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Many government agencies and organizations need to work together to make the reimagined river a reality.
Almost 25 years ago, LA County developed a transformative plan to re-envision the river as an ‘urban treasure’ and a ‘valuable natural asset’ that would enrich the quality of life for residents and help to sustain the economy of the region. Since publication, miles of trails have been added for pedestrians and cyclists, and the river has emerged as an iconic presence in Angelenos’ minds. Today, new concerns have shifted from what was once aspirational into something that brings tangible value and improvement to all communities along the river and those who travel along its banks. The LA River Master Plan assembled today has been constructed from robust data sets that have provided clear needs for addressing flood risk, water resources, supporting ecosystems and biodiversity, connectivity, and social health and equity.
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The development of the Master Plan rests on the implementation of policies to achieve these goals, requiring continuing partnerships between 17 river-adjacent municipalities, and the dedicated advocates and institutions that serve the river, communities, and stakeholders. The work embedded in this plan and the accompanying design guidelines considers a broad array of topics from life cycle costs and operations and maintenance requirements to biodiversity, trails construction, and project development. LA County Public Works’ administration of river resources will also require inter-county department coordination with LA County Parks and Recreation as well as novel collaborations with the LA Homeless Services Authority and the LA County Development Authority, among other agencies and departments. Fortunately, this plan is built with the input and integrative vision from all these constituents, which has enabled Public Works to outline cross departmental aims that are grounded in a realistic framework of goals, actions, and methods.
At the time of this writing, reducing flood risk, increasing equity and access, engaging communities, supporting healthy ecosystems, embracing arts and culture, addressing housing and homelessness, improving water supply, and promoting healthy clean water is very much a work in progress. The necessity for implementing the nine goals is of paramount importance to the future of the LA River and LA County.
Despite significant progress, the communities along the LA River are some of the most underserved and most environmentally burdened in the State of California, as illustrated in the CalEnviroScreen 4.0 analysis, which compares environmental conditions and social factors in communities across the state. Industrial land uses, which are often incompatible with river park uses and community health, can cause increased pollution and are common along the river in many neighborhoods. Southern California is experiencing one of the worst housing crises in its history, including as many as 70,000 people who are experiencing homelessness, many thousands without any shelter at all. The river is a major player in many of these issues. Through the development of a connective 51-mile park for all of LA County, health outcomes along the most environmentally burdened corridor of the county will be significantly improved, reducing incidence of cardiovascular diseases and diabetes.
The river will become a force for equity and provide natural and recreational open space for millions. Biodiversity and meaningful habitat will be enhanced and protected along critical river reaches, and flood risk mitigation measures will incorporate planning for climate change, increases in heat, sea level rise, and changes to precipitation and land use patterns. The creation of this valuable asset will also come with river improvement strategies that seek to mitigate economic displacement and protect the affordable housing stock of communities.
The plan has been fundamentally created on a proposition to create value for all regardless of circumstance. The LA River Master Plan will reach its true potential in the coming years when vision, policy, and funding actualize real projects on the river for Angelenos to experience.