New L.A. River funding brings new questions


From top left, clockwise, the tranquility of carp-filled pools, at the beginning of Glendale Narrows. Once you get past the city locks, you can see self-shadows and nifty bridge architecture. (Jim Burns)

The Buddhists say that the curse of the human realm is change. And if you live long enough, you tend to agree with them.

Of course, even if you haven’t lived a long time, only a fool won’t recognize that change comes in two flavors: good and bad. Maybe some would quibble with me and argue change can be neutral, but those changes aren’t the ones any of us remember. A neutral change is akin to no change. Most of us see the world in Manichaean terms — a big word for good versus evil. Change is flavored by one side or the other.

Maybe that’s a tad too much philosophy for a Monday morning, perhaps a shadow of tomorrow’s election, but change felt palpable on the river this weekend, and I wondered which flavor it would eventually be.

I took advantage of the 80-degree weather to explore three favorite fishy spots, looking for carp. One thing that doesn’t change — I often get skunked by these elusive fish. Water in the Glendale Narrows section is two-to-three feet deep in most spots. Consequently, fish see you as quickly as you spot them. And, at least on the fly, sight fishing is the best way to land one, and it has certain risks.

My boots scraped down the river’s  rip-rap skin, close to the giant bunkerlike concrete abutments that once held electric Red Line tracks, jutting out from the old Glendale Avenue bridge. There, the wide concrete swatch of the river’s artificial bottom is entirely concrete, and as I watched the water’s constant flow, I realized this vista I’d taken for granted was vulnerable to change.

By now, if you follow “riverly” events, you know that clothier Miss Me has  breathed new life into the stalled keystone environmental feasibility study with a substantial gift. As Molly Peterson reported for KPCC: “The Army Corps of Engineers study, nicknamed  ARBOR (Alternative with Restoration Benefits and Opportunities for Revitalization), was $970,000 short of the $9.7 million needed to proceed.”

And the clothing company has offered almost $1 million to close that funding gap. The Corps lead planner Kathleen Bergmann recently told me that the money has to pass through some approval hoops. “We are moving forward on last year’s funds.  While funds have been offered, we must receive permission to receive those funds, and sign an agreement.  Congress has set up a very precise method for doing this, and must be notified as well. We are in the process of taking those steps to get approval to receive the funds.”

So green is green, and it’s great to know that the money is finally available, even given the ridiculous amount of time it’s taken to fully fund the study during the Great Recession.

“Remember that the fundamental purpose of the Study is to improve the ecosystem values in the LA River– and that means riparian habitat that is good for wildlife, including fish species,” said Carol Armstrong, director of the Los Angeles River Project office. “The Study will go public with its alternatives early next year. Once finished, it will recommend one of those as its recommended project, which will then go to Washington, DC, for approval by the federal powers-that-be. So, those alternatives are under development now. Basically we’re moving from Study to Project now that the Study is fully funded.”

I believe it’s a given that at least sections of concrete are on their way out. Since I began this post on a mystical note, look at the signs.

– The Paddle the River program, although only around for eight weeks a year, is in its second year, with a five-year contract. Now apparently,  program leaders have aspirations to paddle the seven miles of Glendale Narrows as well.

– Gov. Jerry Brown signed SB1201 into law this year, which broadens the L.A. County Dept. of Public Works 100-year-old mission of flood control and storm water management to include education and recreation. Friends of the L.A. River and UCLA’s Environmental Law Clinic spearheaded the effort that was then introduced by State Senator Kevin de Leon.

– I haven’t heard of any tickets being issued to those plying the river’s bottom during the last few years.

– Also, I haven’t heard of LAPD harassment of activists since Jenny Price’s  river tour was disrupted over a turf war some three years ago.

Add to all that Arroyo Seco Foundation Exec Tim Brick’s recent grant acquisition of over $3 million to improve the Hahamongna watershed above JPL in Pasadena. As he wrote me in an email, “A key goal of this project is to improve conditions for the trout and other fish in the Arroyo stream.  The water intake facilities were not designed to protect the fish, but we want to change that by redesigning the facilities and improving the habitat there. This brief video shows the facilities and the area to be improved: Water Facilities in Hahamongna Canyon.”

It’s time for optimism, to see the change as very good. In other words, this puppy is going to happen, because after decades of inertia, the political will has arrived to bring in the bucks.

But am I the only one who gets a little nervous with big money?

As I trudged along in the autumn heat, marveling at this wonderful liquid behemoth, I wondered what the change would actually look like, and I felt that nagging bite of Manichaeism again. I want to be able to fly fish, enjoy the din of the I-5, ponder the eastern vistas of Griffith Park. I don’t want to buy souvenir T-shirts a la San Antonio’s River Walk stalls, although enjoying a crafted beer by water’s edge wouldn’t be all bad.

So let me ask you, what do you want?

– See you on the river, Jim Burns

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3 thoughts on “New L.A. River funding brings new questions

  1. Jim,

    I can’t help but continue to believe that this will be for the better. At least the attention your River is achieving must bring positive change. Of course things are dynamic but now the pendulum seems to swing in your favor all in all.

    Gregg

  2. Jim,

    Thanks for this post. I’m a little nervous too but I knew things had to turn. I could feel it. Nature seems to be encouraged by these recent happenings so I’m going go with it. The crows have spoken along side “the din of the I-5″ …haha.

  3. The sense that this is something special returns as we moor our boats and slosh ashore, inspecting plants, a turtle shell, a cascade, before resuming the journey. It is difficult to believe that the 405 freeway, the gridlocked bane of LA motorists, is just a mile away. Three hours later we return to where we started, a swampy bank, and moor the kayaks amid some ducks. The tour is over. We saw nothing that would excite David Attenborough. But we glimpsed another LA, one not consumed by automobiles, or turned into a strip mall, where nature and human optimism thrive in a watery realm, an ever so slightly mystic river.

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