Long Beach: Garcia Follows Garcetti in Restoring LA River

A rendering of the RiverLink project. Photo courtesy of the City of Long Beach
A rendering of the RiverLink project. Photo courtesy of the City of Long Beach

Back in April, former director of Long Beach Park, Recreation & Marine Phil Hester sat in front of a bunch of urbanerds and bicyclists, pedestrian-oriented folks and designers, and discussed an idea that is both brilliant and needed on a community level: the 2002 RiverLinks projects. RiverLinks would vastly use the underused L.A. River by connecting the west sides of Districts 1, 2, 6, 7, 8, and 9 to the river via biking/ped/green utopia.

Of course, as with many projects in Long Beach, there was a lot of talk but little action and the bold project soon became—like the I.M. Pei museum, like the Art Exchange, like, like, like…—a document and little else. After all, Hester was in April, unquestionably, preachin’ to the choir.

(The 2002 River Link Report is available off our Scribd Account.)

However, Councilmember and mayoral hopeful Robert Garcia wants to reinvigorate and update the 11-year-old RiverLinks project by not only including some of his own bold proposals (remember his enthusiastic idea to adaptively re-use the Shoemaker Bridge?) but also largely mimicking Mayor Eric Garcetti’s own reclaiming of the River by calling on Long Beach to partner up with Los Angeles.

Garcetti, no more than two weeks ago sought some $1 billion from the feds for River revitalization in a trip to Washington, D.C. The $1 billion is in addition to the roughly $200 million set aside to restore a massive section of the northern part of the LA river to make way for kayakers, hikers, bird-watchers, cyclists, and all those other strange creatures who actually enjoy a little nature in their urban landscape. Garcetti even scored 15 minutes with Obama—not that it will help much given the House’s perpetual cutting of federal spending along with the Army Corps massive list of awaiting-funding-projects (which total $60B—pocketchange, obviously).

According to Garcia’s logic, the fact that Long Beach is home to the river furthest down its stream makes the stakes greatest for the city. And the proposal to update the RiverLinks project and put focus on the river was met with a resounding yes from the council, as the resolution—co-sponsored by Councilmembers Suja Lowenthal and Al Austin—was unanimously approved yesterday.

“The LA River has long been one of our region’s most significant environmental challenges,” Garcia said in his agenda item. “The LA River flows through Long Beach and empties into our harbor, often collecting waste from upstream cities. Historically, the Long Beach portion of the river had been underutilized.”

“Underutilized” is putting it nicely: the Long Beach stretch of the river could provide hundreds of acres of much-needed park space in a city which has a shoulder-shrug of a number when it comes to park space per resident.

Citywide, Long Beach has about 5.2 acres per 1,000 residents. Even worse, when we examine the Westside—precisely where the LA River sits in Long Beach—we hit depressing numbers: 1 acre per 1,000 residents. That’s less than a football field of park space for every thousand people, prompting me to ask you to imagine shoving one thousand people onto a football field and telling those people, “Okay, now play!” The more affluent Eastside, on the other hand, has a beyond-awesome 16.7 acres/1,000 residents, far beyond the legal definition of a Healthy City, which stands at 10 acres of park space per 1,000 residents.

“The LA River still carries snowmelt from the Santa Monica Mountains, just as it did 200 years ago, but it has been neglected throughout the region,” Garcia continued in his resolution. “Residents wishing to engage in recreational activities along its banks or in its currents will find many obstacles[.]”

And one of those biggest obstacles—beyond the obviously trashy amounts of trash and pollution—is money. Just like our Angeleno neighbors to the north,  that big dollar sign waving around is the true obstacle. And one can’t help but wonder if the reality of this whole thing is going to be the reality of many ambitious Long Beach projects, that of the aforementioned: “Great talk, guys, great talk.” Followed by crickets.

Garcia will host Reclaim the River community forum this upcoming Saturday at 11 am at the Jenny Oropeza Community Center in Cesar Chavez Park, located at 401 Golden Avenue.

Disclosure: It should be noted that Robert Garcia founded the other paper I write for and despite conspiracy theories abound, he does not affect my opinion when it comes to, oh, y’know, small things like saving our planet and providing humans with healthy living and accessibility.

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