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LA County agrees to fund green makeover of 103rd Street in Watts

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It’s part of a settlement in a longstanding legal battle with environmental activists

Rendering of Watts from above with tree-lined street
Rendering from Watts Re:Imagined project

An effort to give Watts’ 103rd Street an environmentally-conscious makeover will get a major boost in funding after a recent legal settlement awarded nearly $3 million to the project.

The settlement is the result of a lengthy legal battle between Los Angeles County and two environmental groups who argued the county was allowing contaminated stormwater to pollute its rivers and streams. As the Los Angeles Times reports, the county has agreed to spend $4 million in total on eco-friendly projects as a result of the lawsuit, of which $2.8 million will go toward the Watts Greenstreets program.

Plans for the project call for a wide range of pedestrian and transit-oriented improvements to 103rd Street, including planting trees and drought-tolerant landscaping features, installing new bus shelters, and improving crosswalks. Other improvements, including absorbent pavement and plantings on the street’s medians, would also make the street better equipped to reduce stormwater runoff—leading to less pollutants entering the city’s waterways.

The remaining $1.2 million of the settlement will fund more stormwater capture efforts around the city. Implemented by the nonprofit group Tree People, this initiative will provide homeowners in unincorporated Los Angeles with “retrofits” that include rain gardens and green roofs, according to a press release from LA Waterkeeper—one of the two groups that sued the county.

“We’re excited that this settlement helps build infrastructure for stormwater capture and also improves environmental conditions, public health and economic opportunities in the Watts community,” said Steve Fleischli, attorney for the National Resources Defense Council—the other litigant in the suit.

As the release from LA Waterkeeper notes, 103rd Street was dubbed “Charcoal Alley” following the Watts Rebellion in 1965, as several buildings along the thoroughfare burned down.

The plans for redesigning the street are part of the larger Watts Re:Imagined project, a partnership between local groups, including Grant EDC and the NRDC’s Urban Solutions program. The initiative seeks to make the neighborhood more pedestrian-friendly and provide residents with more access to transit, parks, and green spaces.

Meanwhile, other big changes coming to the area include the redevelopment of storied housing project Jordan Downs. The complex is being demolished to make way for a big new mixed use development that will include apartments, condos, shops, and restaurants.