Plenty of people are still skeptical about Los Angeles' ambitious plan to revitalize its river. Interesting idea, they say, but who's going to pay for it?
Skeptics said the same thing two decades ago about dreams to turn a rail yard just north of downtown into a park. The Cornfields — the location of the old Southern Pacific River Station and a freight yard — was prime but polluted real estate and would cost a fortune to acquire and clean up, the argument went, and was good only for warehouses and perhaps some big-box stores. Otherwise, who would pay for it?
But community and parkland activists derailed the development plan and, eventually, the state assemblyman who represented the area and had been elevated to speaker, Antonio Villaraigosa, pushed through a plan to fund the acquisition of the Cornfields. A sluggish economy and a series of state budget crises kept the land empty for many years except for the occasional rock festival. But the Los Angeles State Historic Park is now nearing its final stage of development and is expected to open in November, bringing the city's residents a verdant park, peppered with valuable reminders of L.A.'s early days.
Just upriver from the Cornfields is another former Southern Pacific rail yard. Part of Taylor Yard, as it is known, already has been transformed into parkland, but a 42-acre parcel known as G2 is currently owned by Union Pacific Co. and is key to the city's plan to restore an 11-mile stretch of the river and provide access to city residents. Officials and the railroad have been negotiating a sale for more than a year, but it will be expensive. Who's going to pay for it?
Just as with the rest of the river project, money must flow from many sources. On Sunday, the state senator who represents the area and who has been elevated to president pro tempore, Kevin de León, said the state would chip in $25 million for the purchase.
The state grant and bond funding, which was made possible by two ballot measures and the participation of the Santa Monica Mountains Conservancy, is another indication that the river project is to be taken seriously. Decades of thinking, organizing, lobbying and planning have generated a workable framework. With that framework in place — and with some hard work by activists and officials alike — money may very well follow.