An environmental agenda for Supervisor Ridley-Thomas, Part II

January 23, 2009 § Leave a comment

Part II

Honorable Supervisor Ridley-Thomas,

Los Angeles County Supervisor Mark Ridley Thomas with Tavis Smiley

Los Angeles County Supervisor Mark Ridley Thomas with Tavis Smiley

Congratulations on being sworn in as our newest county supervisor!  We’re impressed that you’ve tapped Dan Rosenfeld to be your planning deputy. Rosenfeld has caught our attention as someone who really gets urban environmental issues, including supporting river revitalization (including playing a role in the creation of LA City’s River Revitalization Master Plan.)

In our last post to you, we outlined key Creekfreaky environmental objectives for the Second District.  Today we are sharing with you our priorities on a County-wide basis.  There are management issues that affect waterways and the environment throughout the County, and that need your leadership to foster healthier creeks and happier people.

We’re aware that Supervisors, out of respect for one another, often defer to each other’s lead within their own domains.  However, where natural resources are concerned, we ask you – and your fellow Supervisors – to consider that these resources are a common good, not defined by a political boundary.  We heartily recommend that you take a leadership position on these issues that impact your constituents but aren’t limited to just within your district’s boundaries.  We trust your leadership and statesmanship to move these forward without stepping on too many toes.

Countywide Issues

Broaden the Mission of the Los Angeles County Flood Control District – The LACFCD will celebrate its 100th birthday on your watch.  A lot has changed in a hundred years, but not the district’s mandate.  Older thinking brought us single-purpose concrete channel flood protection.  Currently approaches favor multiple-benefit approaches that prevent floods, but also increase local water supply, green neighborhoods, provide recreation, improve habitat, and more.  Creek Freak urges you and your fellow supervisors to work with county staff and state legislators to redefine the mission of the flood control district to encompass a broader, more holistic, multi-purpose watershed management approach.  Perhaps it could be re-purposed and re-named – maybe a County Watershed Management District?  Your experience in and relationships with the state legislature will be critical in this task.  A re-purposed District could be the engine driving a revitalization of our local infrastructure, capitalizing on President Obama’s momentum to reintegrate and naturalize waterways while creating a restoration economy.  If London can do it, so can LA. (JH/JL)

Implement Integrated Maintenance for County Rivers and Creeks – Current county maintenance regimes result in a boom and bust cycle of healthy neglect for vegetation growing in our creekbeds, then total bulldozing (as was recently inflicted on Compton Creek and the lower Los Angeles River.)  Sometimes exotic invasive vegetation is left standing while native trees are felled.  These bipolar approaches are not optimal for flood protection capacity nor for habitat nor for aesthetics.  Creek Freak urges you to help County Public Works to study and to adopt a new maintenance regime that integrates and balances flood capacity, habitat, water quality, and other benefits.  Integrated maintenance might be a little more labor-intensive, hence a little more expensive. You might be able to save some money, if you can get greater community involvement in the stewardship of our waterways.  What do you think about a pilot integrated maintenance project on the soft-bottom stretch of Compton Creek? (JL)

Work Cooperatively with Cities to Revitalize Waterways – Unfortunately there seem to be too many turf struggles between the county and cities when it comes to pursuing waterway projects.  These issues can be attributed to both electeds and agencies, to both county and cities.  The LA City River Revitalization Master Plan probably doesn’t sufficiently respect the county’s LA River Master Plan that preceeded it… so the Joint Powers Authority the city proposed has been roadblocked, debated, undermined, watered-down and downgraded into a (still-not-finalized) Master Use Agreement that won’t have one-hundredth of the momentum that the initially proposed JPA could have had.  Creek Freak looks forward to the benefits of your leadership and your experience in city government to foster a more cooperative atmosphere.  We urge you to focus on what’s best to make progress for our communities and our environment, and not get bogged down in jurisdictional squabbles.  (JL) 

Sewage infrastructure and reclamation.  Sewage of +9 million people is a big deal.  The City of LA may have the largest treatment plant, but the County also plays a major role in addressing sewage.  Aging sewage pipes are a nasty business*, and opportunities for widespread recycling or recharging treated sewage are tremendous.  Meanwhile, scientists are honing in on the alarming consequences of hormone-mimickers, pharmaceuticals, and other nonregulated contaminants in our treated wastewater.  And yes, there are problems with long term use of reclaimed water – it does have a slightly higher salt and nutrient content than potable freshwater.  Let’s put scientists and engineers to work on figuring out how to close the loop on these issues so we can move forward – rapidly –  to reclaim and reuse this water.  There’s a lot of jobs in replacing the old pipe, and laying the new ones for recycling.  Purple pipes should reach all corners of the county! (JH)

*I once worked on a job where the sewage pipe had corroded away, the void left by the pipe was conveying the raw sewage, in a part of town with a high groundwater table.  Yuck!

