Two L.A. River Experts On Funding, Governance, and Gehry

Los Angeles made progress toward revitalizing the L.A. River when the preferred restoration plan won an important approval. But the project also saw a jump in price and a change in cost-share, leaving some wondering where the money will come from.
August 21, 2015, 9am PDT | Elana Eden
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The broad coalition involved in the revitalization project includes the mayor’s LARiverWorks team and the LA River Revitalization Corporation, as well as established community organization Friends of the Los Angeles River (FoLAR). FoLAR founder Lewis MacAdams and City of Los Angeles Deputy Mayor Barbara Romero, who oversees LARiverWorks, gave The Planning Report their expert perspectives on the questions facing the river’s future.

The new $1.36-billion price tag may be daunting, but development of the river is by all accounts a long-term investment—the city's master plan has a 25-to-50-year horizon. And, MacAdams points out, “People are not batting an eye about spending $2 billion to buy the Clippers or to build a football stadium. This project will bring a lot more happiness to a lot more people than a football team will.”

The real issue, says MacAdams, is the amount of that total cost currently expected to come from local sources: "The 80-20 split between local and federal funding needs to be changed, because it puts parts of the restoration in danger."

Possible options to cover the local share of the plan include establishing an Enhanced Infrastructure Financing District—a state financing tool the city’s been eyeing since it came into effect this year.

MacAdams and Romero agree on many fronts, but the question of governance revealed differing views.

According to MacAdams, an artist-turned-activist whose work on the river has spanned five mayoral administrations, Los Angeles' governance structure for the river is “obsolete.”

The L.A. River Revitalization Corporation’s decision to bring on Frank Gehry didn't inspire a vote of confidence from the longtime community activist. MacAdams called Gehry’s involvement an example of “top-down planning…the opposite of what Friends of the Los Angeles River is about.” Gehry’s suggestion that he may retain the river’s concrete has also raised some concerns about his vision’s compatibility with Alternative 20.

But Romero says the mayor’s creation of the LARiverWorks team already signals a collaborative approach, bringing city departments together in cooperation with the private sector and regional bodies. To make drastic changes at this point, she says, would be premature until solid funding is identified:

“Ultimately, governance is about funding. I don’t think we’ll go with a new governance structure if there’s no money attached to it. We have some work to do collectively to determine: What is our priority in these next several years in implementation? I think the number one priority today is starting to put more significant projects on the ground.”

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Published on Thursday, August 20, 2015 in The Planning Report
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