CD14 City Council Candidates Respond to River Questionnaire

In the spirit of encouraging robust participation in our local democracy, Friends of the LA River distributed a five-subject questionnaire to all certified candidates for public office in Council Districts 2, 4, 12 and 14. Find your Council District here. The following responses were received from candidates in CD14. Read their responses below.

Candidates for CD14 City Council

FoLAR: In 30 years, dramatic changes have occurred on the Los Angeles River that have created new spaces for public to gather, and for plant and wildlife habitat. Public interest in seeing a vibrant restoration of the LA River is evergrowing and stretches of the River in Council District 14 will be central to restoration efforts. Please share your vision for the River’s future and what you see as the ideal balance between nature and infrastructure.

Mónica García: In the coming years, what LA does with the River will reflect who we are   community. I believe we need to bring people together to restore the River’s   ecology, preserve near-by communities, and provided park space for those   communities and the rest of LA.

Kevin De León: I believe that we share a vision of restoration and access for the LA River.  A shared vision that began for me when FOLAR and Lewis McAdams helped establish that the State of California would recognize the Los Angeles River as a river, and not just a flood control channel. As your State Senator I was proud to introduce and pass SB 1201 – the L.A. River Access bill – on behalf of FoLAR and, if elected to be your voice in city hall, I will continue to be a champion for the restoration of the LA River.

Our next step is to continue working towards the vision of an emerald necklace that would connect communities from the Sepulveda Basin to Long Beach. A vison that includes access for park-poor and disadvantaged communities that suffer the brunt of the negative effects of our poor air quality and lack of green space.

Cyndi Otteson: My vision for the river’s future sees a transformative restoration that balances new recreation opportunities, green space and parks, and development that is smart, ecologically sensitive, and is guided by a long-view, comprehensive vision that prioritizes ethics and equity.

A comprehensive vision for the river’s future must take into account that the CD14 communities along the LA River have called it home decades before “riverfront property” was a hot item. Ecological restoration cannot be a death knell for these neighborhoods, many of which are already seeing displacement of low-income residents. These are also neighborhoods that have been disproportionately burdened by pollution from the surrounding freeways (2, 5, 110), the former Taylor Switching Yard, and existing Metrolink Central Maintenance Facility. We must bring the kind of equity to these neighborhoods that organizations such as East Yard Communities for Environmental Justice have been fighting so hard for, so that needed ecological improvements can benefit existing residents and their children and grandchildren.

The Los Angeles River is a natural connector for Los Angeles, and the creation of bicycle and pedestrian bridges are enhancing the links between neighborhoods such as Atwater and Elysian Valley. And yet, the city’s overall cycling, pedestrian and transit infrastructure is hampering safe, sustainable access. Anticipating the completion of the shared bike and pedestrian path with direct connectivity to Long Beach, the city must work to ensure that actually getting to this path is safe for all modes of transit. Plenty of cyclists drive to Griffith Park, then ride the path for recreation, but what about the LA River path as real transportation? Creating complete streets with traffic calming, safe crossing, and protected bike lanes is critical so that Angelenos can connect to the river path without having to drive.

Raquel Zamora: The Vision that I have for the Los Angeles River is that it continues to be accessible to residents in the Fourteenth Council District as a natural venue where families can enjoy its history and more importantly coexist and respect the preservation of the plant and wildlife. If elected I would like to pursue future funding to upgrade the existing river and improve upon the infrastructure into more green space and walkways for residents of Council District 14 and all Angelinos to enjoy. I would also like to see a small information center where children can go on tours and learn of the type of wildlife that frequent or live on the LA River and the type of plant life that exist.

FoLAR: The City is underway designing the usage of 42 acres of open space at Taylor Yards G2. Last year, they put forward three preliminary design concepts, FoLAR published an op-ed calling for the abandonment of one of the options and supporting the two options that offer concrete removal at the site. To date, over 3,000 supporters have signed FoLAR’s petition calling for concrete removal at the G2 site. What is your preferred design option and why?

Mónica García: I am open to both the Soft Edge and Island concepts. I want to understand more about the ecological impact of each approach. I do believe the Soft Edge  approach with it terraces along the River’s edge is more intriguing for park visitors.  

Kevin De León: I have a vested interest in the G2 parcel and helped secure half of the purchase through state funds. I would like to take a closer look at all the design concepts to ensure that we are leveraging all the available funds for ground water replenishment, treatment, and stormwater capture. I am a supporter of designs similar to the “soft edge” and have helped fund similar bio-swell and replenishment projects at Marsh Park phase I & II. I would like to continue to build innovative parks that help us adapt to climate change while diverting precious ground water back into our aquifers that have sat dormant and polluted for far too long. As they say, the solution to pollution is dilution. Our parks and open space designs need to reflect that the LA River is a river and not a stormwater channel.

Cyndi Otteson: This vital project would not be happening without FOLAR’s decades of advocacy and community engagement to restore our city’s connection to the river. As the CD14 Councilwoman, I’ll support the “soft edge” design, as it offers the most natural,
maximum climate cooling, water flow, and wildlife habitat restoration. As we get closer to the final phase, I would look directly to FOLAR for guidance. Together, we can advocate for a final design that prioritizes our current climate crisis, minimizes concrete in anticipation of hotter years to come, and allows for maximum rainwater reclamation through bioswales and the best design to replenish our diminishing water table.

Restoring the natural habitat at G2 should bring much-deserved environmental justice to Cypress Park and Elysian Valley — two neighborhoods that have taken more than their fair share of the city’s industrial and air pollution burden — that actually benefits existing residents, not prospective developers. As a grassroots, 100% clean-money candidate, who has not taken any campaign contributions from real estate developers, corporate interests, or water companies (like Cadiz, who tried to pull water from the Mojave
Desert), I will work alongside FOLAR out in the open, to seek the best design that
restores our river and its neighborhoods.

Raquel Zamora: Of the three designs that the City has put forward, I lean towards the Soft Edge design, because it prioritizes ecological restoration and removal of concrete on the east bank of the river. It also contains wetland restoration, water treatment and promotes an abundance of native plants. I especial like the prioritizing of public access to the river with recreation amenities, space for exhibitions, amphitheaters, cafes and walking trails. I believe that families and youth in Council District Fourteenth would benefit greatly from this design. I also do not want to see the loss of federal matching funds intended for river rehabilitation.

