January 30, 2013 § 7 Comments
Hearing the plug on NPR last week for the upcoming exhibition Never Built at the A+D museum, I was reminded of a very bizarre project that I came across in a 1968 issue of California Tomorrow’s excellent journal Cry California, for building a causeway across Santa Monica Bay. The caption to the picture reads: “Santa Monica Bay is the preposed site of a massive earth-filled causeway that would take 120 million cubic yards of fill from the Santa Monica Mountains. The plan would serve developers and oil interests primarily. The plan is actively supported by the City of Santa Monica, the County of Los Angeles and Los Angeles Mayor Samuel Yorty. While the program was blocked by the Los Angeles Council, the proposal is by no means dead.”
Sure enough, this project turns out to be included in the Never Built exhibition, though we can be relieved that this particular “visionary work” never left the drawing board. In that sense, this project would seem to run counter to the apparently positive tenor of the exhibition; the curators write wistfully of “a reluctant city whose institutions and infrastructure have often undermined inventive, challenging urban schemes.” While this certainly applies to projects like the celebrated Olmstead plan for preserving the flood plains of LA’s rivers as parkland, I assume that the curators have not uncritically equated “visionary” with “good.” Obviously, the visionary can cut both ways: the critical point is how to sort out the good visions from the bad ones. Unfortunately, plenty of bad visions have been realized in Los Angeles, but some of the worst, like the Santa Monica Bay Causeway, were stopped. The role of historical groups such as California Tomorrow in generating a discussion about how to develop California responsibly should not be forgotten.
More about the history of the Santa Monica Causeway can be found online here.
Update: I just found a more modest version of this proposal (parkways instead of freeways on the causeway!) in the admirable 1930 Olmstead plan for Los Angeles. The idea was most likely a vestige of the original plan to put the Los Angeles harbor at Santa Monica.
January 28, 2013 § 6 Comments
A couple weeks ago, I got a chance to bicycle a few miles of the Bronx River. It’s not unlike the Los Angeles River: a very urban, relatively industrialized freshwater river, in the process of making a dramatic comeback – with new parks and bike paths along its degraded banks. « Read the rest of this entry »
November 22, 2012 § Leave a Comment
A year ago, my Thanksgiving post was a tribute of sorts to an endangered species, the Vaquita marina, and a reflection on our consumption of water – an important cause of distress for this brackish-water dwelling, small porpoise:
I can tell you now, I thought that the tribute was an elegy to a dying species, the pitch for water conservation quite possibly a lost cause. But I needed to learn more, to see this in person – even if that meant dragging out the melancholy. And so, I teamed with Josh Link on a series, Explorations of the Lower Colorado River – a humbling and amazing trip in which we saw how a people’s love for a land, commitment to all species, and creativity and capability was being rewarded, poco a poco, with adjustments and agreements and funding and projects that kept some habitat on life support. But what was really needed was water for the river, for the delta.
This week, the hard work of these environmentalists in the Mexico and US border region has been rewarded: a landmark pact between the two nations recognizing the delta’s need for water, and other measures. It is a five-year treaty, so the flows are not secure. But it is an incredible beginning.
Today’s Thanksgiving celebrates an newfound abundance for a long-withered waterway, a lifeline and hope.
Congratulations, to all involved.
In the news:
National Geographic: A historic binational agreement gives new life to the Colorado River Delta
Huffington Post: An historic step towards saving the Colorado River and Delta
You can also see photos and news about the delta at the Save the Colorado River Delta Facebook page. They’ve also posted video of Mexico’s Director General of the National Water Commission talking about the pact.
November 2, 2012 § 6 Comments
(Note to L.A. folks: this former L.A. resident is now spending time living with my fiance in Downtown Jersey City. I’ll be posting occasional east coast pieces that I think may be interesting to L.A.’s Creek Freaks. For more information on recent changes at LACF, see this earlier post.)
I’ve spent the last month living in Jersey City, a place that was hard-hit by Hurricane Sandy. I am not going to go over all the damage done by Sandy nor the environmental factors likely responsible for second “storm of the century” in two years here… but I wanted to share one small observation about debris – because Sandy’s debris lines resemble those I’ve seen on the L.A. River after storms.
The good news is that my fiance and I are safe and dry, and suffered nearly no serious damage. We did have a day-long blackout, and train service is still out. Neighbors’ places flooded, but our basement stayed dry. At least right here on our street, near Hamilton Park in Downtown Jersey City, we got some strong winds but very little rain. The flooding issues here (and in nearby Hoboken, Manhattan, etc.) were the result of a surge of the waters of the Hudson River. The hurricane pushed water upstream, overflowing the banks and flooding low-lying areas. The surge added to already high-tide conditions on the Hudson – in this area a tidally-influenced river.
