L.A. River: Neat Idea, Bad Timing

Maybe one of these days the Los Angeles River will be liberated from the concrete coffin the Army Corps of Engineers poured it into in the 1930s. The idea of restoring long stretches of the river to its natural state and lining its banks with parks makes too much sense to resist forever.

But with the state's schools, its sick and poor, its mentally ill and others pleading for money from budgets that already are bare, it's hard to justify a big planning bill now. Perhaps the $500,000 the Legislature seems poised to invest in the planning effort would not help many of them all that much. But it would do them more good than a project that even its most enthusiastic supporters talk of as something that will take a generation, or more, to finish.

The same goes for a study under way of a plan to remodel the concrete riverbed to handle rush-hour traffic in some places and trucks in others. Assemblyman Richard Katz (D-Los Angeles) could do the city a major favor by asking the Los Angeles County Transportation Commission to suspend study on his plan and the Assembly to put the river project on hold until there is a stronger whiff of municipal prosperity.

One rather basic reason for holding things up for a while involves the Corps of Engineers. The corps turned 58 miles of the river into a flood channel 40 years ago and by mere right of possession would have something to say about its future. Apparently the corps has no quarrels with tearing up its handiwork--at least north of downtown Los Angeles. It is not likely that with a military standoff in the Middle East and a deficit at $170 billion the federal government has money left over to finance the work it would take to form such an opinion.

If that is the case--and it is hard to see how it could be otherwise--nothing the state does could lead anywhere until the corps had money.

The river has been there longer than Los Angeles, longer even than the Corps of Engineers. It is not going away. And none of the other plans for using the river is likely to beat out the idea of using it as an informal urban park while the planners mark time.

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