By CSULB Senior Seminar Reporter Krista Nicole Carlson
A century ago, the Los Angeles River was a lush, uncontrolled flood basin, flowing 50 miles south from Simi Valley through the San Fernando Valley and the City of Los Angeles, and through Long Beach to meet the Pacific Ocean.
When flooding caused more than $10 million in damage in 1914, the river was sentenced to imprisonment—in concrete. The river was cemented into a barren flood channel. Since then, the southern and western ends of Long Beach, where the river is now,has emerged as the prevailing site of the city’s heavy industrial activity, leaving the riverto take on the brunt of urban growth as a collector of industrial waste and garbage.
“Residents should leave and we should turn the entire area into an industrial zone,” said Long Beach mayoral candidate Richard Camp about the area surrounding the river in West Long Beach.
But Camp was overruled. Scores of government entities and community organizations are moving full steam ahead on a number of projects destined to restore the river and transform the surrounding areas into valuable green public space.
Approximately $7 million in funding from federal, state and local sources has been allocated for the project, which will break ground later this year.
“We’ll keep flood control but we’re going to introduce trails, landscaping trees, plant community that you would normally find in an urban wetlands,” says Long Beach Park Development Officer Anna Mendiola.
The Deforest Park wetlands area, which spans along the river through North and West Long Beach, will be the first to break ground, opening up 34 acres of land for public use between DeForest Park and Del Amo Boulevard.
The areas along the river account for a large swath of potential green space. With less than 1 acre of open space per 1,000 residents in West Long Beach, nine acres below The National Recreation and Parks Association’s recommended levels, the harsh, grey riverfront is among the community’s limited recreational respites.
“It’s going to do a lot for the community—especially the youth of the community,” says Austin,who enjoys bird-watching in the area.
“We need to do a better job of promoting the natural resources in the area,” he says.
Reports from the Center for Disease Control and the U. S. Department of Public Health have shown that access to green space improves physical and mental well-being by reducing stress and depression, improving focus, productivity, and recovery from illness, and can be linked to lower mortality and morbidity rates.
“When I was younger I would accompany my mom on walks along the LA riverbed,” recalls lifelong Long Beach resident Dominic Alvarez. “We would walk south along the eastside; there you can see lots of wildlife along that part of the riverbed.”
Empty alcohol containers and other trash are also regular sights, Alvarez says. “We’ve even seen some sort of home built above the trees with plenty of trash below it. The place has always seemed very trashy and full of people with nothing to do except harass people walking by.”
While picking up trash along the river is an important part of the clean-up effort, much of the work yet to be done is cleaning the less visible pollution, the toxins.
Waterkeeper Alliance, an environmental organization focused on cleaning up pollution in the river, found an array of pollutants in the river—mercury, cadmium, iron, zinc, aluminum, and copper—invisible toxic metals harmful to humans and wildlife, both in themselves and as a producer of harmful bacteria.
The toxicity of the river hasn’t kept people in bordering communities from wading and fishing in it, however.
“There are reports of people fishing on a daily basis,” says Waterkeeper Project Manager Liz Crosson.
Still, the benefits from the clean-up and restoration projects will extend well beyond the river’s immediate and daily visitors.
“As you clean-up the river, the businesses around it will also clean up their businesses as well,” says Crosson.
Parks can generate as much as $5 in revenue for every $1 in costs, according to The City Project. One Southern California study found that being located near green space adds five to ten percent to the total value of a home, in both high-income and low-income communities. Higher home prices can also result in higher property tax revenues.
Future projects such as the Wrigley Greenbelt and Drake-Chavez connection will likewise provide new and greater access to green space for communities living further south and West Long Beach.