FoLAR: River advocates have successfully pushed state and city agencies to see their adjacent park lands in the mid-River a part of 100 continuous acres of open space. A private luxury development, known as Casitas Lofts, threatens access at the north end of the 100 continuous acres, and has inspired a coalition of advocates to oppose this development, as is. Please explain how you would balance the need for housing development, with environmental health and restoration, climate resilience, and equitable public access to our natural resources with respect to River-adjacent developments.

Mónica García: We need to preserve and better the working class communities along the LA River. The River should not be yet, but another opportunity for irresponsible developers. We have more than enough places to build in LA the housing we need. We do not have enough park spaces.   

Kevin De León: In the midst of a homelessness and housing crisis, Luxury development is a non-starter for me. We need to balance access and preservation of green and open space with need for affordable housing. I would explore options to protect the renters, who are the most vulnerable to serious threats of displacement as property values along the river continue to rise.

Cyndi Otteson: First of all, developers who contribute to political campaigns hold too much sway over our current City Council. My commitment to an all-clean-money campaign means that I will approach any development in CD14 with a focus on putting our families and neighborhoods first, and making sure that any projects proposed and built in CD14, large or small, are a net win for residents. That includes making sure that a historically underserved and environmentally burdened community doesn’t lose out on the benefits of river restoration: The greatest drawback of Casitas Lofts is the potential for this luxury site to hamper free and fair access to a newly beautified area, and does not become a repeat of longstanding battles at the Coastal commission regarding beach access. The L.A. River can’t become Malibu East, but that takes Councilmembers who pay attention, and take the long view, with their eyes on equity and social justice.

Raquel Zamora: In the City and especially in Council District14 there is a dire need to preserve and develop open space. I for one do not support developments such as the Casitas Lofts, and it is my understanding that there is a 60% vacancy rate of existing lofts in the City. Lofts merely price families out that can’t meet market rates. If there were a need for that type of development along the river I would advocate for single-family cabins or possibly workforce development affordable single-family river homes. I do not support loft developments as the 14th Council District is already dense and there are many vacancies in Downtown Los Angeles, as folks cannot meet the market rates.

FoLAR: Los Angeles City and the US Army Corps of Engineers agreed in 2016 to an ambitious ecological restoration plan along the LA River (also known as ARBOR). Currently LA County is conducting an update to its own River Master Plan with the intention of “synthesizing more recent ideas for portions of the River and bringing a comprehensive vision to the transformation of the LA River.” Questions remain unanswered however as to how ARBOR will be realized within the County’s new updated plan. Please explain how, in your capacity as an elected city leader, you view these plans interacting, and your priority for planning City-sections of the River.

Mónica García: I would create a task force of County leaders, community leaders and city leaders  that all have a stake in this restoration process. Coordination and coalition  building of the different levels of government and community organizations is the  inside-outside strategy that I employ for change and progress. I believe that we  will be most efficient and effective when we work together, especially for this  transformation project of the LA River. 

Kevin De León: The Army Corp of Engineers’ “veto” power creates an inbalanced joint powers authority. We need to work with our colleagues on the Federal level that can provide the resources and guidance needed to prioritize the ARBOR. We have a fellow River Champion in Congressman Jimmy Gomez, who has endorsed my candidacy, and we will work towards prioritizing projects in sections of the river that have the greatest potential for positive transformation.

Cyndi Otteson: As a Los Angeles City Councilmember, my overarching goal is to ensure that any revitalization plan for the L.A. River benefits existing communities along the river, which are greenspace- and park-poor, and whose families deserve the hard-won benefits of the de-industrialization that such plans promise. As Councilmembers, we must make sure any proposed development compliments and revitalizes the neighborhood, rather than pushing people out.

A common first reaction to the (necessary) rewriting of the County’s 24-year-old LA River Master Plan is, “What, another plan?”. As Curbed LA put it, “The county estimates that as the river flows for 51 miles from the San Fernando Valley to Long Beach, it snakes through areas already covered by some 114 community, regional, and river-related plans, as well as bike and pedestrian plans, general plans, and design guidelines .”

If I could snap my fingers, I’d conjure an independent L.A. River Czar – or at least a blue-ribbon commission of no more than 3 people – who could corral all the various river plans into an orderly and efficient system that absorbs and prioritizes public input into an ethical and intelligent course of action, one that balances private and public interests and results in an L.A. river that changes the face of our region and is a shining example for the ages.

However, the City of Los Angeles does not “own” the river, and the list of agencies and municipalities guiding its future seem to grow exponentially as the potential profit of the river’s revitalization, both financial and social, becomes apparent. It is especially concerning when blue-chip architectural firms and real estate developers get into the mix, since their interests do not necessarily intersect with the public’s.

In Council District 14 and on the City Council as a whole, we can do the next best thing to a River Czar by making sure we hire and assign experts in river issues to full-time positions that keep track of the latest developments, and who look at the river as a City-owned entity that crosses boundaries and touches other agencies, akin to an airport like LAX. That way, we in the City of Los Angeles need to focus on what we can control, and advocate for what we can influence.

Raquel Zamora: If I am elected to represent the Fourteenth Council District, I would first like to meet with the Supervisor of the First Supervisorial District to discuss the County’s Master Plan as it pertains to the Los Angeles River and those of the City. I believe that working collaboratively with the County and instructing city department to work alongside the county departments we can achieve an equitable design that both local governments and river advocates can be proud of where future generations of Angelinos can enjoy.

FoLAR: This April marks the 50th Anniversary of Earth Day, and FoLAR’s 31st annual Great LA River CleanUp. Every year, 6,000 volunteers come together to make a positive impact on our River’s health by removing plastic waste from our urban ecosystem. Individual volunteers are doing their part, but greater government action is needed. Please share your plans for reducing plastics and shifting the culture of waste in the City of Los Angeles.

