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County starts laying out its vision for the LA River

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Everyone has a plan for the river, and now the county will too

View of LA River Shutterstock

Los Angeles County took a key step yesterday toward updating its LA River Master Plan from 1996, the latest in a growing collection of plans for the concrete flood channel.

Contributing to the county’s master plan is a committee made up of officials from nonprofits and public agencies who met Wednesday for the first time. One of the biggest questions its members posed: Is the plan really needed?

Michael Affeldt of LARiverworks, a division of Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti’s office, asked which portions of the river weren’t already covered by a plan.

“Where do we need this? Why update it?” he said.

The county estimates that as the river flows for 51 miles from the San Fernando Valley to Long Beach, it snakes through areas already covered by some 114 community, regional, and river-related plans, as well as bike and pedestrian plans, general plans, and design guidelines.

Just last year, a plan to add bridges, bike and walking paths, housing, and parks to river-adjacent land was released for the 19-mile section from Vernon to Long Beach. Major projects, like the massive makeover that will turn the industrial G2 parcel into a 41-acre park, are also well underway.

The volume of plans guiding some or all of the river is, in part, why the county said it wanted to update its own.

When the Board of Supervisors voted to pursue the project, Supervisor Sheila Kuehl said that a single county plan could stitch everything together and help “avoid ‘plan-demonium.’”

And though the county’s existing master plan is only 20 years old, its age is already showing, said Mark Hanna of Geosyntec, which along with Frank Gehry’s Gehry Partners, landscape architecture firm Olin, and River LA make up the county’s master plan update team.

Hanna told the committee that much of the infrastructure along the river is getting old, and there are some areas of the river where the water quality doesn’t meet current environmental requirements.

Updating the plan will allow the county to address those issues and others tied to the age of the plan, Hanna said. It would also allow for one unified plan to emerge for the whole river—something which Hanna said could help when it came for looking for funding to pay for the projects laid out in the new plan.

An aerial view of the Taylor Yard G2 parcel in Los Angeles, California. There is a river and on both sides of the river are many houses, buildings, schools, and parks.
The city has its own plan to turn an industrial parcel along the bank of the river into a giant park.
Courtesy of Mayor Eric Garcetti

When a steering committee member asked how the county would ensure that those plans were ultimately realized and see to it that this was more than just another plan for the river, Hanna said the process would include creating a strategy for implementation.

The committee will meet seven more times and hold nearly two dozen subcommittee meetings to focus on specific aspects of the river from now to December 2019, when a draft review of the master plan update is expected to be made public.

There is an ever-increasing number of eyes on the river these days.

As plans to make the waterway more of a public asset proliferate, so do concerns about who is guiding the future of the river, and what an ecological restoration of the river could mean for the largely working-class communities it passes through.