What’s the Plan?

August 29, 2008 § 1 Comment

Rendering of a Revitalized Los Angeles River in Downtown L.A. (from the city of L.A.'s LA River Revitalization Master Plan)

Rendering from the City of LA's River Plan

Recently someone asked me to show some sections of the L.A. River that are “not covered by the plan.” In the light of publicity around the city of Los Angeles’ recent plan (the Los Angeles River Revitalization Master Plan – the LARRMP – adopted in 2007), many people assume that it’s the plan for the river. While the LARRMP has a lot of great features, it’s actually a relative newcomer on the scene, building on the success of Los Angeles County’s plan (the Los Angeles River Master Plan – the LARMP – adopted in 1996.)

The Los Angeles River is part of an interconnected system of tributaries, many of which have their own plans. The waterways are the spine of the Los Angeles River watershed; tributaries have their nestled subwatersheds. Many problems in the river corridors – especially flooding and pollution (water quantity and quality, respectively) – are nearly impossible to solve just by fixing up our waterways themselves. Solving these problems requires planning on the watershed scale… so there are watershed plans and sub-watershed plans, too.

There are officially adopted plans by cities, counties, and other public agencies. These cover river corridors, water quality, river zones, individual parks, bike paths, etc. There are also plans created by advocacy groups, who don’t necessarily see ourselves as limited by the adopted master plans. There are also various vision plans created by students, engineering firms, artists, and others.

Often plans are referred to by their acronyms, which can be very similar – there’s the LARMP and the LARRMP, the IRP and IRWMP… Is your head spinning yet? Mine is, and I live and breathe this stuff.

So, in order to help folks familarize themselves with some of the acronyms plans for the L.A. River (and that’s just one of the half-dozen rivers in L.A. County,) here’s a short list of some that I think are worth knowing about… this is not an exhaustive list – feel free to comment with your favorite plan that I’ve omitted!

LARMP – The Los Angeles River Master Plan was adopted by the county of Los Angeles in 1996. It covers the entire Los Angeles River and the portion of the Tujunga Wash downstream of Hansen Dam. The LARMP was a collaborative effort between three separate county departments: Public Works, Regional Planning and Parks and Recreation. The pioneering document was instrumental in opening up the formerly fenced-off river, and has resulted in various additional documents, including guidelines for signage and landscaping.

LARRMP – The Los Angeles River Revitalization Master Plan was adopted by the city of Los Angeles in 2007. It covers the 32 miles (about 2/3rds) of the river within the city of L.A. – from Canoga Park to Vernon. The LARRMP calls for a greenway along the river, and for dramatic interventions at five opportunity sites: Canoga Park, Verdugo Wash, Taylor Yard, Cornfields/Chinatown, and Downtown L.A.

IRP – The Integrated Resources Plan is the city of Los Angeles’ plan for wastewater, stormwater and recycled water for the next 20 years.

IRWMP – The Integrated Regional Water Management Plan, known unfortunately as the “Urr Wimp”, is a mega-plan for Los Angeles County that focuses water supply, while also incorporating aspects of watershed management, recreation, groundwater recharge, flood prevention, restoration, and perhaps even the kitchen sink. It’s a unwieldy document that folds together various projects, mostly so the region can say that we’re working together and therefore we qualify for state funding. Creekfreak’s hero Anne Riley has called IRWMPs “the big staple” – more-or-less an exercise in stapling various water agency projects together.

Long Beach RiverLink is the city of Long Beach’s master plan for their 10 miles of the Los Angeles River. Adopted in 2003, RiverLink plans more than 220 acres of new parks along the lower river.

And that’s not all. There are plan for tributaries, including the Tujunga Pacoima Watershed Plan (by The River Project), a handful of Arroyo Seco plans (by the city of Pasadena for various stretches, by North East Trees and the Arroyo Seco Foundation, and one underway by the Army Corps of Engineers), more for the Rio Hondo (part of Los Angeles County’s San Gabriel River Corridor Master Plan, the San Gabriel and Lower Los Angeles Rivers and Mountains Conservancy’s Rio Hondo Watershed Management Plan, and Amigos de los Rios’ Emerald Necklace plan), and a couple for Compton Creek (the city of Compton’s Compton Creek Regional Garden Park Master Plan and the Los Angeles and San Gabriel Rivers Watershed Council’s Compton Creek Watershed Management Plan.)

Thank you dear reader for getting this far with me… all these plans are making me forget the point I was intending to make. Overall these multiple overlapping and interconnecting plans are worthwhile: they include some opportunities for public input and public awareness; they direct governmental expenditures to the river; and they’ve resulted in new parks, paths, public art, landscaping and more. One of the issues with them is the scale: to really solve problems, we need to look at the whole watershed, but when we’re looking at a watershed scale, the plans become cumbersome and difficult for local communities to identify with. It’s difficult to strike the balance between comprehensive and specific.

Advocates should be familiar with these plans, and should use them where they serve us, but shouldn’t be limited by plans’ shortcomings. The 1996 county LARMP, useful and important as it was and still is, didn’t include large new parks at Taylor Yard or the Cornfield Yards or even small ones including Marsh Park or Steelhead Park. Much of the work done along the river have been bottom-up grassroots efforts where environmentalists, residents, soccer players, businesses, bicyclists, parents, and others (including some elected officials and governmental agencies) came together around meeting the needs of local communities.

To date, a lot of the river revitalization projects, from South Gate to Frogtown to El Monte have been opportunistic. Considerably less of an orderly implementation of master planning than opportunistic seizing of opportunities. Our waterways run through diverse neighborhoods, so our plans for healthy rivers should be diverse, too. We should respect the steps forward taken through past planning efforts while we continue go beyond them.

(Keep your RSS tuned to LA Creek Freak – More information on these and other plans in upcoming blogs!)

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