Mónica García: We have as a city made progress banning bags and straws. The rest of the state  is poised to follow our lead. A non-plastic future is possible. We need to continue  to work to eliminate single use plastics.  

Kevin De León: I have had the honor of participating in “La Gran Limpieza” and the LA river cleanup throughout my career and I look forward to many more.

Times have changed from the first cleanups that would haul in shopping carts and entire vehicles from the river. We are now facing the scourge of smaller particles and microplastics that pollute or ecosystem and get into our food supply.

I was the co-author of the statewide single-use plastic bag ban and would consider similar efforts for other single use products. We also need to explore treating storm water runoff before it gets into the river and cultivating biological filters can break down some pollutants.

Cyndi Otteson: Single-use plastics are the next big battle on the zero-waste horizon. For strategy, the City of L.A. can look to the non-profit 5 Gyres and their “TrashBlitz,” which functions as a brand audit, shifting the burden of plastic pollution from the individual consumer back to the producer. In other words, “If you make something with plastic, you’ve got to have a lifecycle plan for it.” We can also do what Santa Monica and San Francisco have already done, getting city entities off of single-use plastic water bottles and making sure we aren’t inventing a new industry of lingering “greenwashed” plastic items.

The City Council as a whole can advocate for current proposed legislation on closing the recycling loop in Los Angeles, including SB54 and AB1080. We should also celebrate — and advertise — the fact that the plastic bag ban is working; groups who do river and beach cleanups see demonstrably fewer of them. The plastic bag ban would be working even better were it not for the loopholes provided to plastic bag manufacturers to make “reusable” plastic bags.

The City of LA can also fast-track a ban on polystyrene — but only if we elect Councilmembers who don’t take money from polystyrene companies and the fossil fuel industry, which wants to see a rise in plastic product creation to secure a need for petroleum as electric and other no-emission vehicles come on line. Note that the fossil fuel industry’s tentacles touch even “green” candidates in the CD14 race, who have taken money from car-parking companies and their CEOs, including a job-killing automated car parking company. As a clean-money Councilwoman, I will work with integrity and clear focus to solve our city’s problems, and to help transform L.A. into the national ecological leader it aspires to be.

Raquel Zamora: Because I am a public school teacher and Counselor I believe that education and engagement are two key factors in changing the culture and habits. I would like to work in collaborations with our public schools in educating students on Earth day but actually becoming active participants in clean up efforts with Los Angeles river advocates. I would also like to start an aggressive campaign for residents of the Fourteenth Council District on the need to recycle and reduce waste. I would also like to have a dedicated bulky item pick-up crew in the district to retrieve bulky items within 48 hours.

Other Responses

John Jimenez: After reading what the FOLAR does it seems that its a great task and challenging! “IF” I am voted into the Council District 14, as a City Councilman all resources at my hands would be right behind you in ensuring we work together to make it a better place and cleaner environment as it should of been done way before this FOLAR put their stake into these challenges! Keeping clean has been a great task for everyone coming together to make it a better site than it was before and as time passes on it would all have been rewarding!
If, I took to long to reply please forgive me. I had to read and see with my very own eyes before I could come to terms with this wondeerful project! What touched my heart was the little ones kids being part of this challenges in trying to keep it clean! I say you got my support to be part of this project because there are revenues which can be allocated just need to cut the fat from wasteful City revenues by senseless spending by some elected Official!
Our City Mayor just endorsed Kevin de Leon whom had the opportunity to help out with every single City problem when he was a State Assemblyman then later became a State Senator etc. I see another coming years of a repeated Antonio V. all over again if he becomes Elected. A self-serving Candidate!
Monica G. is part of the Antonio Klan because Antonio knew his backup had to be his “PEOPLE”, not for the “PEOPLES” interest. I was born and raised in the CD 14. (Vote4JohnJimenez4CD14) I am a Senior Citizen with 15 years as a volunteer without pay and 30 years with pay as the Executive ProjectDirector of a nonprofit organization dealing with multiple tasks! I am with 45 years of experience serving the General Public! Share it with others for us to “WIN”.

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Marissa Christiansen is the Executive Director of Friends of the LA River (FoLAR). Prior to FoLAR, she held roles in policy, advocacy and development at XPRIZE and the Los Angeles County Bicycle Coalition, among others. Her deep abiding love for LA began at USC where she earned her Master’s in Urban Planning [fight on]. Her inner compass and lifelong passion for counter-culture has magnetized her to the nonprofit world. A proud California native, her primary inspiration is the beauty of our natural landscape – gripped by color and texture, obsessed with the unexpected and overlooked. So to help guide the movement centered on LA’s most diversely textured and inconspicuously beautiful resource is basically her dream come true.

Andrea describes herself as a pragmatic idealist and left her early years in investment banking/consulting to bring appropriate business acumen to the task of social and environmental change. She is excited by bold, scalable solutions to systemic challenges. Andrea fell in love with the L.A. River on a tour of it with FOLAR founder Lewis MacAdams. Since then, she has been annoying everyone at FOLAR with her insistence that Long Beach is the center of the universe. When Andrea is not analyzing spreadsheets and creating policy and budgets for FOLAR, she can usually be found near or in the ocean with her husband and their young son.

One of Shelly’s earliest memories is catching a bird in her bare hands. After a weekend birding trip to Mono Lake she was hooked. It’s just one of the reasons she is so passionate about plans and projects that re-create wetland habitat along the Los Angeles River. Shelly shares this enthusiasm at any opportunity whether it’s leading a tour, running a field trip activity with elementary school children or meeting a community member on the Los Angeles River Rover. If you see Shelly out on the River don’t be surprised to hear her squeal, “Oh, look! There’s an osprey!” and she’ll talk about what it was like being out on the River with biologists during FoLAR’s first fish study. She knows that a swimmable, fishable, boatable Los Angeles River is possible, just ask her about what the time she fell out of a kayak in the Glendale Narrows.

Ivana was born and raised in Southern California, with a brief stint at a young age in her family’s native northern Mexico. Both regions inspired an early love for all things nature – from the wildlands just a stone’s throw away from either city, to the urban wildlife that calls Los Angeles home. Inspired by this love, she graduated from USC with a degree in environmental studies and was part of a pioneering team that helped launch the Audubon Center at Debs Park, an environmental education center in Northeast LA. Today, you’ll find Ivana connecting donors to FoLAR’s mission, often on a kayak, immersing them in the River’s beauty.

