LA WATCHDOG--Our Mayor’s pet project is the revitalization of an 11 mile segment of the Los Angeles River, stretching from Griffith Park to Downtown Los Angeles. And what is not to like about new open recreational space in the park poor City of Los Angeles other than the not so minor fact that our cash strapped City needs to pony up more than $1 billion over the next ten to twenty years to pay for its share of this $1.4 billion river revitalization project.
This is considerably more than the $500 million that was originally advertised as our City’s share. Unfortunately, a more detailed analysis showed the total cost ballooning from an estimated $1 billion to $1.4 billion at the same time that the US Army Corps of Engineers cut its contribution from $500 million to $200 to $300 million.
At this time, our City and its leaders do not have a plan to finance this the ambitious infrastructure project. Rather, it is scrounging for money, financing bits and pieces from here and there.
For example, buried in the City’s 440 page budget, there is one mention – a line item - for the $60 million purchase of the Taylor Yard G2 parcel that is owned by the Union Pacific Railroad Company. This river fronting, 40 acre rectangular parcel that lies between the River and the State’s Rio de Los Angeles Park in Cypress Park is considered vital to the rehabilitation of the River.
While this purchase will be financed with debt (and possibly with the proceeds of bond offerings or State grants), is this the best use of the City’s scarce financial resources or debt capacity? Or should this money be used to finance the repair of our streets and sidewalks, the redo of Pershing Square, the expansion of the Convention Center, or housing for the homeless?
The City has also managed to convince the Metropolitan Transit Authority to set aside $425 million for a 51 mile bike path along the length of the River, from its headwaters in Canoga Park all the way to Long Beach. But this $8 million a mile earmark for the Mayor’s pet project is over the top excessive, leading one to speculate how many other pet projects will be financed by Metro’s proposed half cent increase in our sales tax to 9½%.
The City is also considering the establishment of an Enhanced Infrastructure Financing District (“EFID”) that will allow the City to skim off its portion of the increased tax revenues from a boat load of high end real estate developments that border the River and the surrounding communities, much like the old Community Redevelopment Agency that was viewed by many as a corrupt political organization. These EFID funds will then be reinvested in the local community, most likely for streets and transportation projects to serve the more densely populated area that is not served by mass transit.
But these non-affordable developments are not subject to a long range plan that respects the existing communities and neighborhoods. Rather, it is the Wild West, a land grab by rapacious real estate speculators.
Before the City proceeds with the $60 purchase and problematic remediation of the 40 acre Taylor Yard G2 parcel from the Union Pacific, the Mayor and the City Council need to have an open and transparent conversation about whether this expenditure is the best use of our cash strapped City’s scarce resources.
The City also needs to devote the resources to develop a well thought out, long range plan for the Los Angeles River. This includes identifying the sources for over $1 billion in cash needed to complete this important initiative. Most importantly, this plan must respect the surrounding communities who are well aware of the impacts of unplanned development throughout the City where campaign funding real estate speculators have successfully manipulated the Mayor and the members of the City Council.
(Jack Humphreville writes LA Watchdog for CityWatch. He is the President of the DWP Advocacy Committee and a member of the Greater Wilshire Neighborhood Council. Humphreville is the publisher of the Recycler Classifieds -- www.recycler.com. He can be reached at: [email protected].)