11 Mar FoLAR weighs benefits and challenges of County ownership study
FoLAR weighs benefits and challenges of County ownership study
LA County Officials made waves in River news last month when they announced intentions to commision a study for the County to assume ownership of 40 miles of the LA River from the federal government, citing a preference for local control over local natural resources in the face of specific challenges our region will encounter with increased storms, due to climate change.
FoLAR, which has minted tens of thousands of River Stewards in three decades, has long supported unified governance of the LA River. A unified authority responsive to local needs should, in theory, facilitate the delivery of River restoration projects in a timely manner and adhere to local issues and opportunities. The public has voiced its strong preference for River restoration to include public access and wildlife habitat to deliver a thriving ecosystem on our urban waterway.
This shift in the County’s approach offers a timely opportunity to reconsider the complicating factors facing our River and its future. Indeed, operations and maintenance practices along the River function as a litmus test to whether we are meeting our long-established river-restoration goals. Unfortunately, the County’s maintenance practices have demonstrated it faces similar challenges to the Army Corps in integrating a restored river into its operations.
FoLAR’s concerns with this announcement center around implementing our shared commitment to ecological restoration. FoLAR’s City and Army Corp approved ARBOR Study was reported at the County Board of Supervisors meeting on February 27, 2019 to remain as the preeminent plan for delivering wetland restoration and wildlife habitat on our urban waterway in the 11-mile soft bottom stretch commonly referred to as Glendale Narrows. FoLAR encourages the County to utilize their proposed divestiture study to explore the best structure for governance, rather than constrain itself to solutions that place the County as the sole authority. FoLAR supports a comprehensive and watershed-wide approach to both planning and governance, in efforts to identify holistic interventions that allow for a more balanced, progressive and equitable future for the River. Policy Manager Stephen Mejia notes, “We support the County’s effort to study the best structure to meet shared goals for the River, but oppose any agency being singularly responsible for operations and maintenance without full transparency about its priorities.”
Of course the LA River and its watershed are not alone in devising and exploring new approaches to managing various stakeholders, environmental concerns, and restoration projects. FoLAR points to international examples in Quebec’s watershed approach and France’s coordination of multiple layers of government towards a common goal as illuminating examples of what is possible with a new unified structure on the LA River. Quebec’s watershed management structure acknowledges that water governance relies on multiple sources by encouraging multi-stakeholder collaborations and knowledge sharing through the creation in 2009 of a network of watershed organizations made up of public, private and civil society stakeholders. This water governance approach recognizes the watershed as the administrative unit for water planning and management. France’s water basin management structure accepts that many sectors are needed to responsibly manage a natural resource. Watershed-wide policy is devised in a participatory manner through compulsory public debate, and implemented by a multi-level governance body with legal authority over other sectors, ranging from city planning to agriculture. This governance structure ensures transparency in decision-making and a holistic approach to a water resource management.
All in all, this is an early chapter of an on-going saga to devise policy solutions and fund restoration projects and maintain River-adjacent open space. With our long memory of the River’s journey towards becoming a space for Angelenos to imagine a better future, we strongly support carrying ARBOR recommendations through any future governance structure, and for the County’s study to examine all possible ways to balance stakeholders in a joint powers authority.
Friends of the Los Angeles River (FoLAR):
Friends of the Los Angeles River is a 501c3 nonprofit whose mission since 1986 has been to ensure a publicly acccessible 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.