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Arroyo Riverbed to Become a Park

December 07, 1989|VICKI TORRES | TIMES STAFF WRITER

PASADENA — The city's first tourist attraction, Arroyo Seco riverbed, will be transformed from a barren meadow dominated by a concrete drainage channel into a historic nature park, under a $4.4-million plan approved Tuesday by the Pasadena Board of Directors.

Approval of the Lower Arroyo Master Plan means that $450,000 can be used within the next two years to clean and improve nature trails, replant native vegetation, and remove parking lots along the 1.7-mile-long park that follows the riverbed from beneath the Colorado Street Bridge to the city's southern limits.

At the turn of the century, the natural state of the arroyo attracted landscape artists such as Elmer and Marion Wachtel and Guy Rose who settled near the arroyo. The artists came to be called the "Arroyo culture" and their fame drew tourists from all over the country.

But the board was less certain about how to deal with an estimated $12 million in improvements to 24 of the city's other parks.

Because residents could end up paying $2 a month if assessment districts are created to fund park improvements, the board decided to conduct a citywide survey to determine if the public supports the improvements.

The survey will also assess the willingness of residents to pay for those improvements under a variety of funding mechanisms.

Director John Crowley suggested an increase in the city's property tax of 1 cent per $100 of assessed valuation. Such a tax could yield $500,000 annually for park improvements. The increase would be easier on residents than taxes under an assessment district, Crowley said.

In addition, despite requiring a two-thirds approval from voters, the property tax increase might be easier to obtain than the simple majority required to create the assessment districts because taxpayers would more likely support the lower cost, he said.

No such funding problems plague the Lower Arroyo Seco plan, however--at least for the short-term goals it outlines.

The city already has $250,000 on hand in the Arroyo Seco Fund, money received from user fees in the park. Another $200,000 is available from the Santa Monica Mountains Conservancy, a nonprofit, conservation foundation.

In addition, the Arroyo Seco Council has undertaken a reforestation project as part of Earth Day 1990 that includes replanting part of the Lower Arroyo Seco.

"It's extraordinarily exciting," said Greg Asbury , general manager for the Arroyo Seco, referring to the rehabilitation plans.

"There's a lot of things we can do right now to preserve and restore the lower arroyo," he said. "It's a major step."

Long-term goals call for the removal of the concrete drainage channel and the establishment of natural wetlands. Such work could bring the costs to $4.4 million, but Asbury said the work will be delayed pending the outcome of the Devil's Gate Project.

That project involves rehabilitating a dam, unused since the 1970s, higher up in the arroyo. If the dam is capable of controlling water flow in the arroyo, the concrete channel can be removed, Asbury said. However, a final decision is years away, he said.

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