Chris is an LA native who grew up in near the River and developed a passionate love for all things Los Angeles. He’s dedicated to public service and has worked with organizations from his old high school’s Science Bowl Team to the American Red Cross. At FOLAR you can find Chris working to keep the community connected to FOLAR’s work. Whether it’s working up with the Policy team to activate the community in the fight for river restoration or putting out the call to gather for the next big LA River event, Chris in the middle of the action.

Native Angelino, Johanna has lived her entire life in her beloved birth city. In the midst of earning her Psychology degree from Antioch University, Johanna took a course on the Los Angeles River. The course exposed Johanna to a bounty of interesting facets of The River and more importantly, the effects The River has on the lives of Angelenos. She fell head over heels in love with the Los Angeles River and her commitment to the LA River was born. The Frog Spot was inspired and born of Johanna’s desire to marry the Los Angeles River with the community through art, music, local history and native culture. Johanna has also curated Fandango since conception and been on all efforts to grow the Great LA River CleanUp: La Gran Limpieza.

As Policy & Advocacy Manager, Stephen helps support and lead the execution of FOLAR’s policy and advocacy initiatives. As a native Angeleno, Stephen places special emphasis on the inclusion of underserved communities in environmental discourse. For the past 5 years he’s worked throughout LA County building watershed literacy, inspiring local stewardship and empowering community voices of all ages in local watershed planning efforts. He’s pretty stubborn about the connection between social and environmental health, the importance of acknowledging injustice, and the strength of optimism and hope. When he’s not being dramatic, you can find him riding his bike, exploring the city or some hidden park. He’s also a sucker for board games, maps, street art, food, and good company.

For the past decade, Mr. Bowling has been working at FOLAR on various River projects. From managing fish studies to creating the First-Ever catch and release fishing derby on the L.A. River to presentations on river history, you can really ask him anything. William provides support for educators from K to College by bringing a detailed river curriculum followed by a visit from FOLAR’s mobile museum, the Los Angeles River Rover to schools and community events within the watershed. You may also find him hosting several River tours each year; in person and in Virtual Reality.

Galina grew up in Northern California, and developed a reverence for nature among our great state’s rivers, lakes, and ancient forests. Prior to joining FOLAR, Galina worked for the Downtown Women’s Center in LA’s Skid Row. She joined DWC’s development team in the throes of a 35m dollar capital campaign which ultimately provided 71 new units of permanent supportive housing for homeless women. Over three years at DWC, she recognized her passion for nonprofit development and its essential power to enact positive change. She loves the tranquility the River brings amidst the bustling city, and enjoys bird watching along its banks. You can find Galina writing grant proposals and working with donors, in service to a shared vision of a healthy, dignified LA River for generations to come.

Alexandra is an administrative assistant for Friends of the LA River. She was one of many Angelenos who didn’t know a Los Angeles River existed, but as soon as she was introduced she fell in love with the beauty of it. Inspired by all of the dedication and passion from Friends of the LA River, she made her way into the family and now proudly works hand in hand with founder Lewis MacAdams and the rest of the FOLAR to continue the artwork that Lewis began.

Liliana has always had a passion for working with the environment, from teaching SCUBA diving to identifying microalgae in a landfill. When Liliana returned home to Los Angeles, after completing her Masters in Europe, her eyes were widened by the lack of access her fellow Angelenos had to nature. Working as the Director of Policy at FoLAR, she is given the opportunity to connect her community with the environment and provide a voice for the River. Liliana is excited to be doing work around the River, as it has infinite opportunities to promote community engagement and bring all Angelenos closer to nature.

Lewis MacAdams is an American poet, journalist, political activist and journalist. In 1986, MacAdams created Friends of the LA River, a “forty-year artwork” to bring the Los Angeles River back to life. In the years since, FOLAR has become the River’s most important and influential advocate, with an E- newsletter and social media that reaches over 60,000 people. Among FOLAR’s many projects are “La Gran Limpieza,” the Great Los Angeles River Clean-Up, the largest urban river clean-up in the United States; a summer length riverfront cabaret, The Frog Spot, that has welcomed nearly 40,000 visitors; a collaboration with the Aquarium of the Pacific, a K-12 “River School” outdoor education curriculum; the “Los Angeles River Rover,” a 38-foot recreational vehicle designed as a mobile classroom; and the first reports on legal access to fishing on the L.A.River. His pamphlet, D-Town Visions: Building A City The River Can Be Proud Of, was published at the beginning of 2008 by The Natural Resources Defense Council. Friends of the LA River was able to organize and lead multi-ethnic, multi-racial, multi-class coalitions that stopped major riverfront industrial developments leading to the creation of a pair of State parks in the Cornfield and the Taylor railroad yards.

He is currently on the Board of Directors of Friends of the LA River and centers his time on his book Poetry and Politics, a clear depiction of his lifelong work.

Charles has spent his career as an environmental and natural resources attorney, as a manager of businesses in those fields, and in the development of nonprofit organizations. Coming to Los Angeles and a neighborhood abutting the Los Angeles River in 1980, he became interested in the river and its potential while exploring and using adjacent roadways for biking and hiking. Before moving to Los Angeles, his career was spent in public service in Washington D.C., holding policy positions in the Department of the Interior and the Council on Environmental Quality, and working with nonprofit organizations. His work since has spanned businesses in environmental and alternative and conventional energy technology and energy conservation. He graduated from Cornell University Law School in 1970, holds a degree in international relations from the University of Colorado, and served as a U.S. Navy officer. Since associating with FoLAR in 2009, he has worked on policy and legislation to open the river for public access and use and for river restoration.

Paul Keller has over thirty years of experience in real estate and construction industries and is a founding Principal of Mack Urban, LLC. He is involved with the firms’ strategic direction, capital market relationships and tactical management of all Mack Urban investments.

