State to pitch in $25 million for 'crown jewel' of L.A. River restoration

The state of California plans to contribute $25 million toward efforts to buy a property on the Los Angeles River in Cypress Park, the majority of the purchase price for a parcel that has been called a "crown jewel" of the river's restoration, state Senate leader Kevin de León announced Sunday.

The funding, announced by De León at the L.A. River Revitalization Corp.'s annual garden party, marks a major step toward securing the largest remaining piece of undeveloped riverfront land for the city of L.A. Although city officials are still negotiating a deal with the property's owner, Union Pacific Co., De León's office said the $25 million would probably cover a majority of the sale price.

"It's a very large piece in the greater puzzle," De León said in an interview.

The parcel, known as G2, spans more than 40 acres in Taylor Yard, a former railroad facility between the river and Rio de Los Angeles State Park off San Fernando Road. It is across the water from the Elysian Valley neighborhood, on a soft-bottomed stretch of river that features stands of trees rare along the concrete-lined waterway's 51-mile course.

Last year, L.A. Mayor Eric Garcetti said the property was "a crown jewel in our plans to restore the Los Angeles River" and "represents a large amount of open space that will help us free the river from its concrete straitjacket and connect local communities to its natural beauty."

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In a statement Sunday, Garcetti praised De León for his leadership in committing state money toward the property and said he looked forward to "continued partnership."

"Taylor Yard is a key piece of the River Revitalization Master Plan, and the state's investment is crucial to make this plan a reality," Garcetti said.

Francisco Castillo, a spokesman for Union Pacific Co., said the company "has not reached a final agreement with the City of Los Angeles on all the terms and conditions" for selling the G2 parcel but that "discussions are continuing in a positive direction." He declined to confirm a sale price.

De León's announcement comes at a heady phase of river redevelopment plans. City and federal officials are in the final stages of working out a cost-sharing agreement for what is expected to be a $1.4-billion restoration of 11 miles of the river in northeast and downtown L.A. -- an area including the Taylor Yard parcel.

Meanwhile, architect Frank Gehry has confirmed he is taking a hand in plans to redevelop the river along its entire course, from the San Fernando Valley to Long Beach. Gehry's vision for the river is still largely a mystery. His firm says it is merely in the early stages of surveying and modeling the landscape surrounding the waterway.

The architect's commissioning by the River Revitalization Corp. has nevertheless caused an outcry among some longtime river activists, who were dismayed among other things that Gehry worked on the project for more than nine months before his involvement was disclosed by The Times.

Gehry has brushed off such criticism, recently telling The New York Times that his detractors "should grow up" and "be worker bees, not complaining bees."

De León said the potential acquisition of the Taylor Yard property showed that long-brewing plans to reclaim the largely derelict L.A. River are finally becoming reality.

"For decades we've been talking about revitalizing and restoring the L.A. River, to no avail," he said. "But now we have real money, and real vision."

peter.jamison@latimes.com

Twitter: @petejamison

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