CD4 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 CD4. Read their responses below.

CD4 City Council Candidates

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.

Sarah Kate Levy: I would like our river to become a major symbol of Los Angeles, as the natural and metaphorical ribbon that ties all our diverse communities together on a continuum across our region. Our river should be the thing that connects us, a gathering place, a place of learning, of recreation, of celebration — the premium destination for all Angelenos, as a place to reconnect to our own natural ecosystem, and to take refuge from the pressures of our city, in a way that is financially and physically accessible to all.

I would like to see parks, bike paths, running paths, spaces for larger gatherings, opportunities to sample local vendors, visit a ranger center, or take a kayak tour of our city. Because the river runs through so much of my district, restoring habitat and access to the river would be a major boon for my community.

Our city is so special because of all the natural beauty that surrounds us — but water is and has always been the element that defines us, from the early days of our orange groves to our challenges with drought and our new plans to improve our watershed and recapture water via Measure W. Our river is the ultimate expression of our relationship to water in this city — and revitalizing our river, peeling away the concrete, creating park space, improving habitat, and offering recreation opportunities for all — should be a priority for this city, if we are serious about leading on issues of sustainability, conservation, and public space for all.

Nithya Raman: Los Angeles is starved for public green space: our city ranks at the bottom of US cities in terms of access to and spending on parks. The efforts around river restoration are our most powerful attempt to expand our city’s natural lands — it’s a vital project for the well-being of residents and to make LA more resilient to the impacts of climate change.

My philosophy for the river is built around the core concepts of equitable access and maximization of the river’s natural habitats and hydrology. That means giving all Angelenos the opportunity to enjoy this resource, with as little development as possible to allow the river’s plant and animal life to thrive.

We’re putting a billion dollars into this project — let’s work with intention and pursue an outcome that will be healthiest for Angelenos and the environment in the long term. The restoration must be exactly that: a restoring of as much of the river’s original flow and ecology as we can. It shouldn’t just be a beautification project. Every planning decision should be mindful of maintaining the health of the river’s entire watershed — and when restoration comes up against commercialization, restoration must win out.

At the same time, intensive efforts must be made to ensure lower-income Angelenos aren’t left out in the process. If done right, the river will significantly improve multiple neighborhoods — let’s make sure residents of these neighborhoods actually get to stay to enjoy it. River-adjacent neighborhoods need special displacement protections, and when it comes to new construction near the river (but not on it), affordability covenants must be prioritized as a check against the forces of real estate speculation.

David Ryu: I share the vision that Lewis MacAdams had in 1986 when he declared the River to be open to Angelenos of all walks of life, and I’m constantly inspired by the work that FoLAR has been doing for more than 30 years to restore the natural ecology of the River and mobilizing the City, philanthropy and residents to repair and preserve its natural habitat and fight for the policies that will maintain equitable access. My vision for the LA River is similar to my views on park space, which were formed as a child growing up in East Hollywood. The few parks I had access to were cherished. Parks don’t ask for immigration status. They don’t ask how much money your parents make or what kind of job they have. Parks don’t put one group before another, because parks belong to all of us. Council District 4 includes one of the longest stretches of River in the City and I am personally invested in its full revitalization. This means prioritizing ecosystem restoration, ensuring that development along the River is consistent with its identity, that it provides for safe and equitable public access, maximizes mobility and recreation opportunities, and is affordable. I believe that River-adjacent infrastructure can complement our work around revitalization, and I’m committed to continuing the work I’ve done during my first term, and as Chair of the City’s Health, Education, Neighborhoods, Parks, Arts and River Committee, to close gaps, increase connectivity, and ensure the ecological health of the LA River comes first.

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? 

Sarah Kate Levy: I prefer Soft Edge. While I can imagine the appeal of an island, as seen in Island, I think that Soft Edge offers more programming opportunities for all ages. The play area is larger, and the continuity of the site makes this plan very family-friendly. I think it is imperative that families see our river as a destination that is enjoyable and accessible for their children, as the children who visit our river will grow to be the adults who fight to protect and improve it.