Mr. Keller formerly led Urban Partners, Keller Equity Group, Keller CMS and Keller Construction Company. Mr. Keller and Keller-related entities have been responsible for over 2,000 projects in the continental United States and Hawaii and have provided program development, project and construction management oversight services to a variety of clients on projects valued in excess of seven billion dollars.

Mr. Keller is highly regarded in the industry for his comprehensive grasp of asset and project management details and his ability to match leasing, construction and financing requirements.

Among his activities, Mr. Keller is a member of ULI (Urban Land Institute) Los Angeles Advisory Board; ULI Los Angeles Land Use Leadership Committee; member of The Los Angeles Coalition for the Economy and Jobs; board member of the L.A. Streetcar Initiative (LASI); board member of FOLAR (Friends of the L.A. River) and a member of the Central City Association of Los Angeles and a board member of Friends of Waterfront Seattle.

Previous community leadership roles include: Chairman of Eimago (formerly Union Rescue Mission Foundation) and former Chairman of the Board of Directors, Seven Arrows Elementary School in Pacific Palisades, California.

M-K O’Connell joined M2O, Inc. as a Managing Director in 2009. The firm invests in growth business, particularly those in which a founder is looking to transition his or her company to the next generation of entrepreneurs. M-K is responsible for meeting with potential entrepreneurs and helping them source acquisition opportunities. He also helps ensure a smooth transition from the founder to the new management team.

When he is not monitoring the progress of portfolio companies, M-K can often be found wandering the trails of Griffith Park with his dog and two children. Of course, you’ll find the whole family plucking refuse from the river at the Glendale Narrows during the annual Grand Limpieza.

M-K received his B.S, magna cum laude, from Boston College and his MBA from The Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania where he was the recipient of the Thomas P. Gerrity Leadership Award.

Mr. Bar-Zemer is the principal at Linear City Development LLC, a real estate development company that focuses on the revitalization of Downtown Los Angeles. Bar-Zemer developed the initial properties that touched off the Arts District and have since led a transformative urban and social process that contributed to a unique urban success story. As a result of his development efforts, the Arts District is considered one of the most desirable neighborhoods in Los Angeles for residential, commercial, culinary and retail uses alike. In addition, Mr. Bar-Zemer is the landlord partner of several notable restaurants including Bestia, Church & State, and Winsome.

Mr. Bar-Zemer was born and raised in Jerusalem. He attended the Music Academy of Jerusalem (1983-86) and continues to be an avid supporter of the arts here in Los Angeles, particularly jazz and opera, as well as dance and the fine arts.

Mr. Bar-Zemer is a board member of the following organizations: LARABA, ADCCLA, Arts District BID, Historic Cultural Neighborhood Council, Impact Hub LA, the Institute of Field Research, Friends of the LA River, the Institute of Contemporary Art (formerly the Santa Monica Museum of Art, the Toy Factory Lofts HOA, the Biscuit Company Lofts HOA, the Design Advisory Committee for the Sixth Street Viaduct Replacement Project, the Technical Advisory Committee for the In-Channel Bike Path and the Preservation Zoning Advisory Committee (ZAC) for re:code LA.

Mr. Bar-Zemer is also the co-founder of the app Kitchen Table, which brings people together to share dining experiences, make memorable meals accessible and easy, and redefine what it means to eat local. Yuval is passionate about the future of cities, in particular about Los Angeles and the possibility of the River connecting residents and inspiring diverse mobility.

Ruth Coleman has held positions in the public and nonprofit sector for twenty-six years. Currently, Ms. Coleman serves as the Executive Director of the Relationship Coffee Institute (RCI), the non-profit affiliate of Sustainable Harvest Coffee Importers. In this capacity, she is responsible for overseeing the organization’s operations and managing strategic relationships. In 2013 The Relationship Coffee Institute was selected by Bloomberg Philanthropies to bring its innovative economic Relationship Model of development to low-income rural women based in Rwanda. Ms. Coleman manages multi-year project to improve the livelihoods of 25,000 low-income Rwandan women coffee farmers through training and connecting the farmers to the international market.

Prior to joining RCI, she served for ten years as Director of the California Department of Parks and Recreation. Earlier in her career she worked for the California Legislature as a fiscal analyst as well as a natural resources policy advisor.

Ruth was a Peace Corps volunteer in Swaziland, Africa. She is a graduate of Occidental College and has a Master in Public Administration from the Harvard Kennedy School.

Jennifer Wangers was instrumental in creating Sierra Club Green Home, the first-ever social entrepreneurship model attempted by the Sierra Club in its 124-year history. The purpose of is to enlighten the average American about sustainable practices in their home and daily lifestyle. After running for five years, Jennifer sold the site to digital marketing aggregator Fractl.

Jennifer studied environmental design and sustainability at Art Center College of Design in Pasadena. Following Art Center, she earned a Masters in Urban Planning and Sustainable Design at the University of California, Irvine. Jennifer is a LEED Accredited Practitioner. Ms. Wangers earned a Fulbright Scholarship in 2013-14 which she performed in Israel to teach a water management at Arava Institute in the Southern Israeli desert. Jennifer is a widely quoted media analyst and was previously a frequent green expert guest on ABC’s Good Morning America.

Away from work, Jennifer follows art and design avidly, serves on the Friends of the L.A. River Board, and is a long time hobbyist pilot trained in a Cirrus SR-22T, Cessna 414 and Beechcraft Duchess multi-engine aircraft.

It is Jennifer’s firm belief that with the right tools and education, women have infinite potential. Entity is founded on the concept that building and refining lifelong skills as well as positive character traits will greatly enhance your future. Suffice it to say, Jennifer is a woman that does.

Alex Ward is an architect with over thirty-five years of experience designing projects from Tokyo and Beijing to Hong Kong and London, New York, Chicago and Los Angeles, including airports, churches, private homes, office towers, stage sets and bridges. He has lectured and taught design at schools from the Rhode Island School of Design to Cal Poly Pomona. He has installed solar panels on roofs in underserved neighborhoods for Grid Alternatives. A hiker and bird-watcher and avid student of urban design, he believes that a restored Los Angeles River is a vital part of the future of the city of Los Angeles and region.

