19 Oct October Message from FoLAR Executive Director
MESSAGE FROM THE EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR Marissa Christiansen
We were delighted to host so many community members over our two weekends of fundraising and celebrating with you. Our Gala at Marsh Park revealed the forthcoming Lewis MacAdams monument and – most importantly – the MRCA’s rededication of the park to the “Lewis MacAdams Riverfront Park.” Lewis was floored and honored by his permanent place on the River. In the spirit of community and inclusion, we wrapped up our fundraising season with a subsidized benefit concert featuring Ozomatli just this past weekend. We sold out of both events, and welcomed folks from all across LA. By all accounts and judging by the smiles on the faces of our attendees, our Noches del Rio event series was a success. We look forward to the next time we get to convene on the River with you.
“Gala season” tends to soak up a lot of the energy and attention for non-profits, yet the River maintains its flow. These last remaining months in 2017 promise big news for the Los Angeles River. Just this week Governor Brown signed Kevin de Leon’s SB 5, making the $4B parks and water bond eligible for the June 2018 ballot. Friends of the Los Angeles River has joined our friends at Trust for Public Land, Los Angeles Neighborhood Land Trust, Community Nature Connection and many others to ensure this bond – the first of its kind in over a decade – is successfully passed.
Several others bills were also passed at the end of our State’s legislative session, including Assemblymember Bocanegra’s AB 466, establishing an Upper Los Angeles River and Tributaries Working Group which will endeavor to produce a master plan for the upper Los Angeles River and the valley’s tributaries. FoLAR is excited to see the upper River and its tributaries start to get the same resources that other sections of the River have seen in the recent past. As exhilarating as this growing momentum is, it can also be confusing. For those of you keeping count – this will be the third master planning effort for the Los Angeles River that will be either wrapping up, kicking off or underway in 2018. The second is Speaker Rendon’s AB 530 working group has been working on a Lower Los Angeles River Revitalization Plan expected to be completed in early 2018. The third is the impending update to the County of Los Angeles River Master Plan, now 20 years old. The County is expected to announce its recent team selection for this planning effort, a decision and process that has been highly anticipated throughout the River community. With all the energy and resources funneled towards planning for the River, we think it’s crucial to take a moment to reflect on the lessons learned and observations made through our own experience as an organization involved in River planning from the beginning.
We’d like to share our thoughts with you and invite your feedback.
FoLAR has sat on the advisory boards, committees, organized community, shaped EIRs, and advocated for ecologically-minded and public access-focused plans on the Los Angeles River since the County’s first River Master Plan 20 years ago. Most recently we’ve led community input in the ARBOR study which focuses on the Glendale Narrows and currently sit on the AB 530 working group for the Lower Los Angeles River Revitalization Plan. Here’s what we know and what we expect from future planning processes:
- Transparency – who’s involved, how they were chosen, how decisions impacting the plan are made, and how priority outcomes are defined are all key components that shape community perception and involvement. A transparent process is not important simply for transparency’s sake, but because the best plans are those that are shaped through well-informed collaboration. The City of LA recently held two well-attended public meetings: one where the top three teams competing for the Lincoln Height Jail Reuse project presented to the public and the other where the top three teams competing for the Taylor Yards project presented to the public. Though these exercises can always be improved upon and perfected, these served as good examples of how to kick off a major planning/design process for a project that encompasses a myriad of stakeholders.
- An Inclusive Working Group – An insular planning process is a way of the past. The working group model exercised in the AB 530 working group (aka the Lower River Working Group) – though imperfect – has been relatively effective and can serve as a good model from which to learn and perfect. The stakeholder landscape of the River is even more complex than the governance that rules it. Communities along its banks are vastly diverse, as are their respective relationships to the River. As concerns fueled by displacement and gentrification continue to swirl throughout the region and along the River specifically, an inclusive planning process that starts with the very stakeholders who have worked in it and live along it is the most basic necessity in creating an equitable, informed, and well-rounded future for the River.
