City Nears Purchase of Key Parcel for L.A. River Revitalization

Map of Taylor Yard parcel G2.
Map of the 41-acre Taylor Yard parcel G2, which the city of Los Angeles is purchasing to restore and revitalize the adjacent Los Angeles River. Image from City of Los Angeles MND notice. [PDF]
A big property acquisition is underway that will set the stage for planned large-scale revitalization of the Los Angeles River. The City of Los Angeles is expecting to complete the purchase of a former railyard site that Mayor Eric Garcetti and others describe as the “crown jewel” of any large-scale restoration of the river.

While there’s a long lineage of leaders who pressed for this purchase, credit will go to Garcetti and City Councilmember Gil Cedillo for marshaling the present push.

In a statement to SBLA, Mayor Garcetti emphasized:

This parcel is a crown jewel in our plans to restore the Los Angeles River, and I’m proud to have made acquisition of it a top priority for the city.  This site represents a large amount of open space that will help us free the river from its concrete straight jacket and connect local communities to its natural beauty.

In May, Mayor Garcetti celebrated the federal government’s selection of an extensive $1 billion, 11-mile habitat restoration project. Though that is great news, there are still a lot of hurdles before that federal money washes up on L.A. shores–not the least of which is getting the feds to begin setting aside initial portions of that $1 billion.

Another hurdle is ownership of river land. Though the city has approved an ambitious river master plan, some parts of the plan would take shape on river sites that are currently privately owned. For the most part, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, the main federal agency involved in L.A. River work, does not proceed with project design and implementation on privately owned sites.

So, to tap into federal funding, the city needs to buy land.

That is just what they’re doing. Recently released documents show that L.A. is nearing the final stages of purchasing a key 41-acre riverfront site called Taylor Yard parcel G2.

Taylor Yard is a  nearly 250-acre former locomotive engine maintenance yard. It’s located in North East Los Angeles, within a couple miles of downtown L.A., just north of Dodgers Stadium. The historic yard extended roughly three miles along the L.A. River from the 110 Freeway to the 2 Freeway. Taylor Yard is in the L.A. City communities of Cypress Park and Glassell Park, directly across from Elysian Valley. For cyclists familiar with the L.A. River walk/bike path through Elysian Valley, or Frogtown, Taylor Yard is the mostly vacant site on the opposite side of the river from the existing bike path.

The Glendale Narrows stretch of the Los Angeles River. Though the sides are concrete, the earth bottom supports tall trees growing in a largely natural river. Photo by Joe Linton/Streetsblog L.A.
The Glendale Narrows stretch of the L.A. River, as viewed from the Frogtown bike/walk path. Taylor Yard is on the far side of the river, not visible in the photo, but at the base of the electrical tower. Though the sides are concrete, the Glendale Narrows’ roughly 8-mile-long earthen river bottom supports tall trees growing in a largely natural river. Photo by Joe Linton/Streetsblog L.A.

Though Taylor Yard had more than 10,000 employees in its 1950s heyday, rail functions were relocated and the site has been largely vacant since the mid-1990s. The rail industry left behind serious soil contamination. Nonetheless, the yard is the largest undeveloped riverfront site along the 51 miles of the Los Angeles River. The yard abuts the Glendale Narrows, one of the least concrete-covered, most natural stretches of river. There are plenty of tall trees, fish, and birds, plus lots of two-legged creatures enjoying the scenery.

In the late ’90s and early 2000s, community leaders, most prominently including Melanie Winter and Raul Macias, waged a campaign against planned industrial redevelopment at Taylor Yard. These struggles were successful, resulting in California State Parks’ purchase of two large former railyard parcels. Rio De Los Angeles State Park now occupies 40 acres fronting San Fernando Road. Less developed is State Parks’ “bowtie parcel” which occupies 18 acres adjacent to the river and the 2 Freeway.

But the G2 crown jewel remained elusive.

Developer Trammel Crow secured a development option from G2’s Union Pacific (UP) railroad owners, but, due to both community opposition and difficult-to-access site geometry, industrial redevelopment was never quite viable. City funding set aside for acquisition was partially siphoned off to other projects.

With a grant from the state Mountains Recreation and Conservation Authority, the Los Angeles River Revitalization Corporation (RRC) kickstarted analyses and negotiations. Late last year, Mayor Garcetti’s team stepped in to bring the developer and UP to the negotiating table. Councilmember Gil Cedillo shepherded a council motion  (#13-1641) which formally committed the city to negotiate purchasing the site.

City Councilmember Gil Cedillo’s Chief of Staff Arturo Chavez emphasizes that, though the Taylor Yard parcel enables revitalization that benefits the entire city, it is most important in opening up river access for Cypress Park, Highland Park, and all of Northeast Los Angeles. Chavez stated that while Elysian Valley and Atwater Village communities are already enjoying early benefits of revitalization, Cypress Park is tantalizingly close to the river, but literally “on the other side of the tracks.”