Damon Nagami is a Senior Attorney and director of NRDC’s Southern California Ecosystems Project, which focuses on wildlife preservation, parkland protection, and sustainable land-use planning. Most recently, he has been fighting to prevent a toll road from paving over California’s San Onofre State Beach and working with communities to evaluate potential routes for a proposed high-speed rail line through downtown Los Angeles. Nagami also codirects NRDC’s Community Fracking Defense Project, which helps local residents and elected officials across the country exercise their democratic voice to protect their communities from the harms of industrial fracking. He holds a bachelor’s degree in environmental science from the University of California, Berkeley, and a J.D. from the University of California’s Hastings College of the Law. He works in NRDC’s Santa Monica office.

Nestor Enrique Valencia is a champion of social causes, including health care quality, the environment, public safety, and youth and senior programs. Endorsed by the Los Angeles County Democratic Party, he served as Bell’s Mayor and as a member of the Bell City Council until his retirement from public service in 2020. He is also a full time health care administrator.

Mia Lehrer leads Studio-MLA through the design and development of a diverse range of ambitious public and private projects that include urban revitalization developments such as Hollywood Park and San Pedro Waterfront, large urban parks such as Vista Hermosa Park in Los Angeles and Orange County Great Park at the El Toro Marine Base, and complex commercial projects like a Bio-tech Corporate Campus in Thousand Oaks. In recent years, several interesting historic renovation projects have been added to her repertoire; these include Union Station in downtown Los Angeles, the glamorous Hollywood Roosevelt Hotel, and Santee Court, an urban housing development that pays tribute to its interesting context – L.A.’s fashion district.  Studio-MLA is a consultant for the Los Angeles River Revitalization Master Plan, leading efforts to identify and plan a comprehensive open space network that interfaces with channel restoration and urbanism.

Jon Christensen is an adjunct assistant professor in the Institute of the Environment and Sustainability, the Department of History, and the Center for Digital Humanities at UCLA. He is a founder of the Laboratory for Environmental Narrative Strategies in the IoES, and a senior fellow in UCLA’s cityLAB. He is editor of LENS Magazine, and a consulting producer for KCET/LinkTV’s “Earth Focus” programming, produced in collaboration with the Thomson Reuters Foundation. He is also a partner and strategic adviser at Stamen Design, a National Design Award-winning interactive design and technology firm specializing in mapping, data visualization, and strategic communications.

Jon was executive director of the Bill Lane Center for the American West, an interdisciplinary center for research, teaching, new media, and journalism at Stanford University before coming to UCLA. He has been an environmental journalist and science writer for more than 30 years. His work has appeared in The New York Times, Nature, High Country News, and many other newspapers, magazines, journals, and radio and television shows. He was a Knight Journalism Fellow at Stanford in 2002-2003 and a Steinbeck Fellow at San Jose State University in 2003-2004, before returning to Stanford to work on a Ph.D. in environmental history and the history of science.

He also serves on the board of directors of the Liberty Hill Foundation and the Los Angeles River State Park Partners.



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Become a Friend of the River

Let’s create a healthier, more connected, sustainable Los Angeles — together.

Alejandro Ortiz is an Architect / Entrepreneur based in Westwood CA. After completing his undergraduate studies at Berkeley, he interned for Steven Lerner, AIA in Providence, RI where we acted as Project Designer on several buildings at Brown University. In 1989, he moved to Los Angeles where he worked for Architects Frank Gehry, AIA and Frank Israel, AIA. After attending the UCLA Graduate School of Architecture and Urban Planning, he founded Alejandro Ortiz Architects, Inc. which he ran successfully for 20 years. He has since been engaged in Real Estate Management and is spearheading various Tech ventures as Founder and President of BulletNBoard, llc.

In addition to his diverse business activities, Alejandro has pursued his passion for the City of Los Angeles by actively contributing to a number of local organizations such as the LA County and the City of LA Departments of Parks and Recreation. He served on the Executive Board of the Music Center Fraternity of Friends and various Neighborhood Associations. He was appointed by Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa as Commissioner at the LA Community Redevelopment Agency. He has served on the board of FOLAR since 2011, occupying the position of Chair for 5 years.n.

Michael serves as Sr. Manager of Communications and Impact with FoLAR to broadcast the organization’s vision to present projects, actions, policies, and events to grow the River community. For the past 7 years Michael has worked to improve the public health and environment within his neighborhood and city as an advocate committed to facilitating community-based climate change solutions.

Michael’s background in media production, community organizing, political campaigns, and small business make him profoundly appreciative of the importance of effective advocacy in the lives of Angelenos to promote clean air, clean water, and public access to open and vibrant spaces.

Alyssa is a native of Northeast Los Angeles and a student at Bryn Mawr College majoring in Urban Studies and Spanish. She is pursuing a path in urban planning and enjoys learning about how varied the field is. As part of the LA Promise Fund’s The Intern Project, Alyssa began as an intern at LA-Más in 2015 where she discovered the importance of the LA River and the advocacy efforts surrounding such an essential part of the city. She has previously been a part of the San Gabriel Mountains Forever Leadership Academy and Mayor Garcetti’s Youth Council. During her free time, Alyssa enjoys exploring the city, cycling on the river bike path, and reading outdoors.

Dan Rosenfeld is a real estate investor who alternates between private and public-sector service.

In the private-sector, Mr. Rosenfeld served as a senior officer with The Cadillac Fairview Corporation, Tishman-Speyer Properties, and Jones Lang LaSalle. He was a founding member of Urban Partners, LLC, a nationally recognized developer of urban infill, mixed-use and transit-oriented real estate. Among the firm’s major projects are Del Mar Station, Wilshire/Vermont Station and the Caltrans District 7 Headquarters. Mr. Rosenfeld is currently developing and managing real estate in Los Angeles and Seattle.

In the public sector, Mr. Rosenfeld served as Director of Real Estate for the State of California and City of Los Angeles, and as a Senior Deputy for Economic Development with Los Angeles County.

Mr. Rosenfeld is a graduate of Stanford University and the Harvard Business School. He is married to noted choreographer Heidi Duckler and lives in Los Angeles. The couple have three grown children Anya, Austen and Ellery.