Nithya Raman: Taylor Yards is among the most important components of the river restoration project — the size of the lot is sufficient to allow the river to flow freely and retain some of its natural floodplain. Of all the areas of the river, this is the one where we should be attempting to recreate as much of the original hydrology and biodiversity of the river as possible.

I agree that the “Yards” option should be tossed entirely — it’s an extraordinary waste of an opportunity. My preferred design is the “Island.” This option, to me, strikes the best balance between human access and protection of natural habitats.

Through my time at SELAH, the neighborhood homeless services non-profit I co-founded, I’ve spent a lot of time at various islands on the river where people have set up encampments. I’ve seen how, even surrounded by people and a concrete channel, animal and plant life has managed to maintain a hold. I would be thrilled to see what could develop on a dedicated wildlife refuge that also allows opportunities for humans to observe it. 

David Ryu: The Taylor Yards G2 site sits at the heart of the City’s L.A. River Revitalization Plan, which includes an 11-mile stretch of River and offers an incredible opportunity to renew habitat and create green space for residents in adjacent neighborhoods along San Fernando Road, Cypress Park and Glassell Park, and Elysian Valley. How we move forward with the project will shape the City’s goals, values and expectations for how we approach the rest of the River. Therefore, I believe it is critical that we get the design of this 42 acre site and the revitalization of this stretch of River right.

I believe that the soft edge design made up of native plants and treatment ponds that would also functions as a floodplain, and the goals of access, flood control and public safety are not mutually-exclusive. The project is complex to say the least, but as stewards of the LA River, we have a responsibility to its habitat and to the revitalization of its natural state, and I believe we can achieve this goal as well as increasing access, education and recreation with the soft edge design.

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. 

Sarah Kate Levy: I am running on a very pro-housing platform, but I believe our river should be a jewel that is protected from any housing development that would impede upon access to, or views of, our river. I believe new development at the river should be sited at large setbacks to the river, and oriented in such a way that access to our river is convenient and publicly accessible.

We must protect our river from any risks that housing can bring to the habitat on the river, and our watershed — trash, sewer, parking residues, and construction run-off are all concerns that should be taken very seriously as we embark upon any housing developments along the river. Development near the river should elevate and enhance the experience of the river, opening that experience to more people, rather than dwarfing the river, or limiting access to fewer Angelenos.

Nithya Raman: The Casitas Lofts development is a good example of a troubling reality the river project has faced since it was first proposed — when beautification and restoration come, real estate speculation follows. 

The neighborhoods around the River, already dealing with rising rents, have faced even greater gentrification pressure as investors buy up properties that are sure to gain value as the restoration project steadily moves forward. This doesn’t mean we shouldn’t restore the river to its natural beauty. It means we should do it carefully, with deliberate measures to ensure equitable access.

I’m a committed advocate for new housing construction in Los Angeles — in particular affordable construction, so that we can begin to fill even a fraction of the deficit of 500,000 affordable units we face in the region. But it’s simply disingenuous to suggest that locating a development next to the Bowtie is designed to address our housing crisis. It is designed to reap the greatest profit for investors. 

We must ensure that both current residents and new lower-income residents are able to live in stable, affordable housing in the neighborhoods surrounding what will be one of our city’s most celebrated features. I’m in favor of expanding opportunities for multifamily development in the surrounding neighborhood, provided there are strong displacement protections, and a significant percentage of the new housing comes with deeded affordability covenants. However, the Casitas Lofts project and any other large commercial or residential development on a lot so close to the park and directly adjacent to the river seems to go against the twin goals of ecological restoration and access. 

David Ryu: Revitalization, equitable access and affordability should be guiding principles for any residential or commercial development adjacent to the River. The Casitas Lofts Project could be a shining example of these principles and of what we expect of development along the River. Unfortunately, there appears to be issues with the project’s location in a historic flood plain, it could impinge upon habitat restoration, create challenges for ingress and egress at the site, and it lacks the amount of affordable units that we should expect of a development of this size.

