06 Feb CD12 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 CD12. Read their responses below.
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.
John Lee: Protecting open space and preserving our natural environment is one of my top priorities as a Councilmember. I am proud that CD12 has the most amount of protected and well-preserved wildlife in CD12. Many people choose to move and visit CD12 because of our open space. As a Legislative Director, Chief of Staff, and Councilmember, I have been posed with countless conundrums regarding development at the expense of our open space. Development is pivotal to an ever-growing city; however, I take loss of our natural environment as a top concern is discerning whether to support new developments I commit to advocating for the preservation and protection of open space our natural environment in CD12.
The restoration of the LA River provides countless benefits. It will restore native habitats and ecosystems, increase focus on our watershed health, improve water quality, and provide opportunities for educational programming. The river is an incredible resource that draws on expertise from numerous field – engineering, environmental science, planning, recreation, and education. It would be amazing to be able to use key areas along these tributaries as living classrooms for learners of all ages.
The LA river provides an opportunity for individuals and organizations from a range of backgrounds to come together to advocate for our natural environment and local communities. Together we can advocate for watershed protection and environmental stewardship.
Loraine Lundquist: The LA River is a thread that ties together the majority of our city from the Valley to the Bay. It’s the reason that our native American ancestors called this place home and why European settlers chose to grow the community. We went through several decades seeing the river as adversary, but I am excited to be living during a major paradigm shift. It’s time for us to move away from thinking purely about stormwater as a waste product that must be quickly conveyed away, to the river system being a valuable resource for our community.
While there is much attention focused on the restoration projects along the ‘navigable’ LA River channel, my district includes more than 60 square miles of its watershed and is arguably the closest council district to its headwaters. Half a dozen tributaries flow through my district into the LA River, along with all the subsurface groundwater recharged by flow from the surrounding hills. As a Councilmember, I will prioritize support for stewardship of these local resources in ways that benefit both our community and our environment. Hiking trails along these tributaries at the edge of the district are extremely popular and need to be properly maintained. We can connect those trails via pedestrian and equestrian paths along the tributaries all the way to the LA River (like we already have on portions of Browns Creek).
A healthy watershed includes far more than just the river itself. For example, our district lost about 15% of its tree cover in the first decade of the 21st century, a trend that has implications for both our quality of life and watershed health. Our City needs a comprehensive urban forest stewardship plan with outreach to schools, homes, and businesses. I envision partnering with LAUSD to secure state and federal funding for improving tree cover and stormwater capture to all our local schools. Together, we can create incredible play spaces that are safe, educational, and cool.
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?
John Lee: I agree with FoLAR’s assessment that out of the three proposals, the “Soft Edge” and the “Island” are the most ideal. Los Angeles should be at the forefront of designing and repurposing our natural space while taking advantage of potential federal funding.
Loraine Lundquist: I want LA to be the leader for global river restoration. The number of wild river reaches around the world has dwindled, but the pendulum is shifting. As different communities rethink their use of resources, they should look to LA to see how it can be done to optimize access to open space, recreational opportunities, habitat, stormwater capture, and flood mitigation. There is no doubt that the Yards alternative falls short of this vision.
When deciding between the other two alternatives, further community input will be essential. Beyond that, I’m mindful of the project cost and want to maximize the use of federal and state grants and matching funds.
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.
John Lee: As we develop more housing and business space in Los Angeles, it is imperative that we are mindful of protecting our green space. I believe that every neighborhood in Los Angeles should have access to green space because studies show the incredible positive effects that green space has on our physical, mental, and public health. We cannot develop to the extent that it limits the community’s access to public green space. For this reason, as a Councilmember I take access of green space into account when I am faced with new development proposals.
Loraine Lundquist: Lack of access to low and moderate income housing are at the root of LA’s housing crisis. Luxury apartments will do little to address this fundamental need.
While I haven’t looked into the particular topography or site plan of this project, it is generally bad policy to build within the floodplain of a river at a time when climate change is going to bring unprecedented storm flow events. We spent generations trying to contain rivers within concrete channels and we have seen the negative impact this has on wildlife, culture, and our water systems. Placing a new development pinned up against the riverbank goes against the entire philosophy of the restoration effort and returns us to the paradigm of using engineering solutions to bolster development in places that simply aren’t appropriate.
The neighborhood surrounding the floodplain will likely see increased vitality – the new recreation and transportation infrastructure will attract more people and this will lead to tension over increasing density and preserving neighborhood character. It’s essential that we find ways to grow in ways that enhance neighborhoods and make them more livable – not less. Development should have a clear plan for enhancing the transportation infrastructure to accommodate more residents, and should bring opportunities for local employment through mixed-uses that reduce the need for all people in the community to travel for shopping, entertainment, or work. Broadly speaking, I’m in favor of addressing our housing crisis via smart, mixed-use, transit-oriented development, rather than creating further sprawl out into our beloved open spaces. This philosophy applies to my own district as well.
