Big News: EPA Designates L.A. River as Navigable!

July 7, 2010 § 24 Comments

Today, standing along the soft-bottom Compton Creek, the federal Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Lisa Jackson proclaimed that the EPA is designating “the entire L.A. River as traditional navigable waters.”  In the video above, the announcement comes at about 1:55 and the crowd cheers! Jackson continues stating that this means “the entire 51-mile watershed is protected” and “that areas like Compton Creek will have the full protection of our nation’s clean water law.”

More below on other great news from the press conference, and more of Jackson’s remarks.

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Ballona Creekfreak’s Celebration

December 10, 2009 § 1 Comment

Supervisor Ridley-Thomas looks on while Ballona Creek-freaks unveil plans for the Mar Vista Greenway, a project of the MRCA.

Last week saw the grand opening of a series of gateway parks to the Ballona Creek bike trail.  This celebratory gathering of Ballona Creek-freaks was hosted by the park’s sponsors, the Mountains Recreation & Conservation Authority (MRCA), and County Supervisor Mark Ridley Thomas, who gave a great pep talk trying motivate folks to pick up shovels and plant trees.  Unfortunately we were a somewhat sedate bunch.

The new parks are located at the Inglewood Avenue, Sepulveda Blvd, and McConnell entries to the bike path.  The “Mar Vista Greenway” will be a 1/2 mile long stretch of the creek landscaped with native vegetation, an exciting next step following the MRCA’s beautification and habitat plantings at Centinela Avenue, Culver City’s landscaping plans at Overland, and the Mid-City Neighborhood Council’s and North East Tree’s work on the Mid-City reach of Ballona.

Stay tuned for more on creating a continuous greenway on Ballona.  There’s lots in the works.

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)

Creekfreak’s agenda for Mark Ridley-Thomas, part I

November 19, 2008 § 3 Comments

“…it is the soul that must be preserved, if one is to remain a credible leader. All else might be lost; but when the soul dies, the connection to earth, to peoples, to animals, to rivers, to mountain ranges, purple and majestic, also dies.” – from Alice Walker’s Open Letter to Barack Obama

Mark Ridley-Thomas

Welcome to your new job, Mark Ridley-Thomas!

Congratulations Supervisor-Elect Mark Ridley Thomas!

LA Creekfreak is happy that you won!  You were endorsed by many environmentalists including the LALCV and river advocates like Creekfreak Joe Linton, Martin Schlageter and Lewis MacAdams.  We contributed modestly of our time to help your phone-banking.  We were inspired to hear Cornell West rally your supporters.  We felt excited on election night to hear that you and many other inspired leaders would represent us in the years ahead.

Now that you are set to occupy one of the County’s most powerful positions, we at the LA Creekfreak would like to load you up with good ideas on how to steer a new era of environmental stewardship in Los Angeles County’s Second District (map) and the County as a whole. We support your future efforts to ensure proper air quality, public transit and bike/ped improvements, public safety, functional hospitals and youth and social programs. But our focus is the water and things related to it.  The future of the greater LA area depends upon our ability to really address our human needs in an integrated fashion, building a strong societal fabric that rests on the tableau of a healthy and vibrant environment.  We know you’ve got many significant social and environmental problems to address, and we feel that our ideas can help you out with some of them.  We’ll present our wish list to you in two parts.  Today’s post focuses on opportunities within the Second District.  Our coming post looks at County-wide issues.

-Joe Linton & Jessica Hall

Stepping Outside

The Second District’s natural environment has been highly degraded and poses great challenges for revitalization, yet enthusiasts carry the torch for restoration and increased open space for our youth, health, water management, and wildlife & habitat.  

Here’s our list of some favorites, with descriptions in case you’re not familiar with them, to run with:


A Ballona Greenway.  Ballona Creek, once a perennially verdant, meandering stream with willows, wetland plants, birds, amphibians, and fish, is today soul-wrenchingly lost, dwarfing humans and animals alike in massive expanses of concrete, which makes for an excellent graffiti gallery and large-item dumping depot.  Yet despite this grim situation, endangered steelhead trout have been spotted in the channel, and shorebirds can be seen gorging themselves on…well, something.  The Ballona Creek Watershed Task Force, Mid-City Neighborhood Council, Culver City, Mountains Recreation Conservation Authority and Santa Monica Bay Restoration Commission, are among the many groups and agencies trying to humanize this big beast.  Projects have included creating new access points, native plantings, and trails & fencing.  We even talk about studying ways to partially naturalize it within the right-of-way.  But our ability to act is limited without the County – we NEED a County champion.  Help us Obe-Won Kenobe, you’re our only hope. (JH)

Ballona Wetlands Restoration.  Part of the wetlands appear to fall within your District.  The Coastal Conservancy, CA Fish & Game and the State Lands Conservancy have been working diligently, with the support of many other agencies, including the Santa Monica Bay Restoration Commission, Southern California Coastal Waters Research Project, and Army Corps of Engineers, and many NGOs and citizens in developing restoration alternatives for these parcels.  Alternatives 4 & 5 have floated to the top as favorites, although not without controversy.  We at Creekfreak support Alternative 5, as the restoration approach that restores the greatest amount of natural function – what is a coastal wetland without the stream or river dropping its sediment and mixing its freshwater with the tides?  Given that wetlands occur in very special places and ways, we also see this as a rare opportunity to bring these habitats back.  We recognize that there are legitimate concerns with the disturbance of the species that have adapted to the site in its current degraded state – many of the animals there now prefer grasslands or coastal sage scrub, and we encourage that adjacent open spaces be aggressively revegetated with these plant species so that the wildlife can migrate to other areas. Your political support for this project can help it move forward – tied with a Ballona Greenway and Baldwin Hills State Park improvements, it can be a real centerpiece within the District.  (JH)