Planning & county-wide stream & watershed protection. Moving on to real creeks, our County’s waterways continue to decline, in habitat quality and actual stream-miles of riparian corridor, as development intensifies.  State and federal regulations create a process for assessing and “mitigating” the damage done to these wild areas, but the reality is we are facing net losses of waterways.  At present, watershed management is largely confined to Public Works Departments, who can only work within the existing publicly-owned infrastructure.  Engage Planning Departments in stormwater abatement & stream protection.  While working with the County Planning Department is key, we also need to develop more relationships with the planning offices of the many cities in the County, and get everyone on the same page. Here’s a couple of thoughts how watershed planning and Planning Departments can come together:

  • Enact stream buffers around natural streams.  These buffers slow the flow of water, prevent erosion, filter contaminants, protect habitat and can help recharge aquifers.  They also tend to preserve flood plains, and therefore the flood storage capacity of streams.  Assuming someone hasn’t pushed dirt into and narrowed the streams already.
  • Enact permeability zones.  Austin, Texas has an interesting model for this.  The County and its cities have a vested interest in seeing recharge of stormwater occur throughout the region.  Planning departments can set limits on impervious paving/building footprints based on soils, floodplains, and other features.  This can and should also help determine where future housing density should be concentrated – and future parkland prioritized.
  • Provide density bonuses to developers who voluntarily restore currently channelized or buried streams through their developments, with adequate space for natural functions (including flooding).  Not talking about bonuses for low-flow fake streams.  (JH)

Stepping outside of the Second District

This may be dicey, to get involved in local issues in other parts of the County.  But we hope you will work proactively with your fellow Supervisors on highlighting the importance of these issues.

Protect the upper Santa Clara River.  This is breaking Creekfreak’s heart.  A beautiful, wild, Southern California river, just being itself.  But humankind wants to make tons of money by building on its floodplain, resulting in bank armoring and increased runoff rates.  Its tributaries are also being impacted. This is dangerous as well as bad news for the remaining steelhead that run in the river and everyone downstream.  If we continue in this vein, the Santa Clara will end up looking like the worst parts of the Los Angeles River.  Please don’t repeat that mistake.  We urge you to take a day off and go on a tour of the Santa Clara River.  Spend a day enjoying what this is, so much like what the LA River was.  Some things are priceless and phenomenally difficult-and expensive- to restore once the damage has been done.  (JH/JL)

Western Snowy Plover (photo by Michael L. Baird)

Western Snowy Plover (photo by Michael L. Baird)


Dunes & lagoons add beauty and habitat at natural beaches. Morro Strand State Beach.









Bring back the beach – natural beaches for wildlife and people.  Supervisor Ridley-Thomas, have you ever seen the endangered Snowy Plover, which hangs out on our beaches?  Have you ever seen a maintenance truck barrel right through where they are roosting?  I have, at Dockweiler, a popular destination of many of the Second District’s residents.  Beach grooming also kills the eggs of our native grunion, a funny little fish that runs out of the ocean on full moons and spawns in the sand (Desal will kill them too – increased salinity of seawater is real bad for them).  The fact is, our beaches bear little resemblance to the incredible blending of lagoon, dune, and rocky intertidal habitats of yore.  Conventional thinking is that a beach denuded of actual beach habitat is more profitable than a natural one.  I contend that a mix of groomed and natural beaches is good for humans and habitat – and that tons of nature nerds will flock and spend money while gleefully observing least terns, snowy plovers…and sea otters if you can bring ’em back (and yep, they were here too). (JH)

Remove Rindge Dam on Malibu Creek.  Creekfreak’s reach is broad, and we hope yours will be too.  Rindge Dam on Malibu Creek is a major obstacle to the re-establishment of steelhead trout (another of our endangered species) on an already natural stream.  The habitat is there, the fish just need to be able to get to it.  The dam serves no flood control purpose.

And while were at it, perhaps we could re-evaluate the need for other dams that are currently filled to capacity with sediment. (JH)

LA County’s deserts are jewels.  California’s deserts are being eyed as something of a mother-lode for alt-energy, following on decades of use for mining, defense industry training, and more recently suburbs with some of the most aggravatingly long commutes.  They are also fragile, precious and extremely vulnerable to political pressure.  Riparian areas are particularly sensitive, but the wildlife that uses desert waterways also needs safe and protected corridors to access them and move elsewhere in their ranges.  As we move forward, we need to give this serious consideration too. (JH)


We could go on (and we sometimes do.) There’s a lot of work to be done, and we’re glad that we’ve got strong progressive leadership in the Second District. We’re looking forward to working with you in the years ahead. 

With respect and hope,

Los Angeles Creek Freak (Jessica Hall and Joe Linton)


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