12 Aug The Los Angeles River Has Earned A Better Reputation
By Friends of the Los Angeles River Sr. Policy Director Marissa Christiansen
Originally published as an op-ed in the Grunion Gazette
August 12, 2015
For 30 years, Friends of the Los Angeles River (FoLAR) has been leading the charge for Los Angeles River restoration. The issues surrounding the river are almost as complex as its balkanized governance, and yet one the biggest obstacles we face is misinformation leading people to see the river as a health or safety hazard.
Recently, an article published in the Hollywood Reporter erroneously reported that the Lower Los Angeles River is “associated with a number of public health problems over the years, including diabetes and obesity, which correlate with the lack of recreational green space around the river, and asthma, which is often more common in industrialized areas.” This egregiously misinformed statement represents the very perception that FoLAR has been fighting for 30 years.
Clearing the air — the river does not cause nor is it correlated to diabetes, obesity or asthma. While it’s true that many underserved river-adjacent communities, including those in the lower river sections, face public health challenges, these diseases are linked to a number of land use and socioeconomic factors. The Los Angeles County Department of Public Health attributes these types of health challenges to a number of complex and interrelated variables such as access to open space and healthy food options, walkability, bikeability, air quality and education about all of the above. The Lower Los Angeles River does not cause these problems; it instead promises to be a critical part of the solution to them.
As the article state, the river channel does indeed move water quickly to the ocean. During this time of drought, it’s critical that we address water usage and mitigate potential waste. Equally critical is maintaining public safety within river-adjacent communities as we restore habitat and create public open spaces. The recent ARBOR Study found the river to be home to almost 140 bird species, more than 20 species of mammals, nine species of bats, and an extraordinary variety of plants.
Work to restore and respect such river wildlife is already underway. Alternative 20 — a plan to restore 11 miles of river habitat within the city of Los Angeles — was recently unanimously adopted by the Los Angeles City Council this past June. The plan — a result of a partnership between the city of LA, the U.S. Army Corp of Engineers and Friends of the Los Angeles River — reconnects the river to the watershed by removing concrete from the riverbed while maintaining or even improving flood protection. This restorative effort will create open spaces, giving the currently park-poor communities along the river increased access and opportunities for recreation and active living — key components in the array of complex factors that may aide in addressing the health issues in question.
The Lower Los Angeles River is as promising as any other part of the river. Sites like the Dominguez Gap Wetlands, Willow Street Estuary and the Golden Shore Marine Biological Reserve all offer vibrant river ecosystems. As our 2016 Long Beach Fish Study shows, the mixing of fresh and ocean water in the Lower River creates a unique habitat where shorebirds, seals and even dolphins share space in the concrete channels.
The Lower Los Angeles River is an ecological treasure that we must protect — not a hazard to condemn.
To that end, Friends of the Los Angeles River and many other partnering organizations are involved in a number of lower-river focused efforts, including Speaker Anthony Rendon’s Lower LA River Working Group, which endeavors to create a Lower Los Angeles River Revitalization Master Plan.
Our efforts can only be successful if the entire river community can adeptly thwart anti-river sensationalism and fear that threatens to undermine the incredible opportunities that a restored river offers.
Our river is not a health hazard; it’s a critical urban ecosystem that countless Angelenos cherish. It’s an opportunity to create open spaces for underserved communities and confront issues of public health and environmental justice for generations to come.
The Los Angeles River is not yet perfect — but it is a safe and critical resource that will shape the landscape of our collective future.