A Dominguez Greenway. Like Ballona Creek above, without the stakeholders or the steelhead. And with probably twice the level of need in terms of population and access to open space.  As the channel leads to El Camino Community College, it could become a nice alternative transportation route for students, with opportunities for commercial/open space joint ventures. You also have a few fragments of the old slough that remain, at the Gardena Willows, the Devil’s Dip(below), Albertoni Farms, and Madrona Marsh(in neighboring Knabe’s District).  The Victoria Golf Course also has a small stream that was part of the big system – unfortunately the stream is flanked by Superfund sites.  Another note the old Slough’s original name referred (very crudely) to the early freeman settler of the region – the erasure of the offensive name by calling it Dominguez Slough is understandable, but in the process, we lose the cultural memory of the man, family, or group of free blacks who settled in early Los Angeles.  If we can find his actual name, perhaps we could dignify his courage and history with a proper re-naming. I am working on tracking down the story on this individual or group and will post details as they come to me. (JH)

Daylighting Concept for the Devil's Dip, 2004.

Daylighting Concept for the Devil's Dip

Daylighting the Devil’s Dip creek.  This one’s very special to the LA Creekfreak, as one of us (JH) grew up near there, and has been involved in past efforts on this creek.  The Devil’s Dip, also called Anderson Wash, was a tributary to the Dominguez Slough, and persisted in a natural condition until the 1970s or so, when the construction of Southwest College affected some of it.  But the 105 Freeway is what really took it down.  It is a wonderful thing to wander into West Athens, to utter the words Devil’s Dip, and be regaled with great tales of boyhood adventures in the old creek, pre-105. Today we are left with a few small reaches in the Chester Washington Golf Course, on El Segundo and Western.  North East Trees worked with Restoration Design Group and a golf course architect to daylight the creek at the Golf Course, but the project did not proceed.  This restoration would enhance the golf course, increase habitat, and give the gents in the neighborhood a vehicle for more great storytelling. (JH)

Compton Creek Restoration.  OK, we confess to a slight conflict of interest here.  Mia Lehrer & Associates and Restoration Design Group is helping the Watershed Council assess the feasibility of restoring Compton Creek through its soft-bottom reach, from the Crystal Park Casino to its confluence with the LA River.  The birds here are amazing to watch, yet it is possible to allow even more habitat in this reach of Compton Creek, and just think how cool it would be if the Blue Line stop at the Crystal Park Casino had great pedestrian access to the creek and the commercial complex at the old Autoplaza site!  But we need political will to make it happen. (JH)

Lafayette Park expansion. You can refer to an earlier post about this site.  Briefly, this is a highly impacted park, with great population density and not much space to play.  It also has a buried stream, Arroyo de la Brea, flowing through the site.  An undeveloped lot is used for parking and could be acquired (not cheap – it is on Wilshire), increasing park acreage, enabling a little breathing room between activities, possibly allowing the stream to be daylighted.  Act now while the economy is down! (JH)

Baldwin Hills.  Issues abound at the Baldwin Hills, and we know your assistance has been called upon already.  Ultimately, we want to see the Big Park come together!  In the meantime, how can the community obtain greater benefits from the existing public lands?  And can habitat be protected within the oil lands?  We defer to the Baldwin Hills Conservancy as the go-to team for priorities here.  (JH)

From Lot to Spot.  Here we had a great opportunity to create parkland that can help kids while helping to deal with our stormwater.  This Creekfreak positively seethes at the collective inability of multiple agencies – but especially the City of Hawthorne’s (speaking as one who grew up there) – inability to stand up for our children! Hijole, it makes me sick. So Supervisor, let’s not let the well being of our communities depend upon others, let’s snapple up vacant lots, especially in neighborhoods with mid-to-high densities and large concentrations of children, and create pockets of livability, even if other elected officials are only thinking of commercial development. (BTW, we’re not against commercial development – but not at the expense of the needs of our people or habitat). 

And while we’re at it, let’s engage the kids!  You could host an annual Service competition among all the High Schools for their aggregate social and environmental service.  Get the kids in the District excited about how they can participate in creating a more livable community for themselves.  (JH)

Green Streets.  Green Streets help redirect stormwater into streetside basins and swales, preventing runoff, reducing peak flows into our channels, recharging our groundwater, and filtering contaminants.  Sounds like a good deal, eh?  And it can be done SO simply – imagine a glorified parkway, depressed a few inches, with curb cuts, and sidewalks sloped to drain into the parkways.  Combined with urban forestry, you have street beautification! And that’s just the Hyundai version – the Cadillac version comes with permeable paving, subsurface infiltration gizmos, the works!  Some cities integrate these features with traffic calming, which residential areas like.  There’s really no reason every street in the district doesn’t work like this – it can still overflow into the stormdrain in really big rains.  But you know, we’re asking for it all – so while we’re at it, let’s work with those cities in the District who think it’s bad not to have a lawn, or that cite residents who plant natives for keeping weeds.  It’s time for a new ethic in LA County, and we encourage you to take leadership in working with your partner cities to embrace change. (JH)

Hope you feel more energized than exhausted by these possibilities!  


From the peanut gallery, with affection,

LA CreekFreak

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