riverpark protest

Riverpark Coalition, a grassroots community-led organization advocating for park equity in Long Beach, has sought to address the equity gap among park spaces in western and northern Long Beach The coalition hosted its first “Park Equity Exhibits” at Bixby Park Saturday, Feb. 27.

Long Beach has a plan to develop a new park along its portion of the Los Angeles River — but activists who have pushed for more green space in the area say the proposal doesn’t go far enough.

City officials this week released a report, in response to a request earlier this year from Eighth District Councilman Al Austin, on potential opportunities for Long Beach to acquire land for more park space. The 44-page document outlined the history of park development in the city and the necessary considerations for creating new green space: Available land in underserved areas, with owners who are open to park development.

Because the City Council request specifically sought to analyze potential park space along the LA River, city staff looked at the 6,943 parcels within a quarter mile of it. They then narrowed the list down to 122 sites based on factors like whether the properties already had development plans and how well they would function as a park.

From there, officials winnowed the list to nine properties, comprising 111 acres, by assessing their current uses and whether the land is already for sale or lease.

While all nine sites have potential as future parks, the report notes, one particular property rose to the top: 11 acres, split across the LA River directly north of the 405 Freeway, which are currently owned by LA County.

Long Beach officials are now in discussions with the county to use the land as park space, according to the report, and “the County has halted any other plans for this property in order to discuss with the City the potential for future open space.”

Developing the property would likely cost about $27.5 million, while operations and maintenance would run roughly $260,000 annually. The report listed more than a dozen funding options at the local, county, state and federal levels — as well as private grants and sponsorships — that could help defray some of those expenses.

Austin, for his part, lauded the report and the progress the city has already made, though he noted a lot of work remains.

“This is an exciting and positive step forward in creating additional park space in our community that is also accessible to the L.A. River,” he said in a statement. “There are still many steps required and challenges ahead before this opportunity site can become reality.”

But activists who have pushed for more park space along the LA River in recent months say they feel differently.

“We very much hoped for a legitimate study, and thanked Councilman Austin for this proposal at the time, though we feared the worst — that the City would use this study as a disingenuous brief to defend its own betrayal of the community up to this point,” a Thursday, April 8, statement from the Riverpark Coalition said. “Sadly, our worst fears have been realized.”

The Riverpark Coalition sprang up in recent months as residents and environmental advocates in Long Beach’s western half pushed the city to reject plans to build a self-storage facility and RV park at 3701 N. Pacific Place, north of the 405 Freeway along the LA River. Instead, the organization called on the city to acquire the property and turn it into green space.

“Ever since people began taking an interest in revitalizing the LA River,” coalition member Amy Valenzuela-Mier said during a December Planning Commission meeting on the project, “this property has been looked at and hoped for and dreamed about by many residents — not just by us locally, but by people all over LA County, and we see lots of examples of revitalized rivers and how they benefit a community all over the country.”

But city staff said that because the land is private property, using the land as a park was never a real option.

“The zoning has never reflected that this would be a park,” Christopher Koontz, Long Beach’s deputy director of Development Services, said during the Dec. 17 meeting. “It has, at times, reflected the prior use as a driving range, but the current zoning and the most recent zoning, which is operative, is of the light industrial use.

“And the proposal before you,” Koontz added, “is actually a downzoning to the more restrictive commercial storage use.”

The report released this week reiterated those concerns, citing the forthcoming development on the property, as well as remediation needs and poor pedestrian access, to explain why the site did not make the cut for a potential park.

But the Riverpark Coalition, in its statement, said the group does not believe any of those justifications were made in good faith; rather, the organization said it believed the city report simply sought to retroactively rationalize past missed opportunities to develop the land as park space.

“The bottom line,” the statement said, “is that the City plans to see that these crown jewels of future riverine park space, promised to the park-poor, disadvantaged residents of the western half of the city, will be developed and lost forever.”

While Long Beach’s Planning Commission has already approved the Pacific Place project, the City Council is also set to weigh in — which will include hearing appeals from the Riverpark Coalition and other organizations fighting the development — at its Tuesday, April 13, meeting.

In the meantime, it seems that Long Beach officials have already moved on to other possibilities — specifically, the county’s 11-acre property.

The city report outlined the process for acquiring and developing the site after Long Beach and LA County reach an agreement.

The city would need roughly $100,000 to kick off “an inclusive community planning process,” which would take eight to 10 months. Then, designing the park and ensuring it complies with state environmental law would cost $300,000 to $500,000, and the design approval process would take up to a year. All of the steps to receive the required permits would then take seven to nine months, and a public project bidding process would last two to four months before the proposal would head to the City Council. If approved, then construction could begin.

That’s all to say any new park space — even on the site that city officials have deemed the most feasible — would take years, not to mention tens of millions of dollars, to complete.

But the idea, it appears, already has some momentum.

Austin noted that state Sen. Lena Gonzalez and Assemblyman Patrick O’Donnell, both Long Beach Democrats, have submitted requests to include funding in the state budget for park development along the LA River. And LA County Supervisor Janice Hahn’s office said in a statement that she “is committed to making that parcel park space.”

Austin, whose Eighth District includes both the Pacific Place property and the county-owned site, seems equally dedicated to the idea.

“Some private property sites were not recommended for parkland for multiple reasons,” he said. “However, I believe the greatest takeaway from this report is that we have a realistic and encouraging path forward to create an additional 11 acres of public open space adjacent to the L.A. River.

“And,” Austin added, “a framework now in place to achieve this victory for our community.”


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