Will this new plan for revitalizing all 51 miles of the Los Angeles River end a quarter century of “Perpetual Planning Syndrome”?

As recently described in the 2020 book, RECONOMICS: The Path To Resilient Prosperity, many communities suffer from a debilitating disease know as Perpetual Planning Syndrome (PPS).

The signs of this malady are obvious enough: the publication of plans is confused with actual action, so little progress is made, but planners, engineers and architects are kept full employed, and political leaders don’t incur any risk of failure, since producing a new plan is a guaranteed “win.”

The restoration and revitalization of the over-engineered, near-lifeless Los Angeles River could be said to suffer from PPS. It’s seen a constant series of inspiring, grandiose visions and plans from a variety of agencies, non-profits and design firms over the past 24 years, but precious little progress.

Now, the latest has arrived, and this is the first one to encompass renewing the entire 51-miles of the former living river, which is now mostly an ugly concrete ditch surround by devitalized neighborhoods fragmented by this ecological atrocity, which has been used many times as the set for horror and dystopian science fiction movies.

This revised plan focuses on “eco-friendly” projects that restore water quality and enhance public access to parks, all while addressing social issues in a way that helps revitalize surrounding neighborhoods.

It doesn’t actually propose any specific projects, of course. That would be too measurable.

Bruce Reznik, executive director of Los Angeles Waterkeeper, an environmental group that advised on the plan, said the ecological health of the river in light of climate change must be balanced with the needs of adjacent communities in terms of providing open space as well as protections against displacement and gentrification.

We want to see a plan that really takes a holistic approach to the entire river,” he said. “This is the one opportunity we have to set a clear vision with clear priorities.

Back in October of 2016, the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors directed Public Works to work with other County Departments to update the LA River Master Plan for the first time in over 20 years. This kicked off a multi-year process, involving dozens of community meetings, thousands of community members, and a diverse Steering Committee to help ensure the plan reflects the diverse interests along the river.

In the midst of current events that include the health pandemic, social justice uprisings, and wildfires worsened by climate change, it is clear the LA River is a critically important, often overlooked, public resource in the County.

Here’s what the county says about the new plan:

We want the plan to be comprehensive, thoughtful, and representative of the various community voices as we lay the groundwork for the next 25 years of investment in the river. These investments are not only an engine of economic recovery for the region, they are essential to addressing the disparity within our communities and improving the quality of life and ecosystem health for current and future generations of Angelenos.

We have a vision for the LA River to become 51 miles of connected public open space that provides landmark opportunities to reduce flood risk and improve resiliency, support healthy and connected ecosystems, address potential adverse impacts to housing affordability and people experiencing homelessness, promote healthy, safe clean water, and create jobs while fostering opportunities for arts, culture, and community engagement. These goals have perhaps never been more important than right now and the LA River can help us achieve them.

Specifically, Los Angeles County’s 2020 LA River Master Plan identifies opportunities for the following:

  • Over 200 potential project sites that will create local jobs;
  • Thousands of acres of publicly accessible open space that will help address public health issues, especially in the most disadvantaged communities;
  • Innovative multi-benefit projects that assist in mitigating future disasters, such as flooding, drought, and extreme heat events, while enhancing ecosystem function;
  • Actions for affordable housing and homelessness, a key initiative to address displacement in areas vulnerable to gentrification; and
  • A framework for future community engagement to influence projects built under the plan.

The draft 2020 LA River Master Plan is now available for a 60-day public comment review period.

Photo courtesy of the County of Los Angeles.

Download the revised master plan (PDF).

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