Judge Denies Demolition Injunction for Riverside-Figueroa Bridge

Landbridge supporters rallied on the Riverside Figueroa Bridge this morning, while the fate of the bridge was being decided in court. photo courtesy Kathleen Smith
Landbridge supporters rallied on the Riverside Figueroa Bridge this morning, while the fate of the bridge was being decided in court. photo courtesy Kathleen Smith

At a hearing this morning, Judge James Chalfant denied an appeal that would have stopped the demolition of the city of Los Angeles’ historic Riverside-Figueroa Bridge. Plaintiffs Enrich L.A. and RAC Design Build have been pushing for the city to preserve the span into and convert it into the Landbridge, an elevated park similar to New York City’s High Line.

The Riverside-Figueroa Bridge spans the Los Angeles River in North East Los Angeles. It connects the communities of Elysian Valley and Cypress Park. The existing bridge was built in the 1920s, then partially re-built in the 1950s. In 2006, the Los Angeles City Council approved a project to tear down the bridge and replace it with a widened freeway-scale version. In 2008, the city designated the bridge as a historic-cultural landmark. In 2011, the city began construction on the widened replacement bridge, which opened to car traffic last week.

Landbridge proponents’ counsel asserted that, since the bridge was named a historic landmark, the city is legally required to bring the demolition before its Cultural Heritage Commission, which it has not done. The plaintiffs also assert that the new wide bridge design has changed from what had been approved. Initially designs showed the new bridge inhabiting the same space as the existing bridge. According to the plaintiff’s legal case documents, the “current construction extended beyond approved boundaries by more than 60 feet.” This change in design, unannounced by the city of Los Angeles, has opened space for the two bridges to exist side by side.

Deputy City Attorney Mary Decker asserted that the 2006 City Council approval is all that was needed to proceed.  The city further requested that, if an injunction were approved, the court must:

order immediate posting of a bond by the Petitioners. The amount of the bond must be at a minimum, $18,000/day for each day of delay starting June 9th, 2014, which is the amount of damages the City is estimated to incur based on delays and disruptions to the existing contractor schedule.

At the beginning of the hearing, the judge appeared heavily inclined to side with the city. He asserted that there was an “insurmountable… evidence problem” with Landbridge proponents’ documentation being gathered from city documents posted on-line. He chastened Landbridge proponents that their Cultural Heritage Commission process requests were “too late” and “not the kind of thing you do at the last minute.” Landbridge proponents’ counsel responded that their clients had been working closely with the city, up until the Board of Public Works vote last week, and that asserting legal claims too soon could have soured a process that appeared to some hope of success. 

The city attorney made a number of dubious assertions. She asserted that delaying demolition would present a risk to “public safety” and would “delay the L.A. River [revitalization] project.” When the judge questioned if the bridge, which carried car traffic until last week, was “seismically acceptable,” the city attorney stated that the bridge was “determined to be seismically vulnerable ” and is “being demolished for that reason.” Since the project’s inception, roughly decade ago, the city’s justification for demolition has been that the bridge is “functionally obsolete” based on a formula derived from the bridge’s age, and its car traffic capacity. Seismic issues had not been used to justify demolition until Landbridge proponents began to press for preservation. Now the city asserts that the bridge can “collapse quickly” and invokes the spectre of “the I-35W bridge in Minnesota.”

According to the judge, the city’s $18,000/day cost rested on “skimpy” evidence: solely the testimony of City Bureau of Engineering Bridge Program Manager James Treadaway. When questioned, the city stood by their cost, under the assertion that all project construction work would end in the event of an injunction.

Ultimately, the judge, appearing frustrated, declared “too late” and then exited the courtroom without granting any injunction.

At the same time as the hearing, about a dozen Landbridge supporters rallied on the surface of the Riverside Figueroa Bridge. They utilized the now-car-free site as a quasi-park, sitting in lawn chairs. Images posted to social media show them holding signs encouraging “No Demo.”

The city anticipates demolition will begin on June 9th and will be completed by mid-August. Landbridge proponents vowed to fight on. The demolition issue may come before the city’s Cultural Heritage Commission which is scheduled to meet this Thursday June 5th.

  • Matt Ruscigno RD MPH

    So frustrating! NOT destroying something of use seems so obvious. Ugh.

  • ubrayj02

    This is what having no political power is like: Cedillo puts a stop to a project that has gone through 5+ years of legal process and tons of public meetings, press, and hearings (the North Figueroa Street bike lanes) at the same time that a project that is basically a Federally-funded make-work for the city’s Bureau of Engineering and its contractors gets to demolish a historic bridge, last minute appeals to save the bridge are “too late”. If it is “too late” then how can North Figueroa bike lanes be stalled?!

    The reality is that there is no process worth respecting in this City but the naked exercise of electoral power. We have squandered the last 4 years, as a movement, trying to make the case for a livable city with rhetoric, parties, art, music, and editorials.

    The election that swept termed out legislators into office and a weak mayor (weak because he does not direct outside dollars to councilmembers campaigns the way Villaraigosa did) means that only a tight electoral grip on the livable streets voters in LA is the only way to affect change – and it will happen at a glacial pace now that the establishment is pretending like it’s 1990.

    How many of us know how the County Supervisor candidates feel about livable streets? How many of us know how the people running for Sheriff in tomorrow’s election feel about hit-and-runs or transit policing? The election is tomorrow – are you prepared to make a decision based on your knowledge of transportation issues?

    Not many of us have a clue about what and who we need to abuse to get our streets made safer and more livable.

    Personally, I am mostly done with trying to present facts about the health, financial, etc. effects of making streets for people. I think it is time we did something that no politician can ignore: organize voters and create a block of votes in the next big election.

  • JoeBorfo

    There goes another potential public place that would have saved the city money by not destroying. Can we vote this Judge out?

  • El Sharto

    ITS GETTING CLOSE TO RIOT TIME WITH THESE ASSHOLES.

  • Kenny Easwaran

    I think the problem is that the specific construction plan that the new bridge has involves construction equipment occupying the space where the old bridge currently is. Had they planned from the beginning to keep the old bridge, they probably could have come up with a different sequence of construction that wouldn’t have required that, and might have saved some money, but it really probably is too late to prevent the demolition without costing a huge amount of money.

  • Thomased

    Just because it’s old doesn’t mean it’s historic. A better bridge is replacing it, let it go. The green space would have been awesome but should have been brought up in 2006.

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