- Comprehensive Community Engagement – Community engagement should begin with education aimed at strengthening public understanding of the process and desired outcomes. Education and engagement – from strategy to execution – should be led by local partners and those partners should be compensated for services rendered. The Lower River Working Group took important strides in testing out a model where local NGOs helped execute the community engagement strategy. As with all new models, there are important lessons learned. The digital platform provided for community members to provide input online rather than having to attend perfunctory public meetings was an innovative step. However, getting that platform updated and in front of a broad enough audience has proven challenging. Much of the anecdotal feedback we’ve heard from community members is that understanding the River as a potential public resource and imagining what the possibilities might be is an important context-setting step in ensuring effective and consistent engagement. Often times, community outreach is relatively low on the priority list, but a regionally impactful public resource like the River bears a community engagement strategy that is highly prioritized from the start.
- Equity – This is a big word that means many things to many people. For us it means that the plans should provide a framework by which the existing River communities are preserved as they are improved – a consistent issue that has yet to be adequately addressed. We believe an equitable solution starts with an inclusive and transparent planning process, as described above. It continues with identifying the policies – from local hire to community amenities to affordable housing – that should be put in place as a part of the plan itself. The Lower River Working Group named this issue as a top priority in the planning process, however identifying and implementing the tools to address it has proven a challenge. We at FoLAR don’t have the answers to this multi-faceted challenge, but are committed to helping figure it out and are hopeful that future planning efforts will provide tangible solutions.
- Ecology and water quality – The two go hand-in-hand. Ecological restoration requires good water quality. Ecological restoration can also be a mitigation tool to help us improve water quality. The River was once a bastion of natural habitat and the source of life and culture for our nascent City. Now, surrounded by urbanity and concrete, restoration of its ancestral riparian ecology take concerted effort. The River offers our region a shot at connection to wildlife and nature unlike any other. While most of us in the River Movement are dedicated to a greener and healthier future for the River’s ecosystem, we can foresee an outcome where ecology takes a backseat. We will be remaining dedicated to ensuring these plans prioritize nature as much as they do people and flood management. The ARBOR study was a great example in putting nature first and daring to commit to real ecological progress, though future plans should better balance ecological restoration with other priorities. It is the City of Los Angeles’ River Revitalization Master Plan that best exemplifies a multi-beneficial approach.
- Governance – Balkanized River governance has long hamstrung efficient progress. Planning efforts should endeavor not only to identify a governance solution, but should not be considered complete until that governance solution is implemented. In plans past, a JPA has been identified as the ideal governance solution, but little progress has been made in actually implementing one. To that end, any planning process that looks at the River should be led by a consortium of the jurisdictional agencies that currently govern the River. The ARBOR study was a good example of this as both the City of Los Angeles and Army Corps of Engineers committed resources to the effort. In the end both agencies had buy in, both committed resources and felt invested ownership.
- Implementation Funding – Last but not least. Plans are infamous dust-collectors on the shelves of bureaucracy in the absence of the financial resources required to implement them. A good plan will identify the funding sources and structure needed for implementation. The Lower River Working Group has an Implementation sub-committee tasked with exactly that. We will look for the strengths and weaknesses of that process next year.
Most of the priorities outlined above have been discussed, debated and planned for in the past. However, River stakeholders – us, our partner organizations, the community and government agencies – have all had enough trial and error throughout the various River planning processes that now seems like a immutably reasonable moment to really get it right. As we approach the coming planning processes with cautious optimism and a collaborative spirit, we will be keeping our collective ears to the ground and eyes wide open for all of the above.
This is what we expect. This is what we will advocate for.
We invite you to join us in it.
Friends of the Los Angeles River is a 501c3 nonprofit whose mission since 1986 has been to ensure a publicly accessible and ecologically sustainable Los Angeles River by inspiring River stewardship through community engagement, education, advocacy, and thought leadership. FOLAR is a leading powerful force guiding policy and connecting communities to the River, nationally respected as a leader in urban river revitalization with a membership of 35,000.