After the storm, we bicycled around – stretching our legs and checking out downed trees and other damage. We frequently bike at Liberty State Park – a low-lying park along the Hudson, just west of the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island. The park has great views of the Manhattan skyline. The park contains the Liberty Science Center, located on a small hill. Along the base of the hill (see above photo), we spotted a debris line running along a level contour around the hill. The river pushed its flotsam as far as it could, and then receded, leaving a telltale line. « Read the rest of this entry »
October 31, 2012 § 1 Comment
Once the election buzz has passed, angelenos can turn their attention to the Supreme Court for some creekfreaky argumentation. Commenters – can you offer up interpretations of what this decision will mean for clean water in LA if the County has its way? (feel free to also weigh in on how you feel about the County using its scarce resources for fighting interpretations of the clean water act when it’s under compliance deadlines. All the way up to the Supreme Court.)
October 24, 2012 § 2 Comments
Hello Creekfreaks! I miss writing about LA waterways but am much enjoying the new sights and sounds of Humboldt Bay, and my new job is promising to be very rewarding. Being bay-focused, I’m reading about oysters today, and stumbled across a little anecdote I thought you might appreciate:
Native oysters grew in some of the bays in southern California, but did not form the basis of a commercial industry. Wilcox (1898, p. 647) says: “Native oysters, small in size and of little value, are found in limited quantities at several places in southern California, but are gathered only at Bolsa, Orange County. Some attempt is being made to cultivate the California oysters in the waters between San Pedro and Wilmington, where they have long been known to exist in very limited quantities.” He also stated that production in Orange County in 1895 was 25,740 pounds (probably including shells) valued at $772; at the same time the production in San Francisco Bay was 14,701,500 pounds (shell weight) valued at $538,725 (U.S. Bur. Fish. Rept., 1898, p. 651).
A decade later, in 1906, Pacific Fisherman (October 1906, p. 23) reported the native oysters in the Grand Canal at Venice, Los Angeles County, were to be exploited commercially.
-Fish Bulletin 123, The California Oyster Industry, by Elinore M. Barrett, California Department of Fish & Game, 1963
October 20, 2012 § 5 Comments
In February 2010, Jane Tsong posted these photos on L.A. Creek Freak of flooding in the Yosemite Drive area of Eagle Rock in 1934, with a challenge to readers to find the location of the photographs.
The 1934 New Year’s Day Flood is notorious for causing the death of at least 45 people in Montrose and La Crescenta. It inspired Woody Guthrie to write a song of that title. Several days of very heavy rain caused lethal debris flows in areas of the San Gabriel Mountains that had been burned that fall. The flooding in the Los Angeles basin as a whole was not particularly severe, but the deaths of so many people in the foothills focused people’s attention on the dangers of flooding, and gave added impetus to the comprehensive flood control planning for the entire watershed. In the case of Eagle Rock, where no lives were lost, the 1934 flood increased public pressure to complete the area’s storm drain system, and, in particular, to construct the Yosemite Drive storm drain with Civil Works Administration funds. Soon after these photographs were taken, the natural (or semi-natural) creek documented by these photographs disappeared into a 102″ concrete pipe under Yosemite Drive.
The first photograph of the flood shows F. E. Montee’s house at 4815 Avoca Avenue, on the north side of Yosemite Drive. On January 4th, the Eagle Rock Advertiser reported that the house was “almost completely undermined and the family forced to vacate.” The house survives, in a much altered state, while the path of the creek has been turned into an alley; only the large sycamore growing in the middle of this alley provides a clue to the former presence of the creek. On the upstream side of Avoca, however, the old channelized stream actually survives. Completely overgrown with invasive Tree of Heaven, it probably extends as far as Rockdale elementary school; the sides of the channel are lined with corrugated iron and it measures about five feet wide and three feet deep.
The second and third photographs of the 1934 flood show the creek on either side of the Yosemite Drive bridge, just downstream from Avoca Street and near to the the intersection of Yosemite Drive and Ray Court. The present day jog in the course of Yosemite Drive in this area is a vestige of the need to cross over the creek. The second photograph is looking downstream, with the silhouette of Occidental College’s Fiji Hill clearly discernable in the background; the power poles are running along Yosemite Drive, just as they do today. The third photograph is looking upstream, from the other side of Yosemite Drive, with the now demolished two-story masonry Rockdale elementary school just visible in the background.
The exact location of the bridge remains a little vague, but an older photograph of the area taken from Wildwood Drive clearly shows the course of the creek as it crosses under Yosemite Drive and heads across the land that is now occupied by the Yosemite Manor and other large apartment complexes.
Another useful document for creek freaks is an undated storm drain map, in which the storm drains were expediently drawn over an older topographical map. The palimpsest of the old contour lines clearly describes the path of the creek as it heads towards Oak Grove Drive.
The most remarkable thing revealed by these photographs is the proximity of the houses to the creek. The potential destructive force of the creek seems to have been entirely underestimated. A portion of Oak Grove Drive (where the High School now stands) was actually built along the line of the creek, with predictable consequences! It is sad to think that with only a little planning, in terms of prudent setbacks from the watercourse and preservation of floodplain width, the creek could have been preserved in an almost natural state for the whole length of the valley. Large parcels of land along the creek, including three school properties and the Yosemite Recreation Center, were still largely open space in the 1930s. It is a story of missed opportunity—in fact, a version of the history of the whole watershed, in miniature.