Faced with losing an ambitious $1-billion plan to revamp the Los Angeles River, Mayor Eric Garcetti on Friday raised the stakes by offering to split the cost with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.
The corps, which manages the river as a flood control channel, last year recommended a $453-million package of parks, bike paths and other enhancements to make the river more inviting to Angelenos. It recently informed the mayor's office that it was sticking with that plan rather than pursuing the $1-billion version, known as Alternative 20, that Garcetti backs.
The federal government would contribute $140 million under the smaller plan. Under the $1 billion alternative, the federal share would rise to about $500 million.
City officials, backed by environmentalists and real estate investors, have been fighting for eight years to finalize a plan to broaden and transform an 11-mile soft-bottom stretch of the river, just north of downtown. The improvements would spawn more restoration efforts and civic amenities along the 51-mile river from Canoga Park to Long Beach, where it empties into the Pacific Ocean.
Garcetti, in an April 10 letter to the corps' Los Angeles District commander, Col. Kimberly M. Colloton, said the less-costly plan would omit restoration of the Verdugo Wash, a critical link in connecting Griffith Park with the Verdugo Hills.
The corps' proposal also fails to restore river connections to Los Angeles State Historic Park, a major goal in making the river accessible to Angelenos, the mayor wrote. In a prepared statement Friday, Garcetti said he hoped the corps would reconsider sticking with the lower price-tag project.
"I am pursuing every avenue in our ongoing efforts to restore and revitalize the entire Los Angeles River," Garcetti said.
Garcetti offered to raise the city's stake in the $1-billion proposal by $44 million — cutting the federal share by the same amount. The city's share would be made up of funds from a variety of sources including municipal contributions, water bonds, charitable donations and public-private partnerships.
Corps officials declined to comment. But staff members in the Los Angeles district office note that even if the city, as the project's local sponsor, agrees to increase its share of the cost, Alternative 20 still costs hundreds of millions more than the federal agency is willing to recommend spending.
A final decision on whether to proceed with the Army Corps' recommendation or the mayor's proposal is not expected until sometime next year, federal officials said.
Garcetti's persistence was lauded by conservationists including L.A. poet Lewis MacAdams, co-founder and president of Friends of the Los Angeles River.
"I sent him an email today that said, 'Mayor, you rock,' " MacAdams said. "He stood up for the river."