Angeles since our LA office opened more than 20 years ago.Damon looking at the LA River

LA’s reputation as a concrete jungle extending as far as the eye can see is notorious and sadly accurate. Over the decades, we paved and repaved our city in concrete to the point that now when it rains, the water has no way to infiltrate into the soil and aquifer, but is instead shot through a maze of pipes and tunnels to stormwater drains and in most cases, to one of the rivers bisecting LA, which then flows to the ocean usually untreated.

The LA River was paved in the 1940s and ‘50s with flood control in mind as a way of directing what was once a torrent of water rushing through the city in wetter months into a more manageable diversionary path to the ocean. However, in paving the river, it created an eyesore for miles on end and threatened native flora and fauna, while serving as iconic film destinations for Grease and The Terminator movies, instead of a natural river residents and visitors of LA can enjoy. Rapids

NRDC’s current involvement is in trying to protect a key piece of riverfront property as open space. The 44-acre “G-2” parcel is currently owned by Union Pacific Railroad, but developer Trammell Crow recently acquired an option to potentially develop the land into industrial warehouses -- one of the only approved zoned uses given the extreme soil contamination. It’s so hazardous they can’t build houses on top of the area for fear of the leaching fumes. Trammell Crow has until June 30 to exercise its option; my colleague Damon Nagami’s blog tells that story in more detail.

The community’s goal is to tear out the concrete barrier on that side of the river and develop the wetlands ecosystem along the banks abutting the parcel. The area would be available for people to learn more about the wetland ecosystem of the LA River, stroll the area and perhaps most importantly, this parcel of land would connect two existing park properties—the G-1 parcel and Rio de Los Angeles State Park—to fulfill the community’s vision of creating a seamless, 100-acre riverfront park. Bridging these two areas will serve to eventually develop a continuous walking path along several miles of the river (complementing the bike path on the opposite side) and expand the existing state park to better serve the adjacent park-poor communities.

Having a place to go to enjoy local nature and appreciate a river that while currently paved, does host a diverse ecosystem—we saw egrets, blue herons and fish—is a long process in the making, but we need to start somewhere and allowing people access to enjoy these areas is a first step.Blue heron

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Tony TaylorFeb 29 2012 10:55 PM

I really am getting angry that all these folks seem to be talking up all these great and wonderous things to do at the river-BUT totally ignore the need for some rules at the river, a way to have those rules enforced, a way to protect the wildlife that lives on the river from the people who go out there, enforcing leash laws, etc. Just talked to my friend who was out there this evening in Atwater and had to position herself between wildlife and an off leash dog trying to get to them. The dog's owner she told me did nothing-which is the usual response-and when the dog tried to attack her she had to defend herself from it. This happens over and over and over and nobody does anything-only come up with more and more ideas that probably will never happen. For years now they have had the cart before the horse and I quess until someone is severly injured or killed by one of these people and their dogs nothing will be done.

Jessica LassMar 1 2012 01:45 PM

Thanks for your comment Tony, you're right that people already use the river area and it could and should be safer, which is a priority of the revitalization project. We need to create more permanent park areas that are maintained and with adequate security so people feel safe visiting the park space while also protecting the native wildlife.

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