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.
John Lee: I support the work of the Upper Los Angeles River and Tributaries Working Group and its charge to bring key stakeholders together with the goal of creating a revitalization plan that does justice to all communities. The creation of the ULART working group to coordinate with the LA River Revitalization Mater Plan brings necessary focus to our watershed health, improving water quality, and ecosystem and habitat restoration.
It is exciting that Aliso Canyon Wash is one of the tributaries of focus for the working group. I had identified this early on as a key resource worthy of study and I support continued investment in waterway infrastructure to ensure that it is clean, safe, and serves its flood management function. I also believe there are ways to secure and preserve critical infrastructure while finding creative ways to share these spaces with the public.
For example, the working group has already identified Wilbur Basin as an ideal candidate for additional opportunity along Aliso Canyon Wash. As a Legislative Deputy, I spearheaded the Aliso Creek-Limekiln Creek Restoration Prop O project at the Northridge confluence of the Aliso and Limekiln Creek flood control channels, the purpose of which was to improve the water quality of urban runoff. The 11+ acre project will implement a variety of water quality improvements and improve groundwater supply, restore vegetation and wildlife habitat, and provide for educational opportunities for the public. I think this site has great potential for transformation.
Given my history of successfully working with broad constituencies to craft and deliver projects, I am in a unique position to work collaboratively across stakeholder groups whose goals may have formerly been at odds. There are exciting opportunities to meaningfully impact water quality while enhancing communities’ access to education and open space amenities. I look forward to partnering with the working group in carrying out their mission to enhance our waterways for the benefit of the public.
Loraine Lundquist: Because the scale of the LA River system is so large, I look forward to bringing together a wide variety of stakeholders from the City, County, state and federal agencies. I’ve been working for years interfacing with activists, community groups, and policy-makers and feel that my background helps me build trust with each of them. My priority is to make the City more livable for our residents. Few people realize the multi-layered importance of the LA River to their own daily lives; not only will a restored river plan provide recreation and beauty, but it should also improve emergency preparedness, water resiliency, ecosystem health, and mobility. With the looming changes to our climate, this requires long-term thinking and planning. Prioritizing the River and its tributaries must be an intentional commitment in order to adequately address the need for robust interaction and synthesis. I look forward to partnering with agencies such as FOLAR and other allies in order to achieve these broader goals.
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.
John Lee: As someone who has worked in public service in the San Fernando Valley in some capacity for nearly two decades, I have consistently worked to keep the SFV clean of waste. I believe in the reduce, reuse, recycle model, and I also believe in community education and community clean-up programs to preserve our natural environment and prevent litter from flowing into our waterways.
I have worked diligently as a staffer, candidate, and Councilmember to advocate for clean streets. During my 2019 campaign during the special election, I organized three campaign community cleanups, and made this messaging pivotal to my campaign, and am currently organizing additional community clean-ups during my current 2020 campaign. As a councilmember, I directed our Rapid Response team to prioritize community clean ups as well, and in my first 100 days in office, our office collected 7,293 bags of trash.
I support policies like AB 619, the “Bring Your Own” Bill and the straw ban into is steps towards supporting the transition from sing-use items to reusables.
Loraine Lundquist: In my sustainability classes at CSUN, I have introduced this problem to my students, and they are incredibly motivated by this issue.. When I give them the chance to plan an independent semester-long project, a large proportion of teams have devoted their efforts to reducing plastic waste. Some of their projects included:
- An initiative to “ban the bottle” at CSUN to reduce single-use plastic bottles.
- Work with a local small business to help them achieve a zero-waste certification.
- Presentations on zero-waste living at local high schools.
- Educating the campus community via the “trash talkers” program to reduce the volume of incorrect items placed in the recycling and compost bins, leading to improved waste diversion.
While a cultural shift is necessary, and efforts like these are the starting point, broader policy shift is also needed. Now that China is no longer accepting our waste plastic, we must foster markets for recycled plastics so it can be cost-effective to recycle locally. We need to gradually shift the burden of waste recycling from consumers to product manufacturers and work towards a zero-waste circular economy. We must accomplish these shifts in ways that protect small businesses and reduce the impact of waste and pollution on our low-income communities. Fortunately, the businesses I’ve worked with that have achieved zero-waste status, such as Earth Island in District 12, found it has actually saved them money though they expected the opposite. Providing institutional support for making these shifts to assist businesses through an unfamiliar process can simultaneously reduce waste, improve our river quality, and improve our economy.