To purchase G2, the city has set aside $26 million in Proposition O city water bond funding. The overall price is not final, but may be in that vicinity. Part of the uncertainty involves accurately predicting the cost of cleaning up toxins, which depends on negotiations over the extent of the cleanup. The seller, of course, would benefit from a less intensive cleanup, to meet industrial standards, but the city’s plan for a park with water quality features would necessitate cleaning to a higher standard.

As readers can imagine, real estate transactions are complex, even more so when they involve governmental agencies, railroads, public funding, and toxic contamination. One main indicator that the sale is proceeding is that the city is investing time and effort in its California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) analysis. The city would only proceed with the pre-acquisiton CEQA work when and if the acquisition appears viable and imminent.

The CEQA Draft Initial Study/Mitigated Negative Declaration (MND) was released July 31. After comments close on September 2nd, the final MND will need to go through a series of approvals including the Board of Public Works, finishing at the City Council. After it is adopted, the city could proceed with escrow. If all goes smoothly, city approvals could be completed in October, and the sale could be underway before the end of 2014.

Due to the sensitivity of ongoing negotiations, though city sources confirmed that UP is a “willing seller,” they declined to speculate about the final price of the parcel or the expected completion date of the purchase.

Adding up the numbers, when the city’s anticipated 41 new acres combine with the state’s 58 acres and a handful of river right-of-way acres, there will be a 100+ acre park. For some sense of what the future might hold for the Taylor Yard site, here are two images from the city’s Los Angeles River Revitalization Master Plan.

Existing conditions at Taylor Yard. Image from LARRMP
Existing conditions at Taylor Yard in 2006. This view is looking west, upstream. From left to right, the image includes Elysian Park, the 5 Freeway, Elysian Valley, the L.A. River, Taylor Yard, and Cypress Park. A portion of Metrolink’s maintenance yard is visible at the lower left. Image from LARRMP
Potential future vision for Taylor Yard site. Image via LARRMP
Potential future vision for Taylor Yard site. This view is looking east, downstream. From upper left to lower right, the image includes Cypress Park, Rio De Los Angeles State Park, future riverfront park, L.A. River, and Elysian Valley. Image via LARRMP

The city’s MND documents include a conceptual site plan for approximately 10 acres of G2. The plan shows natural areas that collect and clean rainwater runoff.

City of Los Angeles Mitigated Negative Declaration conceptual plan for Taylor Yard G2 parcel. From MND page 14 [PDF]
City of Los Angeles Mitigated Negative Declaration conceptual plan for roughly 10 acres of Taylor Yard G2 parcel. Image from MND page 14 [PDF]
The concept plan does not program the remaining 31 acres. Once the site is in public hands, the city would work with the state and others to facilitate a community planning process. The park would need to interact with existing active rail, including Metrolink and Amtrak, that runs parallel to the river, as well as anticipated future high-speed rail. From the concept plan, access would include the existing road, plus a new pedestrain tunnel to Sotomayor High School, and a new walk/bike bridge to Elysian Valley.

Though the acquisition should be complete in the near future, it will take quite a while before the public is going to enjoy the massive new riverfront park. Soil remediation, planning, and funding will all take time. A complicated project like this is likely to take at least half a decade.

It is very good news to see progress on this long-sought river jewel making its way into public ownership.

To comment on the city’s MND, get details here. Deadline for comments is September 2.

  • Jake Bloo

    Awesome! Let’s do it! Let’s get going!

    If you wanna be both simultaneously excited and depressed, go look at that Master Plan… very nice renderings of things that probably won’t ever get built, right? Or am I just being pessimistic?

    oOOooo, that “Future Pedestrian and Bike Bridge” would be really nice about now. I biked over the river on Figueroa the other day for the first time and it did not feel safe.

  • jennix

    Why does this report remind me of the Downey Park expansion on the old Albion Dairy site? Maybe because the Albion site has been sitting fallow for almost two years waiting for… what?

  • Jake Bloo

    Also won’t a lot of this not be important if getting to these lovely parks is difficult without a car? For example, getting to the LA River Bike Path from the East Side does not feel like something one will do on a whim, y’know?

    Shouldn’t the goal of any revitalization of the LA River be to make it easily accessible without a car? Does it help if there are just more surface lots built, or neighborhoods get filled with visitors? Is there a way to get from Union Station to it? Or from the park being redone near the Gold Line Chinatown stop?

    I am being pessimistic and would love to be proved wrong!

  • Joe Linton

    I think that the river bike/walk path is (and will be even more so at 50+ miles) an important transportation facility. I don’t think it’s necessarily about getting people to parks without using a car (though that’s good – and my family and I do it), but about getting people from community to community (like SFV to downtown, or Glendale to Silver Lake) without using a car. Regarding rail, there’s also easy access (long walk or short bike distance) from Avenue 26 Gold Line station.

  • Joe Linton

    It’s a similar story – same river, same funding. Albion has waited a while for a couple reasons, as I understand it: 1) more soil contamination than expected, and 2) the city’s failure to secure funding grants anticipated. I think it’s still important to get these sites into public hands – the parks and paths will come; securing ownership comes first.

