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11-Mile Makeover of the LA River is Moving Right Along

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The council has approved an ambitious plan to restore a long stretch of river from Griffith Park to Downtown

For well over a decade, the city of Los Angeles has been discussing plans to turn the ugly concrete flood control channel running through the heart of the city into something a little more river-like. Somewhere you might, for instance, settle down next to for a picnic, or fish for Steelhead trout. Now, the city is closer than ever to starting work to make that happen.

On Wednesday, city council voted unanimously to approve a plan to restore 11 miles of the LA River stretching from Griffith Park to Downtown. The plan, called Alternative 20, is the most ambitious of three plans considered by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers for the revitalization of the river. In 2014, after some lobbying from Mayor Eric Garcetti, the Corps reversed course on an earlier decision and backed this most transformative (and expensive) option.

At the time, the project was expected to cost around $1 billion, with the city and the federal government splitting the cost evenly. The price tag seems to have gone up a bit since then, with the city contribution now estimated to be more than $980 million. Most of that money would go toward acquiring land around the river where ecosystem restoration projects could then occur.

The city will not have to produce all those funds at once. Prior to voting on the project, Councilman Mitch O’Farrell pointed out that the plan would be carried out on a project-by-project basis—allowing the city to prioritize projects that would be easier and cheaper to accomplish.

"We’ve approached this in a way to get the low hanging fruit," O’Farrell said. He pointed to the Central Service Yard north of Atwater Village as a parcel of land the city already owns and where redevelopment could begin right away.

As controversy continues to swirl over the city’s secretive decision to bring in celebrity architect Frank Gehry to map out a master plan for the river, the council’s decision Wednesday was a clear victory for the activists and community members who worried Gehry’s work would undermine the Alternative 20 plan.

Marissa Christiansen, senior policy director with Friends of the LA River—the organization that raised nearly $1 million to help complete the study that produced the Alternative 20 plan—says the organization "could not be more pleased" with the council’s decision. "Never before has revitalization and restoration of the Los Angeles River as a natural and accessible resource gained so much traction."

"The river is the heart and soul of Los Angeles," O’Farrell said, before urging the council to join him in approving the project.