One big-city California mayor won big, and another lost. Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti was the winner, while San Francisco Mayor Ed Lee was the loser.
Garcetti got his wish: on Wednesday, the Los Angeles Times reports, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers approved the city’s plans to effect a metamorphosis of the concrete Los Angeles River into a natural waterway for recreation. The Corps had initially favored a $453-million plan, but due to strong lobbying from the city and Garcetti, agreed to the city’s $1.08-billion proposal, whose cost would be split evenly between the federal government on one side and city and state funding on the other.
Planners expect developers of both commercial and residential properties to jump in and build near the waterway, triggering over $5 billion in investment over the next 10 to 15 years and creating as many as 18,000 jobs.
The project is expected to restore habitat, broaden the confines of the river, and offer access to bike trails as the 11-mile river weaves its way from north of downtown through Elysian Park. Eventually, the project is expected to catalyze more development of the river that would extend it to the total length of the present concrete waterway; the 51 miles from the San Fernando Valley to Long Beach.
Assistant Army Secretary for Civil Works Jo-Ellen Darcy said what remains for the project to begin is approval from Congress.
Garcetti was exuberant, saying: “I was tenacious about this–it’s a big win for the city. As I argued in the White House over and over, it’s the right thing for the ecology, it’s the right thing for the economy and for kids growing up being separated from downtown by a concrete flood control channel….If all goes according to plan, we might begin to see some funding allocated for this effort next year, and jackhammers on concrete not long after that.”
The original plan favored by the Army Corps would restored 588 acres of habitat and broadened the river by 300 feet so there could be marshlands near Glassell Park, but then Garcetti and advocacy groups pushed for their plan, titled Alternative 20, which would restore 719 acres and connect the river to Los Angeles State Historic Park near Chinatown and the Verdugo Wash.
“It’s a once-in-a-generation chance,’ ” Garcetti said. Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) trumpeted that the plan will bring “the L.A. River back to life and promises much greater opportunity for economic and recreational development, providing thousands of additional jobs and billions of dollars of increased investment in the local economy,” the Times reports.
The plan intends to use a 42-acre Union Pacific Railroad property as the starting point.
There are detractors: environmentalists and communities along the river are concerned about the effect of the project on low-income residents of Elysian Park, who may be priced out of their homes because of the predicted ascent of rents and home prices.
But Garcetti was sanguine, asserting that it will all work out, concluding, “everyone wants the good gentrification and not the bad.”
Lee, on the other hand, was rejected in his attempt to help pass SB1439, which would have watered down California’s “Ellis Act,” a law that permits landlords to evict their tenants when the landlords intend to sell the property and stop being landlords altogether, the San Francisco Chronicle notes.
The bill was written by Sen. Mark Leno, D-San Francisco, and would have allowed San Francisco to force landlords to own their properties for five years before they could evict their tenants. Leno had written the bill because he feared the trend of real estate speculators flipping properties. Leno accused the Ellis Act of providing such speculators room to drive up prices, saying, “The Ellis Act was not created for this purpose. It was to give a statutory right to landlords. It’s being abused.”
Opposition to the bill came from some moderate Democrats who are supported by a realtors’ association, and Republican lawmakers, including Sen. Mike Morrell (R-Rancho Cucamonga) who called Leno’s bill “a slide towards socialism.” The California Association of Realtors fought the bill along with the California Chamber of Commerce. Businesses such as Twitter and Expedia, supported it.
The Chamber of Congress wrote that there is no other business “where a local government can force a small business owner to stay in business against his or her will, even when they are losing money.”