While there are positive attributes to the project that can’t be discounted, namely the cleanup of an industrial site and the construction of bike trails, I am supportive of FoLAR’s efforts to address environmental concerns, issues of ingress and egress, and to increase the project’s percentage of affordable units. At a time when the City is grappling with an unprecedented homelessness crisis and a related crisis of affordability, we should be demanding more of development in the City of Los Angeles.

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. 

Sarah Kate Levy: A comprehensive vision for the river must prioritize remediation of toxic sites by the river, and restoration of habitat, so that the river is healthy, and can remain so. Only a healthy river can anchor the public programming that we would all like to see take place along its banks. The challenge for any elected is maximizing program with dollars available — and the only way to increase dollars available is to convince the tax-paying public that restoration of our river is a priority on par with other great challenges, such as addressing homelessness, and updating our aging infrastructure.

I believe that our river is worth it, and I believe the priority for the City-sections should be ecological restoration coupled with public access, because the more accessible the river is, the more easily it will enter the public imagination as a priority for care.

I also believe that a case can be made for a healthy and vibrant river as a metaphor for a healthy and vibrant city — that we can not have one without the other.

I am running on housing, transit, and trees as a jobs, economy, and climate action plan. The river offers extraordinary opportunities for mobility, as a kayaking and cycling destination, as well as park space, and as such, fits nicely into my vision for a city that offers refuge and healthy community space for all.

Nithya Raman: It was a hard-fought victory for river advocates when the City and the Army Corps of Engineers agreed on the Alternative 20 option from the ARBOR study — the most ambitious plan that restored the most of the river’s original habitat. If the County wants to see a “comprehensive vision” for the river’s restoration, they need to get on board with that plan.

The County’s involvement is essential because much of the river’s enormous watershed is found outside LA City borders. To consider the entire watershed holistically, as any River Master Plan should, will require extensive coordination between multiple government bodies. My work in homelessness has shown me just how difficult cooperation and coordination between the county and city can be. But this project is too important to let poor communication get in the way. A joint powers authority may be in order to make sure the various plans are properly lined up. Most importantly, we need to establish clear lines of accountability and leadership to ensure success, something that must be negotiated clearly between County and City leadership. As a council member, I will be committed to ensuring that we have those discussions with the County to establish such leadership and accountability. 

Right now, I’m also a little concerned that marquee architecture firms have been selected to lead the update of the County Master Plan, rather than ecologists and other experts in natural science — if the river project becomes more about beautification than restoration of the river’s ecology and hydrology, we’ll have misspent hundreds of millions of dollars. By focusing on the river’s natural watershed and restoring as much habitat as possible, we’ll achieve both a more beautiful and healthier city.

David Ryu: I applaud and support the work of the County to update its LA River Master Plan. Approaching revitalization, ecological sustainability, access and connectivity, and development in a holistic way ensures that individual projects, some of which are already underway, adhere to a common set of values and goals. ARBOR needs to be taken into consideration, particularly in the work being conducted by Master Plan team members Geosyntec and OLIN which are responsible for all technical elements, including hydrology, flood protection and other water issues and developing corridor-level design and planning standards. As Chair of the City’s Health, Education, Neighborhoods, Parks, Arts and River Committee, I’ve been working hand-in-hand with the Mayor’s office to ensure our ecological restoration plan is front and center in the County’s Master Plan process, with the goal of prioritizing ecological sustainability, habitat restoration and revitalizing the River without undue emphasis being placed on county, city, or district boundaries.

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.

Sarah Kate Levy: There is no question that we need to reduce the usage of single use plastic materials in our city. Even with our best efforts, most of the plastic we try to recycle ends up in landfills because the resale market has fallen apart with China banning scrap materials from the US, and we’ve recently seen the closing of our biggest California recycling concern, too.

