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200 at Workshop Float Ideas for Reviving the L.A. River

Some envision building a walkway, restoring marshland or making access to the water easier. Others just want to get rid of gangs and graffiti.

January 29, 2006|Patrick McGreevy | Times Staff Writer

Carmen Reynoso looks forward to a day when she can have lunch at an outdoor cafe overlooking a restored Los Angeles River in her Atwater Village neighborhood.

Lane Barden imagines his young son, Gus, being able to walk to the water's edge without having to scramble down a steep, graffiti-scarred concrete embankment.

Jim Hardesty foresees a time when thousands of birds will winter in restored marshlands along the river.

Those visions and many others were shared Saturday as nearly 200 Los Angeles residents gathered at Chevy Chase Park Recreation Center for the last in a series of public workshops to discuss the restoration and improvement of a river largely confined for decades to a concrete flood-control channel.

While many people had grandiose ideas, others asked for simpler plans, such as well-lighted bike paths.

Still others said they would just like the city to rid the river and its banks of drug dealers, gang members and graffiti.

And while some participants talked of river walks lined with shops and cafes, others vehemently opposed such commercialization.

Hunched over seven tables covered with 10-foot-long maps of the river, residents brainstormed, kvetched and shared their ideas for how the waterway should look.

Private consultants hired by the city of Los Angeles plan to use the ideas from three public workshops to come up with specific options that will be presented to residents in additional hearings before a plan is adopted by the city in early 2007.

The plan will cover the 32-mile stretch of river from Canoga Park to Boyle Heights.

City Council President Eric Garcetti, who was host of the Saturday workshop held in his district, said he was inspired by the ideas being presented by the public.

"At the most basic level, I would love to see the river come alive again," Garcetti said. "We need to stop being in denial about having a river."

Consultants said a survey of residents at a previous workshop found the top goal to be habitat restoration, followed by creation of more open space and recreation, with water quality and economic development lesser priorities.

Reynoso said she would like to see river walks like those in Reno and San Antonio. She envisions residents strolling past stores and restaurants that face a restored river.

"That would be nice," she said.

But a minute later she wondered whether it would be possible.

"What are you going to do when the river overflows?" she asked.

Juanita Fleming, a Sierra Club member, said she would like to see the river restored as much as possible to its natural state and frowned at those who sought commercial and residential developments along the river.

"A lot of it is fantasy," she said. "I think it's all about money."

Several people asked for pedestrian bridges to link their communities with Griffith Park on the other side of the river.

Barden, who brought his 3-year-old son to the workshop, said he walks along the river at least twice a week for exercise. He would like his son to be able to easily walk to the water's edge and perhaps play along a sandy beach.

Now, it is too dangerous to scamper down the steep flood-control channel wall and not much worth it when the person gets to the bottom, he said. "Right now, it's not clean, it's not healthy."

Many residents questioned whether the river could ever be made safe when it is swollen and running fast during rainy periods.

But Ira Mark Artz of the consulting firm Tetra Tech said Los Angeles County was considering proposals to dam off or otherwise store water at the headwaters so that a steady, slower stream of water could be released year round.

There is also talk of creating diversions and still pools, so that people can boat and perhaps swim, if the water quality is improved.

Garcetti said there would be different solutions for different neighborhoods. Much of the river is currently abutted by railyards and tracks as well as the backs of factories, warehouses and homes.

Part of the solution may be to turn homes and businesses around to face the river, he said, adding that he would like to see some underused industrial properties turned into residential developments that "embrace the river."

Garcetti also supports building an equestrian bridge to link Atwater Village to Griffith Park.

At each table, workshop facilitators wrote down ideas from residents and drew parks and playgrounds in place of railroad yards, industrial plants and warehouses. Some residents suggested a development like Universal CityWalk.

But at some tables, the talk turned to problems in need of more immediate attention, including gangs, drug dealers and transients who control parts of the river.

Barry Shapiro of Atwater Village Neighborhood Watch said plans for parks and playgrounds are nice, but he asked Garcetti and the consultants to come up with an interim plan for making the river crime-free.

"If you go along the river, you will see it's just scarred with graffiti. Every surface is covered. At one point even the palm fronds were sprayed," he said.

Garcetti urged the residents to write letters to Los Angeles Police Chief William J. Bratton, urging him to have officers patrolling the river.

Hardesty, a member of the San Fernando Valley branch of the Audubon Society, said he would like to see marshlands restored to attract more birds.

He and other workshop participants said they had no problem giving up their Saturday morning to play a role in reviving the river.

"This is a marvelous undertaking," he said.

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