County Supervisors make their mark on the Santa Clara River

October 6, 2011 § 4 Comments

We get so excited about our steps to mitigate (at beaucoup bucks) the environmental harm caused by the historical destruction of our waterways, that we often lose sight of our remaining natural waterways, that are impaired and under siege by ongoing efforts to build on floodplains, straighten, channelize, pond, dam and otherwise alter.  I wonder sometimes if this is because we are more excited by the human handprint on the landscape than we are awed by the natural processes that are greater than us.  Or is turning away of our gaze a kind of fist-shake at nature for being continually humbled?

The Santa Clara River, last natural big river in our region, the one that should be our point of reference for restoring the Los Angeles and San Gabriel Rivers, that can really help us to postulate our way out of the sediment dilemma of debris dams and spoiled woodlands to floodplains and sediment transport, will bear new markings of that human handprint.

For new development will soon mark the floodplain of the Santa Clara River at the “Landmark Village.”

It won’t just be the river and its habitat that loses. That river is at risk, and needs a larger community of support to protect it, but don’t kid yourself – the little handprint of Landmark Village can be easily swiped away in a large enough storm, poised as it is on the inside bend of a river that will be constricted by development.  There may someday be a landmark that says, Here Once Laid the Landmark Village. A companion sign to the St. Francis Dam disaster sign much further upstream.  One more ruin in a heritage of hubris.

County Supervisors Knabe, Molina and Antonovich approved the first phase of the Newhall Ranch project.  Ridley-Thomas and Yaroslavsky were absent for this important vote.

In the news:  Landmark Village gets green light – Daily News

SCOPE hosts Heather Wylie talk on L.A. River 3/19

March 18, 2011 § 1 Comment

Santa Clarita Organization for Planning and the Environment is having a special meeting Saturday, March 19th with guest speaker Heather Wylie talking about her participation in the Los Angeles River kayaking trip that proved its navigability. Creek Freak blogger Joe Linton was also part of that excursion.

Here’s the deet’s:

WHEN: Saturday, March 19th, 2PM

WHERE: St. Stephen’s Episcopal Church, Spurling Hall Community Room, 24901 Orchard Village Rd. Valencia, CA 91355

Refreshments will be served – Regular Business meeting to follow speaker

More info: 661 255-6899


News and Events – 8 January 2011

January 8, 2011 § Leave a comment

Act now to save Arcadia's threatened oaks! Photo by ecotonestudios


> If you haven’t read Josh’s article yesterday about the urgency of action to prevent the county’s astonishingly wrong-headed plans for burying Arcadia’s oak woodlands – read it and take action! Demolition is scheduled to begin next week. Here’s a set of links of  yesterday’s blogger solidarity day post to save this irreplaceable site: Altadena Hiker, ArcadiaPatchBallona BlogBipedality, Breathing TreatmentChance of Rain, Echoes, Greensward CivitasL.A. Creek Freak, L.A. Eco-Village, L.A. ObservedPasadena AdjacentPasadena Daily Photo, Pasadena Real Estate with Brigham Yen, Slow Water!, The Sky is Big in Pasadena, Temple City Daily Photo and Weeding Wild Suburbia. Thanks also to Sierra Madre Tattler!

> Oiled Wildlife Care Network reports an oil spill in the Dominguez Channel on December 22nd 2010. Their team “recovered three oiled birds:  one Pied-billed grebe, which died, and two American Coots.”  As of January 4th, OWCN reports that  “no responsible party has been identified, and the source of the spill remains unknown.” Full story at link.

> ArroyoLover reports on the drawbacks (pun intended) of new archery range fencing proposed for Pasadena’s Lower Arroyo Seco Nature Park.

> L.A.’s Daily News reports a Shadow Hills incident where a “car raced downhill, bouncing over speed bumps before brushing by horse and rider, spooking them to the curb. [The horse was] injured [and ultimately perished] when she became trapped in a storm drain debris screen[…]. The driver did not stop.” Interestingly the article calls for changes to the storm drain trash grates, but seems to let the criminal speeding driver off the hook. Full story at link.

> If you think L.A.’s La Niña rains were bad, read Circle of Blue‘s reports on disastrous El Niño rains in Colombia and Venezuela.

> The Los Angeles Times has an impressive photo of water churning through the San Gabriel Dam during recent tests. Also at L.A. Times: environmentalists file suit to block Newhall Ranch development imperiling the Santa Clara River. And, further afield, plans for the future health of the Klamath River.

> The Project For Public Spaces has an extensive conference proceedings document that serves as a sort of handbook for waterfront design/place-making. Their top recommendations (as distilled by me) are: multiple destinations, connected by trails for walking and bicycling.

Drastic Declines in World Fisheries - New York Times via Cyborg Vegan Cannibals

>Cyborg Vegan Cannibals has two scary graphs on the precipitous decline of world fisheries. One above and the other at the link. Maybe it’s time to watch Dan Barber’s video again. (Thanks to TrueLoveHealth for sharing the CVC link!)