Lily grew up in Northeast Los Angeles but moved to Portland, Oregon to receive her Bachelor’s in English at Lewis & Clark College. After graduating in 2015, Lily immediately moved to NY to try her hand at working in television, but soon found the city and the TV industry wasn’t where her heart lied. She missed Los Angeles’ vastness, the easy access to nature, and was looking for work more involved with her community. With that realization, Lily moved back to LA to soon begin her internship at the educational nonprofit, 826LA, where she spent a year teaching creative writing and tutoring students ages 6-18. Lily has long loved California’s bountiful nature and is happy to now be apart of an organization that advocates for our city’s largest natural landmark. In her spare time, Lily enjoys buying too many books at Skylight Bookstore, hiking local trails, and heading to the Sierra Nevada to camp and be in nature.

“What river?!?!” This was Zoe’s response when, in a writing class in her junior year of college, her professor announced that the Los Angeles River would be the focus of much of the class. Born and raised 30 miles east of LA, Zoe was dumbfounded to learn that LA was home to a river that she had never known about. Intrigued, Zoe set out to learn more about the River, making it the subject of her senior thesis. She became passionate about the River—fascinated by its rich ecological history, saddened by its unfortunate channelization, but hopeful and excited for what the future holds for its revitalization. After graduating in May 2016, Zoe decided to pursue her River passions and sought out an internship with FoLAR. After interning in the Development Department for 6 months, Zoe joined the FoLAR team as the Development Assistant and later transitioned to the Operations Department. She loves FoLAR and is incredibly grateful to be a part of this organization, where she gets to experience what goes on behind the scenes to re-connect Angelenos to their River.

Mareshah “MJ” Jackson has built a career expanding community networks with local nonprofits through outreach and public activation. She’s passionate about the connection between community wellbeing and access to nature, physical recreation, and open community space. When she’s not cultivating the relationships that enable FoLAR to increase every Angeleno’s access to green space, she’s looking for ways to stay active. You can find MJ practicing samba, training for long-distance runs, and learning about LA by taking Metro to new destinations.

Mike understands the intersection of nature and cities from an unusual perspective – he grew up on a farm in rural Missouri with nature stretching for countless miles in every direction, but since graduating from university he has lived either years or months in Los Angeles, Chicago, New York City, Seattle, Moscow, Sydney and Florence. Seeking out the best examples of overlapping nature and urban landscape has been a pleasure for many years now.

Living in Los Feliz with his wife, a native Angelina, three young sons and giant Bernese Mountain Dog, on weekends he can be found hiking Griffith Park with his family, chasing his kids in the surf, or showing off his backyard grilling skills for friends. He has also been known to drag his family down to the LA River for an impromptu cleanup and discussion about the importance of community service.

Mike has spent his career in finance – in his role as Senior Vice President for Cascadia Capital, he leads the aerospace and defense investment banking practice for the firm, advising executives and business owners in mergers and acquisitions. Mike holds a masters in business from Stanford University where he was a Sloan Fellow and a bachelors in finance from the University of Missouri.

Ilianna was born and raised in Los Angeles. Having grown up in an urban environment her whole life she is always seeking opportunities to immerse herself in nature. She received her Master’s in Geography from Cal State Long Beach and wrote her graduate thesis on the LA River. After learning about what is currently taking place on the river she was inspired by the many possibilities of revitalizing the river and wanted to become involved in the River Movement. She then decided to focus her thesis on how environmental restoration and greenspace projects provide a means to educate and empower communities, and opportunities to reshape an urban environment. As an Educator with FoLAR, she wants to remind people that there is nature in LA and to empower the community to become involved in transforming the River into a more ecologically sustainable River. During her free time you can find her practicing Pilates, hiking, reading, and exploring her favorite city, LA!


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Natasha Keefer has spent her career in energy and water sustainability, with experience working with public and private stakeholders to implement measurable environmental and social outcomes. Natasha is the Director of Power Planning and Procurement for Clean Power Alliance, California’s new, locally-operated, electricity provider dedicated to providing clean, renewable power to 31 communities and approximately one million eligible customers across Los Angeles and Ventura Counties. Natasha’s prior experience includes sustainable infrastructure development, energy finance, and strategic planning impacting Southern California communities. She earned an M.B.A. from Columbia Business School and a B.S. from the University of Southern California. Natasha, her husband Jason, and dog Bowie, are Elysian Valley residents and love to spend the weekend enjoying everything the LA River has to offer.

As a recent transplant from New York City, Marissa understands the importance of green space to a city and its inhabitants’ wellbeing and prosperity. In learning about her new city, she was led to the River and its diverse and vibrant communities. Marissa has extensive experience in the business world, specializing in media, education, and operations, and has always been drawn to organizations with a mission of empowerment through education at its core.

With a degree in Geology, and a specialization in Paleontology, Marissa loves thinking about how environments impact the creatures that inhabit them. It was kismet when she found FoLAR and the River Movement and was able to marry her passions for people and nature. She’s thrilled to be part of the work to build a future on the River that respects and supports both.

31st Annual Great LA River CleanUp

Want to contribute to a healthy and thriving River for the benefit of all Angelenos and urban wildlife? Join FoLAR next Earth Month for the 31st Anniversary of our yearly Great LA River CleanUp and be a part of the nation’s largest urban river cleanup effort!

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Manny Gonez is the Senior Policy & Advocacy Manager of Friends of the Los Angeles River (FoLAR). As a native Angeleno, raised in the Boyle Heights neighborhood, he knows firsthand how environmental factors impact historically undeserved communities. He has over a decade of nonprofit, local and federal government experience, and is thrilled to bring that wealth of knowledge to FoLAR. An organizer at heart, he is an Obama 2012 Nevada alum and spearheaded numerous successful municipal campaigns.

Manny earned his Master’s in Public Administration from the University of La Verne and BA in Philosophy from UCLA.

