A tale of three wetlands
February 22, 2012 § 18 Comments
Los Angeles proudly unveiled a new 9-acre park in South Los Angeles featuring a wetland that, I’m told, taps into the stormdrain network. And also receives tap water augmentation (although I don’t have the figures on how much). This is a $26 million achievement funded via the City’s Proposition O. The park helps to remediate not just stormwater but also a long-neglected imbalance in per capita park acreage for this South LA area compared with not only other areas of Los Angeles, but also compared to the city’s own planning standards. This constructed stormwater park is being celebrated in the media, here’s a few links: LA Times, KCET, A/N Blog. Everyone’s psyched to see a paved parking lot (bus yard) be turned into a natural paradise.
I wholeheartedly support creating open space with stormwater benefits and habitat establishment. But I do feel it is essential that these sites function entirely on local stormwater after an establishment period. Our region is home to seasonal wetland and wet meadow habitat communities to draw from. Used in design, we could create stormwater remediation and open space projects that would be ultimately more self-sustaining.
We don’t need to design these sites with perennial standing tap-water inputs. Not for the stormwater quality benefits, not for the habitat, and certainly not for the continued impact to far-away sources of water.
Because, as we all know at some level, buried deep in our highly irrigated psyche, there is wetland #2: the former floodplain of the Colorado River, among many far-away affected wetlands. Creekfreak will be writing more about the Lower Colorado soon, but here’s an image to ponder the effects of our continual, relentless draw on it and other sources:
Naturally-occurring wetlands are truly precious things. And wetlands are unique to particular topography and hydrology – you won’t find a wetland on a slope, but on flat land where water and sediment come to standstill, or groundwater seeps, or floods fill up backwater terrain. Here’s an interesting wetland site in Torrance, at Crenshaw near 208th Street, and the under-construction Del Amo Blvd Extension.
Formerly a backwater likely connected seasonally to the Dominguez Slough as the LA River flooded historically, it was paved over and put to use as a paint factory for many years. As the site was deconstructed and remediated, wetland-forming processes also picked up where they left off (and without the benefit of LA River flooding!), resulting in a self-restoring willow- and mulefat- rich wetland site. Self-restored, self-maintaining, unlike our $26m tapwater-augmented wetland. And also unlike our $26 million wetland park, this one is lined in razor wire and – wait for it – destined to become an asphalt slab – as parking and a transit depot for the Green Line extension.
That’s right, for $26m we created a wetland from a slab of asphalt, and for who knows how much more we will pave over a naturally-occurring one.
Enjoying this irony? It gets better, albeit as a digression from usual Creekfreak topics.
Urban designers, even the MTA, advocate strategically planning transit near development (as they’ve done along the Red and Gold Lines) – existing density provides a ready “market” of potential transit users, encourages car-free living, and can spur additional multi-story, mixed use development that contributes to a vibrant street life in a city. But out here in the South Bay (and perhaps other areas further flung from Los Angeles proper), transit stops are more like lonely outposts, appearing to be, by design, as remote from actual habitation as possible. As if a transit stop were an offense to single-family suburbs. I should mention, I actually use public transit. As a female, I find these stations to feel isolated, exposed, and unsafe, devoid of connection to street-life, and would much prefer a neighborhood-friendly transit stop walking or biking distance from my home, or at least along a route of streets lined with homes and street-level commercial activity. Kind of like the North Berkeley BART station, for example, or the downtown bus depot in Bellingham, Washington.
Proximity to transit hasn’t unleashed social pandemonium in either locale and promotes community connectivity.
But this new transit center, like the wetland it will replace, will be wedged between industry – including refineries – and a small smattering of some fairly low-density residential. And separated by yawningly wide Crenshaw boulevard from the housing. The bulk of Torrance’s population lies elsewhere. On the other hand, a charming, Olmsted Bros-era shopping district runs walking/bicycling distance from the rail line further south, near Torrance High School, Wilson Park and the Southern California Regional Occupational Center (SCROC). There’s plenty of asphalt on what looks like school and/or park property in that area.
The Green Line extension is likely to appeal to the more environmentally-oriented residents of Torrance, who might not want to have to drive and park; non-resident users might also appreciate being able to arrive somewhere, a destination such as Old Torrance. And vocational school attendees might be better served with accessible transit – I recall the SCROC-bound bus when I was in high school several miles away in Hawthorne. With Old Torrance nearby, this might be good for business as well. But situated by the refinery, hardier locals may attempt to ride their bicycle, braving Crenshaw Blvd if they are north/south-bound, or perhaps wanting to use the newly extended Del Amo Boulevard if they are traveling east-west. Del Amo is one of the closest E-W boulevards to the future transit center, and abandoned railroad lines were recently used to convert Del Amo from a dead-end to a through-street. But bicycle traffic is being excluded by design and policy from the street extension, even though it has a bike lane further to the west – and is one of Torrance’s more bike-friendly big boulevards! I mean, except for through the extension. I’m not making this up. I called the City, got forwarded to the folks doing the street extension, and was somewhat testily informed that bikes will not be allowed.
Furthermore, when asked about the appropriateness of the wetland site for the transit center, an environmental award-winning Torrance councilman also got testy. He abruptly cut me off midsentence, indicating that it had to be this way.
It has to be that way.
No, it doesn’t. Just ask the people who manufactured a wetland out of an asphalt slab.