We love it! We hate it! The L.A. River in Long Beach

While the City of Los Angeles is busier than ever implementing its incredible, amazing, wonderful yearling master plan to revitalize the L.A. River, still the big river kudo this year so far goes to the brand-new Dominguez Gap Wetlands in Long Beach, where lovely new river projects have been sprouting steadily but with far less media attention and fanfare.

Brought to you by your public servants and your money—the L.A. County Public Works, using state (mostly) funds—this quondam big ugly ditch has now become a fifty-acre, mile-long quiet riverside wetland with a walking path through tens of thousands of blooming native wildflowers.

It is, without exaggeration, one of the prettiest things I’ve ever seen in the L.A. basin—yes, hard by the 710 between the 405 and Del Amo Blvd. [To see it for yourself, you can enter from the north side off Del Amo just east of the river (park on Oregon); or enter from the south end at 4062 Del Mar Ave. off W. San Antonio Dr.]

And it’s one of the smartest things. Like a lot of L.A.’s upcoming master plan projects upriver, it’ll catch and clean up polluted stormwater runoff, and recharge and store our local water supplies. You know, that water—not the stuff that we use up to a quarter of our energy expenditures and ~1200 miles of aqueducts to import from northern California and the Colorado River.

That’s the good news. In the dubious-news column, the big L.A. River blooper this year so far goes to…the cabal of civic and business leaders in Long Beach who seriously propose to move the mouth of the river--and its assorted loads of trash and toxics--from downtown Long Beach a mile west to the port. This project has received, mercifully, little media attention outside Long Beach—please forget it after you read this—and qualifies as the worst really huge plan for the river since 1989, when a state assemblyman suggested that L.A. convert the river into a dry-season truck freeway.

What would be the best use, after all, of hundreds of millions of dollars (conservatively) of your money and several decades of efforts by your public servants? We could clean up the L.A. River, or, alternatively, we could divert the pollution to someone else’s neighborhood—and to the area that already happens to suffer the worst air quality, no less.

Moving the river could, of course, make at least some of Long Beach’s ambitious master plan to revitalize its own nine miles of river—a plan that's not being nearly heralded enough--completely pointless.

The L.A. River is a lot like that just now: it thrives in parallel universes of imagination. In the older universe, it’s a reviled concrete anti-river of a sewer, a joke, and the place to dump the bodies in movies. And in the second universe, it’s now the Great Green Hope of the Future. It’s the inspiration for wildly ambitious plans to create a 51-mile greenway along the river corridor, which itself should serve as the backbone for a county-wide network of greenways, green streets, wetlands, and other projects that can give us the park and public space we need, clean up our polluted water bodies, and maximize our local water supplies.

Try a visit to the Dominguez Gap Wetlands. It’s a preview of the second universe.

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