Lubna has built a career merging the entertainment industry and social enterprise with local nonprofits. She’s passionate about the connection between community identity and the geography of Los Angeles. Before joining FoLAR, Lubna worked in touring where she was able to merge her love for music and spatial analysis to navigate the live entertainment world. While working in music, Lubna continued to be an avid volunteer and advocate for various non-profits and charities in LA. Most recently, Lubna worked in youth development at Step Up where she managed their national membership programs. You can find Lubna hanging out at a dog park!

Hailing from the mid-Atlantic, Liz has proudly called Los Angeles home for a decade and counting. During that time, her (unanticipated) forays into SoCal’s phenomenal rock climbing, hiking, backpacking and more, have taught her the immense value of the Great Outdoors. Raising a daughter in South LA has illuminated just how challenging it can be to access nature in certain parts of this city – and how much of a difference it can make in health and happiness. Liz has no trouble envisioning the potential of the River, and with deep experience in event planning, she’s excited to help realize that vision.

Candice Dickens-Russell is the Senior Program Associate Center for Diversity & the Environment where she leads a national team focused on designing and delivering equity, diversity and inclusion activities for environmental organizations, agencies, teams and leaders in the environmental and conservation movement across the U.S. Candice has been the regional lead for the California Regional Environmental Education Community (CREEC) for Los Angeles County for over a decade. She has developed and managed high quality environmental education programs for Los Angeles area students and teachers. Candice is a member of the Los Angeles Area Women’s Environmental Coalition, and serves on the Los Angeles Environmental Education Fair steering committee. She majored in Environmental Studies at San Francisco State University, with an emphasis in Environmental Sustainability and Social Justice. Candice’s current work centers around creating diverse and equitable spaces in the US environmental movement. Candice has a passion for equity and inclusion in all things, but especially in environmental education. She lives in Los Angeles with her husband, daughter, and pet rabbit, Buddy.

Chip has joined FoLAR as Director of Corporate Partnerships after ending a successful career leading teams, introducing new products and building new markets in local and national television advertising sales.  At FoLAR he looks forward to applying his perspectives and skill sets to drive greater corporate support and partnership for FoLAR in achieving the mission of bringing the people to the river and the river to the people.  A longtime San Fernando Valley resident and activist and volunteer in all sorts of education, environmental and policy issues, Chip is thrilled to be able to turn his passion and volunteering into a full time affair.

Mireya grew up in the San Fernando Valley and recently graduated with a B.A. in Environmental Analysis. She sees the River as a one of a kind opportunity to make nature more accessible to residents of our park-deprived Los Angeles. Mireya finds the history of the River captivating and feels fortunate to be able to tell its story to students.

Steve Veres served the Los Angeles Community College District as a member of the board of Trustees from 2011–2015. After a 2-year hiatus, he returns to the board for a new 5 year term beginning July 2017. He has served as President and Vice President of the Board as well as chair of the Board’s Institutional Effectiveness Committee and Facilities Management Committees.

As Deputy Chief of Staff to State Senate Leader Kevin de León, Steve works hard every day to protect and empower middle class families. Working with local lawmakers, he helped clean up the LA River, expanded access to higher education, and secured funding to build 17 new parks in Los Angeles. In 2014, Steve helped lead the effort to triple California’s Film and Television Tax Credit and make it more accountable to taxpayers. The bill was praised as one of the most significant steps to protect California’s film industry jobs in the past 100 years.

He is appointed to Santa Monica Mountains Conservancy and has been active on the redevelopment and restoration of the Los Angeles River.
Steve’s long record of public service includes elections to the San Fernando City Council, where he served as Mayor, and appointments to the Metropolitan Transit Authority’s San Fernando Valley Service Sector Governance Council, the Mobile Source Air Pollution Reduction Review Committee, and the Metropolitan Water District.

He has been an Adjunct Instructor at Los Angeles Trade-Technical College and is a former public school teacher. He has also taught various college courses at UCLA. A Los Angeles native, Steve attended Loyola High School and earned his undergraduate degree from UCLA. He was a graduate student and teaching assistant in UCLA’s History department. Additionally, he worked as a journalist and news editor.

Steve and his family live in Sherman Oaks.

Kenyauda has always had a passion for helping the underserved and the voiceless that includes people, animals, and nature. Success in fundraising has allowed her to nurture the heart she has to serve others. Before coming to FoLAR, she was the Development Director for TERI, Inc., a nonprofit in San Diego County that serves children and adults with autism and other intellectual and developmental disabilities. During Kenyauda’s tenure with TERI, she led a development team in raising $8M+ in 2 years and hopes to bring that same success to FoLAR. Her interest in FoLAR’s mission is related to her passion for mother nature and the positive benefits that are received when we experience mother nature’s gifts. Kenyauda is a firm believer that incorporating mother nature into the lives of children and adults alike, encourages a positive intellectual, physical, and social experience. She maintains that we need to provide more available opportunities for underprivileged communities to share in this experience.

While fundraising can be very demanding, Kenyauda’s passion for supporting causes she believes in has allowed her to persevere and stay the course. Of the many missions and visions that she believes in, they all have one thing in common, the ability to be in service to others.

In her free time, she loves hanging out with her family, her dogs (Baxter, Buddy, and Boots), and she loves hitting the gym!

In addition to over 15 years of work on private and non-profit events, music festivals, and touring productions, Virginia has spent the last 20 years working towards social justice advocacy and reform, including criminal justice and prison reform, mental health care access, HIV / AIDS education and service access, and LGBTQ, gender, disability and racial equity. She’s been a member of the Los Angeles chapter of the organization Showing Up for Racial Justice (SURJ), the ACLU, and the Planned Parenthood Federation of America, and is a member of the inaugural cohort of the Real Justice PAC’s Fellows Program of 2020.

Virginia’s also been able to speak publicly on the topic of gendered and racial interpersonal violence in event spaces, and is invested in broadening the scope and definition of “safety” to create holistically safe environments for our communities through events. She’s thrilled to be a part of an organization with a vision for equitable access to open space, nature, and education to all LA Residents, empowering our communities to participate in fully integrated and healthy environmental programs and the growth of our River. She’s also currently studying for the LSAT to go to law school, with the long-term goal of becoming a public interest lawyer, focusing on advocacy for the wrongfully incarcerated and all of those on death row.

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