Clearly, we have to work to stop single-use plastic (and EPS styrofoam) at the source. We have bans for plastic bags and straws in place — which require better enforcement — and the city is now trying to ban the sale of water bottles on city owned property. These are good starts.

Here are some other strategies we could try:

  • Support and expand installation of water-fill stations throughout our city, so people don’t have to buy bottles of water.
  • Pilot out reverse-vending machines, where people can recycle bottles they do buy, for cash, which is one strategy for keeping plastic out of landfills.
  • Support and recognize local retailers and restaurants that phase out single-use plastics; I know of one start-up operating in CD4 that is doing just that! And I would love to live in a city where it was the norm to bring our own containers to restaurants and grocery stores.
  • Get serious about trash dumping in this city, to keep plastic from our watershed – and get serious about keeping homelessness encampments clean, as well (this is one more reason we need safe parking and safe campsites, so we can keep our sidewalks clear and clean)!
  • Advocate for state laws like SB54 and AB1080.

Nithya Raman: The question of how we deal with plastics has become all the more acute in the context of China’s refusal to accept many materials including mixed paper and most plastics. Municipal recycling programs are being forced to pay high prices to continue, or are folding entirely as the economics of recycling no longer make sense for cash-strapped local governments, meaning that all plastics are simply thrown into the landfills. Recently, the state of CA attempted to ban single-use plastics through SB54 and AB 1080. While two bills intended to support the struggling recycling industry did pass, single-use plastic legislation did not, falling in the face of intense lobbying efforts by industry players. 

In this context, I believe that our city could show leadership in responding to both reducing plastics, and in changing the culture around waste production. Cities have led the way on many environmental initiatives. For example, just last year, Mexico City passed a ban on single-use plastics, with a phase-in period to allow small shop owners and street vendors the ability to phase in new products. Such a ban could be passed in the city of Los Angeles as well. Additionally the City of LA could partner with municipalities throughout LA County or with the County itself to collectively pass a ban on single-use plastics. 

Yet, whether at the City level or at the state level, the same forces operating to prevent bans are also working locally. For example, Dart Container, a single-use styrofoam company, has been making donations and behested payments to multiple Councilmembers including CD4 incumbent David Ryu in an effort to head off styrofoam bans in LA. 

I strongly believe that real change at City Hall around urgent environmental issues like banning single-use plastics and reducing consumer waste will only happen when there is real campaign finance reform at the city level, and when industries that seek to influence city policymaking are no longer financing city elected officials. Getting corporate money out of politics and moving towards fully publicly financed elections is an essential step towards changing the culture around waste in LA.

David Ryu: With a planned 40-percent increase in plastic production over the next decade, plastic production will account for 20 percent of global fossil fuel consumption unless we make major policy changes to counter. Plastics waste is one of our River’s and our planet’s greatest challenges. While the City of Los Angeles and State of California have been at the forefront of efforts to ban the use of plastics, such as plastic straws and single use plastic bags, more needs to be done. The City is currently working on the elimination of single-use plastics in all city facilities and programs, as well as evaluating the impacts of our new strawson-request ordinance and the single-use plastic bag ban. I am also proud to support efforts in Sacramento such as AB 1080 and SB 54 which sets goals to reduce waste from single-use packaging and ensures the remaining items are effectively recycled. But recycling won’t save us. The aim of the City should be to eliminate single-use plastics altogether and I look forward to continuing to work with my colleagues, state and federal representatives, and FoLAR to achieve this goal.

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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 Programs and Policy Manager 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 SCGH.com is to enlighten the average American about sustainable practices in their home and daily lifestyle. After running SCGH.com 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.

Councilmember Nestor Enrique Valencia is a champion of social causes, and health care quality and the environment. He is leading reformer of the City of Bell and for good government. He is a regional community leader and expert in managed care. Among other roles and responsibilities in his life, he is a full-time health care administration. He has served as Bell’s Mayor and continues as a member of the Bell City Council in his second-term. He is an alternative on Los Angeles County Democratic Party.

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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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!