The Sound and the Silence, Hyperion Bridge Controversy Moves Behind the Curtain

Don Ward at today's press conference. Photo: Damien Newton
This July 7, 2015, press conference announcing a lawsuit was the last public update on the Hyperion Bridge controversy. Photo: Damien Newton

For almost two years, the controversy surrounding the redesign of the Hyperion Bridge has been a leading story at Streetsblog. However, with the battle over the future road design of the bridge being decided by lawyers and judges rather than planners and politicians, the story has moved from the public spotlight to inaccessible private meeting rooms.

For those just joining us, the city has long planned a seismic retrofit to the bridge, but when the Bureau of Engineering released a plan for the bridge that featured no bike lanes and reduced pedestrian access on the already dangerous bridge, advocates sprang into action. Over the course of two years and a lengthy public process, the bridge design was improved, but not fixed. When the City Council approved the plan, at the behest of termed-out Councilmember Tom LaBonge and over the objections of his successor, a lawsuit was filed claiming that the lack of an environmental impact study rendered the approval illegal.

I know it is not uncommon for legal discussions to happen behind closed doors — it is why the legislative bodies are exempted from the Brown Act to discuss legal matters. However, the difference between the sound and fury of the public battle between October of 2013 and July of 2015 and the silence of now is stark.

Last week, the two sides in the lawsuit met in private. Sources close to the meeting confirmed the meeting, that the two sides discussed different options for the road design, and that they agreed to meet again. On the record, nobody would say anything. The two Council offices that represent the districts the bridge traverses declined to comment. LADOT wouldn’t even confirm if they were at the meeting. The Bureau of Engineering sent me to the City Attorney’s Office for comment. The City Attorney has yet to return my calls. I called on Monday.

While environmental laws were written and are enforced to protect communities from the blundering of governments and elected bodies, it is a shame that we are at this point. 

A public process doesn’t just require meetings, but a two-way-flow of information. When an agency is caught in a lie that supported their claim that an expedited timeline was necessary to receive funding and when an aide to a Councilmember glibly states that one of the options that were presented to an advisory committee was “never a viable option,” then there is no real public process…just the appearance of one. The decisions weren’t made in public, they were made in private and augmented by a public show.

With the public process a joke and the private process a failure, we now have a legal process where information isn’t to be shared with the public and secrecy is the norm. That’s what happens when a government abdicates its leadership responsibilities.

The Hyperion Bridge is a concrete arch bridge viaduct in Atwater Village that spans the Los Angeles River and Interstate 5. It was constructed in 1927 by vote of the citizens that lived in Atwater Village at the time and was completed in February 1929. The bridge spans 400 feet over the Atwater section of the Los Angeles River and has four car lanes. Because of its age, the complex of bridges will be soon retro-fitted to be more seismically sound, including a new road configuration.


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