  • Kenny Easwaran

    This particular parcel doesn’t appear to have good connections to the west, but the two tunnels seem like they’ll connect it well to the east to Cypress Park and Glassell Park. The bridge to the bike path also means that any communities that develop good connections to the bike path (i.e., Atwater, parts of Burbank, Lincoln Heights if the Riverside/Figueroa Bridge turns out decent) will have good car-free access to this park.

    Silver Lake and Echo Park face the difficulty of the hills, and the Gold Line station just isn’t all that close.

    Still, whether or not any humans get to go there, restoring a major part of the natural environment while not harming flood prevention capacity is a pretty nice thing.

  • Get parking out of parks

    “Rio De Los Angeles State Park now occupies 40 acres fronting San Fernando Road” but of that, about 3.5 acres is dedicated to parking and driveway space. Disgusting that so much space goes towards automobiles…in our PARK. Get the parking out of our parks, 100% not needed. We need to build safe walking/bike routes to parks or better yet build parks in safe walking/biking environments. How much of the new park will be parking?

  • Joe Linton

    From the conceptual plan, it looks like there would be a parking lot – looks like about 20 spaces… but I think that a lot of visitors might be able to park at Rio De Los Angeles… we’ll see. It would be good to email the city’s MND comments email and tell them that you don’t want to see excessive parking.

  • rdm24

    I would like to see a little less space devoted to lawns, a little more to natural (non-irrigated, native-plant-dominated) landscaping. But I’m glad to see more open space in this part of the city.

  • rdm24

    Also, doesn’t it depend on what the ultimate use of the park is? Will it be targeting the local neighborhood, or do they intend people to come here from, say, West LA?

  • Walt Arrrrr

    Hate to be cynical at such great news, but after seeing how Gil Cedillo operates, I fear that this will end up being named, “Gil Cedillo’s Riverfront Park” filled with statues of himself.

  • J

    This is amazing news, however it’s offensive that this article would credit Gil Cedillo for making this acquisition happen. What about the previous Councilman Ed Reyes, who advocated and worked on this for years? Mayor Garcetti has done a great job of making the Taylor Yards acquisition and river revitalization a top priority and his community outreach/pr campaign on this has been amazing. But Cedillo, who has barely been in office, makes a motion for something that already has enormous momentum following years of hard and visionary work by others, and he is credited for this progress? I don’t think so.

    What we do know so far from Cedillo’s tenure is that he’s a self-promoting Sacramento politician who is in the pocket of developers and commercial interests, and much like recent Mayor Villaraigosa carefully scopes out photo ops such as this to create the appearance that he’s advocating for the community and ‘dialed in’. Certainly not the case with his decision to override the unanimous findings of the Historic Planning Commission and allow destruction of the historic supermarket facade on Figueroa and preserve the owner’s/developer’s options for future development on the ‘transit oriented’ parcel, as well as stopping bike lanes lanes on Figueroa in spite of a previously approved council motion to create them, and despite overwhelming neighborhood support in favor of the lanes… once again giving in to the minority interests of those business owners who didn’t want the bike lanes, OR the recent exemption that he lobbied for in Echo Park to allow drastically increased height limits for development within a several block stretch of Echo Park, which happens to be in his district.

    So I’d hesitate to give this guy credit, instead I’d suggest watching carefully to see what developers he’s tied to, who are buying up and/or developing the adjacent land. My guess would be that they’re getting sweetheart density bonuses and other favorable allowances.

  • Joe Linton

    We’re happy to give Cedillo credit when he does stuff that improves L.A. livability… and (more often lately) to criticize him when he doesn’t.

  • DaveQus

    Isn’t “nears purchase” like being almost pregnant?

  • Daria

    Hear hear!

  • Fakey McFakename

    Isn’t HSR scheduled to go through (or under?) parts of this site?

  • ZasF

    Yes, VERY similar story. They didn’t do their due diligence, way overpaid for it, accepted liability for contamination that the previous owner should have shouldered, and didn’t involve the community on that one, either. While it’s important to get these sites into public hands, it’s even more important to spend public money wisely.

  • ZasF

    30 day comment period for something this big? Well, at least now we know where the bar is set for “community involvement” in River projects.

  • Joe Linton

    yes – HSR is mentioned in the 3rd to last paragraph

  • Guest1

    If the USACE/City plan is authorized by Congress, the site would be used to take out the existing channel wall and widen the river/restore marsh, with some trails through the site and a pedestrian tunnel under the rail line. The plan would be what is shown in the IFR, not the conceptual plan in the MND or the LAR revitalization master plan. Of course, alt 20 isn’t authorized yet. But the MND says the IFR includes water quality treatment terraces when it does not — it restores river functions more holistically. Maybe the concept plan in the MND is an interim use? Is this based on the use of prop O funds?

  • ZasF

    Yeah, it seems that’s how they’re justifying the use of Prop O funds for the purchase.

  • ZasF

    page?

  • Joe Linton

    in the article above – that article you’re commenting on

  • ZasF

    Right. Thought you were saying it was mentioned somewhere in the MND. Guess they missed that elephant in the room in their analysis.

  • Anne Trumble

    Fantastic news, and such a well-written article. Thank you Joe.

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