> The city of Los Angeles Bureau of Sanitation hosts a Low Impact Development update on Thursday January 20th 2011 at 1pm at their Media Center Offices. Details at L.A. Stormwater Blog.

More landfill design stylin’ in the Santa Clara River watershed

November 8, 2010 § 1 Comment

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(Above: I’ve outlined creeks in red – mostly elusive unmapped ephemeral drainages that will be filled by proposed development. Grey lines are existing contours, black includes new contour and lots. I only reviewed a small number of the sheets available at the website below.)

Here’s a chance to weigh in to keep the Santa Clara watershed from looking worse than the LA River watershed. I say worse because at least our hills and mountains, for the most part, haven’t been reshaped to look like engineered landfills. I haven’t had much time to review the documents, but my 5-minute assessment reveals that the beautiful terrain will be dramatically re-shaped to create stabilized and uniform slopes for cookie-cutter homes, condos and commercial areas. Drainages will definitely be filled. And these could be intermittent or ephemeral streams, with their own sensitive habitat. Remember, not all streams are properly mapped.

What’s more, as recent posts have shown, preserving uplands is also important. Will they preserve and replant the seedbank? I don’t know (the first chapter of the EIR is 122MB – too much for a mid-day work break!) That it will have the required stormwater quality detention ponds and protected areas for spineflower and stickleback is a perfunctory nod at legal requirements rather than an inspired design approach that leverages the natural capital of the site for long-term sustainability and aesthetic pleasure.

From Lynne Plambeck, Friends of Santa Clara River:

Just a head’s up to anyone that might be interested – The Mission Village project will be heard at the LA County Regional Planning Hearing Rm 150 (320 Temple St., LA 90012) Wenesday morning at 9AM. (emphasis by LA Creekfreak) « Read the rest of this entry »

A step towards preserving the Santa Clara River

February 11, 2010 § Leave a comment

Many of you already know the story of the Los Angeles River and its demise.  And many of you also know that just beyond the hills from us, development in the Santa Clarita area continues to threaten the Santa Clara River, with paving of its watershed, building in its floodplain, and straightening and leveeing (albeit with dirt or soil-cement) of its upper reaches, repeating the early phases of the trajectory of the LA River’s “improvement”.

So it’s encouraging news (although you’d never know it from reading the comments at the end of the linked article) to learn of another acquisition of land along the Santa Clara River, this one on the lower end of the river.  The Nature Conservancy has put together a land deal with the owners of the McGrath property in Ventura.  The California Coastal Conservancy has also been working in the region to acquire land along the river for its preservation.

Check it out:  Conservancy to buy river property » Ventura County Star.  And if you’re not already worn out by the bitterness of some of your fellow humans, read the comments.

Waxing quixotic for the Santa Clara River

June 10, 2009 § 3 Comments

Let’s say you’re one of those people who thinks the LA River is a sewer, that it makes for a pretty poor nature experience.  And let’s say you know a thing or two about nature experiences.  (we’re playing let’s pretend here, Mr. Turner)

Then, certainly you know about the Santa Clara River. The best living representation we have of what the LA River was.  It is also a rare river in that it (it’s mainstem anyway) is a large undammed river, and home to endangered steelhead trout.  And now facing the same development pressures that LA faced 100 years ago – and guess what – they’re building levees around the river so they can build in the floodplain.  Which means it’s probably just a matter of time before the cycles of catastrophic floods and defensive responses kick into gear – and it ends up looking like the LA River.  Some areas in the upper watershed have already been hemmed in with soil cement levees in lieu of protected floodplains.  

Santa Clara River with soil cement levee after a storm. Image:

Santa Clara River with soil cement levee.  Image:

Santa Clara River, sans levees. Image: Lynne Plambeck,









Seems like something a good editor who cares about genuine nature experiences would want to investigate and write an editorial about.


As to the rest of us quixotic folk, please tilt the windmills!

There will be a hearing on the Newhall Ranch EIR/EIS June 11, 6:30 pm at Rancho Pico Middle School, 26250 W. Valencia Blvd, Stevenson Ranch, 91381. Come at 6:00 if you want to attend a rally with California Native Plant Society folks.  CNPS pointed out two items they will focus on:  the endangered San Fernando Valley Spineflower (once believed extinct) is on the property in question and requesting a 120 day extension for comments as people review the lengthy environmental docs.  If you can’t come to the meeting, send a quick email – before June 26.

Maybe want to review the docs before you agitate?  Follow this link:  Fortunately their online map shows the river’s active area protected- what is not immediately clear is how that stands in relation to the County’s Capital Storm or even FEMA’s 100-year storm boundaries.  I’ll need a little time to sift through the docs to find the answer to that – and after you poke through that website, you may end up wanting another 120 days just to read it all too!

For even more information, also check out Santa Clarita Organization for Planning the Environment (SCOPE), one of whose photos I raided (apologies) above.

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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