Politics, government and public life for Southern California

LA mayor and city officials float river proposal in DC

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Eric Garcetti made the L.A. River the centerpiece of his first visit to Washington as mayor — a two-day trip that began Monday. He brought with him four city councilmen, a state lawmaker and environmental activists to make their case that the Army Corps of Engineers should adopt a more complete restoration of the waterway.

The Army Corps favors a $453 million version — the least expensive of the options. But Carol Armstrong, director of the Los Angeles River Project Office at the city's Bureau of Engineering, says that plan wouldn’t connect the river to Glendale and Burbank, and wouldn’t let wildlife from Griffith Park migrate across the river to — as she says — allow the park's only known mountain lion to "start dating." L.A. officials and river activists want the so-called Alternative 20 version that will cost just over a billion dollars.

Lewis MacAdams, president and co-founder of Friends of the Los Angeles River, maintains the restoration is not just for humans, saying his group is also speaking "for the flying ones, and the swimming ones, and the four-leggeds."

The L.A. contingent found support from the members of Congress who represent the area surrounding the river. L.A. Democrat Lucille Roybal-Allard called this a "once in a lifetime opportunity and we must not squander it." Fellow Democrat Adam Schiff of Burbank said he recently had the opportunity to take his 11-year-old son for a kayak trip on the river, an experience he called  "astounding." He says though times are tough fiscally, and there will be challenges finding the money, "we'll be remembered by what we do, whether we shoot far, whether we try to achieve the best, or whether we fall dramatically short of the potential of the river and the city of Los Angeles."

L.A. Mayor Eric Garcetti met privately Monday with the only elected official with any authority over the Army Corps of Engineers: the commander in chief, President Obama.

Garcetti tried guilt, telling the President California has been a "donor state for many, many decades." 

He tried flattery, pointing out that the LA River could be a legacy project for the President, who'd attended Occidental College not far from the river.

 Garcetti even had some political chits to call in, serving as Obama’s California campaign chair. Could it help? "I hope so," laughed Garcetti. 

Garcetti also made calls on the states two Democratic senators. He says Senator Boxer not only offered to pick up phone and call the Army Corps, but would write up strong comments and submit them on behalf of the city and river activists.

Senator Feinstein suggested a compromise. The Mayor says he’s flexible on the percentage the city will spend and even the timeline, but not on the scope of the project. 

The Corps will decide on its final river plan next fall. Then the fight shifts to coming up with funds to pay for the federal government's share of the project. Mayor Garcetti says part of the money could come from the administration's budget, part from Congress. His first DC visit as the city's chief executive also included a meeting late Tuesday with the head of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, Pennsylvania Congressman Bill Shuster.

Of course, you can’t come to Washington from Los Angeles without also talking about transportation. Garcetti met with Secretary of Transportation Anthony Fox and got reassuring words about the city’s subway to the sea, LAX and downtown connector projects. 

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