New plans could reshape 19 miles of the LA River, from Vernon to Long Beach

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Plans for the reinvention of the Los Angeles River and the public spaces around it aren’t in short supply lately, with parks, bridges, bike paths, and bridges with parks all in the works at different locations along the 51-mile body of water.

Often neglected in these plans is the 19-mile stretch of river that runs from Vernon to Long Beach, where the river empties into the latter city’s harbor. But that changed last week when the Lower Los Angeles River Working Group released a draft plan for the revitalization of the river’s southern segment.

A collection of community groups, elected officials, and business organizations, the working group was convened by the state in 2016 to oversee efforts to make the river a stronger community resource.

The plans unveiled a week ago call for 146 individual projects in and around the river, including new trails, parks, crossings, and more. Among those proposals are seven “signature projects” that have been analyzed in greater detail. They include:

  • Development of new green space, public art displays, and affordable housing around Cudahy Park
  • Addition of park space, trails, and a dirt bike facility around the Atlantic Boulevard crossing in Vernon
  • A trio of park-topped bridges, new landscaping, and a band shell at the Rio Hondo confluence in the city of South Gate
  • Floating boardwalks above the soft-bottomed portion of the river that flows through Long Beach and new access to the levee at Willow Street
  • Pathways, recreation areas, and links to existing bike trails at the stretch of river between Greenleaf and Del Amo boulevards
  • New crossings, rest areas, public art space, and a nature overlook at Compton Creek
  • A new park, expanded wetlands, new stormwater capture facilities, and an amphitheater around Wrigley Heights in northern Long Beach
A diagram of the plans for Cudahy Park
Lower LA River Revitalization Plan

More broadly, the plans also call for greater access to the concrete channel itself, including the addition of terraced seating and ramps that would allow people to explore the riverbed in certain areas.

The working group proposes streetscape changes to make it easier for residents to access the river (these could include new protected bike lanes, pedestrian-friendly sidewalk improvements, and even horse trails in some places).

But not everyone is entirely happy with the draft plans.

In a statement released earlier this week, Los Angeles Waterkeeper director Bruce Reznik argues that the proposed plan “represents a missed opportunity to tackle Lower LA River revitalization holistically.”

Reznik maintains that the proposed projects emphasize beautification and new development over ecological restoration and reduction of flood risk for the communities surrounding the river.

“In the aftermath of more severe storms and increasing flooding like we saw in Houston this August, it is the height of irresponsibility to continue building to the banks of the LA River,” says Reznik.

Plans call for boardwalks in the soft-bottomed part of the river in Long Beach
Lower LA River Revitalization Plan

Stephen Mejia, policy and advocacy manager for Friends of the Los Angeles River (a member of the working group), says the report is “an important first step” in the river’s revitalization, but he acknowledges that more work is needed to perfect the plan.

“The rush to deliver” the report has “truncated the space for community to voice their vision, and sidelined some of the most important breakthroughs,” he says in a statement to Curbed. Mejia argues that the opportunity for public comment on the plans should be extended beyond the January 11 deadline.

The working group has held dozens of public meetings and community events to discuss the project, but numbers reported in the draft plans suggest community awareness of the project may be low. Workshops, pop-up booths, and bike tours have drawn fewer than 800 residents and only 420 responses were recorded in an online survey about the project.

“We would like there to be more community input,” says Michael Atkins, communications and impact manager for FOLAR. “We’re pushing for [the plans] to be as ambitious as possible.”

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