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LA: A River Runs Through It … But Can We Afford It?


LA WATCHDOG- On Thursday, October 17, we will have the ability to comment on the Los Angeles River Ecosystem Restoration Feasibility Study that was prepared by the United States Army Corps of Engineers. This dense $10 million study that only the cognoscenti can understand analyzed alternative plans to revitalize an 11 mile strip of the LA River that stretches from Griffith Park to downtown Los Angeles. 

More importantly, we will have the opportunity to promote Alternative 20, the $1.1 billion plan that is vastly superior to the Alternative 13, the $453 million proposal selected by the Army Corps of Engineers.  Importantly, Alternative 20 will provide significantly greater environmental benefits while at the same time creating greater access to the river so that Angelenos can enjoy the recreational benefits associated with open space. 

Under Alternative 20, additional funds would be available for improving the connection between the LA River and key elements of its 870 square mile watershed, including portions of Griffith Park, the Verdugo Wash, the Bowtie Parcel (Los Feliz), the Los Angeles State Historical Park (better known as The Cornfields), and the Piggyback Yard in downtown Los Angeles. 

In addition to these environmental enhancements, Alternative 20 will generate significantly more jobs than Alternative 13, helping to stimulate our languishing economy.  There will also be many more opportunities for economic development and housing, although these will not be without considerable controversy within the environmental community. 

While the proponents of the LA River will extol the potential of the LA River that stretches 51 miles from its headwaters in Canoga Park to its concrete mouth in Long Beach, including 32 miles of a potential “green spine” that flows through the City of Los Angeles, there has not been an adequate review and analysis of the impact of these alternatives and other related plans on the finances of the City. 

Under Alternatives 13 and 20, the City will be responsible $313 million (69% of the $453 million cost) and $432 million (46% of the total cost of $1.08 billion), respectively.  

There will also be significant operating and maintenance costs, none of which have been adequately disclosed to the public. Nor has the City determined which department will be the responsible party.  

Furthermore, the total long term cost of all of the environmental and development plans has not been disclosed to the public, including the very high costs associated with the purchase of developed urban properties that border the river and the remediation costs associated for properties contaminated with hazardous and toxic waste.  These costs will be the responsibility of the City under existing Army Corps of Engineers’ regulations.  

Proponents of the LA River have mentioned alternative sources of funding, including the contribution of land by the City, County, and State; grants from governments and foundations; stormwater related fees and taxes; proceeds from a new bond measure financed through increased taxes; and development fees. 

Selected City officials even suggested that our Department of Water and Power should be responsible for a significant portion of the capital and operating costs.   

But there are no specifics, especially as it relates to the City’s budget that is projecting a four year cumulative deficit of between $350 and $800 million depending on the outcome of current negotiations with the civilian unions involving contracted raises and modest contributions to their healthcare premiums.  

While the revitalization of the LA River is a very important environmental, quality of life, and economic development initiative, it must compete with for scarce resources in an economically constrained budget where there are pressing demands for funds to fix our streets, sidewalks, curbs, and parks and to finance even more increases in salaries and pension contributions.


While it is important that we lobby for Alternative 20 and all the associated benefits, the City needs to realize that it is making a significant long term commitment of operating and capital funds.  As such, in order to avoid another last minute fiscal crunch, long time River Advocate Eric Garcetti and the River’s friends on the City Council need to identify the source of capital and operating funds needed to finance the LA River and, importantly, which existing programs will be short changed.  

Obviously, we must have complete transparency so the ordinary Angeleno can understand the plans and associated costs without the use of an environmental decoder ring. 

Without the support of the already skeptical voters, the multibillion plans for the revitalization of the LA River will be subject to massive controversy, increasing the lack of confidence and trust that we already have in our fiscally irresponsible elected officials.  


In the meantime, you can also sign Eric’s petition To Restore the LA River, the Official Resolution in Support of the Selection of Alternative 20, by clicking this link and following the directions. 


On Thursday, October 17, from 5:30 to 7:30 PM, a meeting will be held in the Atrium at the Los Angeles River Center and Gardens located at 570 West Avenue 26 in the Cypress Park in Los Angeles (90065) to comment for the public record on the Los Angeles Ecosystem Restoration Feasibility Study. 



(Jack Humphreville writes LA Watchdog for CityWatch. He is the President of the DWP Advocacy Committee,  The Ratepayer Advocate for the Greater Wilshire Neighborhood Council, and a Neighborhood Council Budget Advocate. Humphreville is the publisher of the Recycler Classifieds -- www.recycler.com. He can be reached at:  [email protected]. Hear Jack every Tuesday morning at 6:20 on McIntyre in the Morning, KABC Radio 790.) 





Vol 11 Issue 83

Pub: Oct. 15, 2013

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