On river plan, Alarcon reluctant to go with the flow

Times Staff Writer

The morning after parts of Griffith Park went up in flames last week, the Los Angeles City Council put aside that disaster and turned to another environmental issue: the Los Angeles River.

If you haven’t been following it, the council wants to spend a couple billion boxes of ziti to build a series of parks along the river over the next half-century. The idea, briefly, is to make the river look more like a river and less like something OSHA should be investigating.

The council, to its credit, spent the last five years assembling a master plan for the river and unanimously approved it last week.

That made Ed Reyes, the chairman of the council’s river committee, pretty much the happiest man on Earth.

But that approval came only after newly elected Councilman Richard Alarcon expressed some concerns....


Alarcon’s beef?

He wanted the plan updated to include more parks for tributaries to the river, specifically the Tujunga Wash, which flows through his northeast San Fernando Valley district.

It’s good to fight for your district, but what raised eyebrows in council chambers was that Alarcon waited until the last moment to say something on a plan that has been in the works for five years.

During that span, the council’s river committee has held more than 60 public meetings and the city has conducted 18 public hearings to ask residents what they wanted in the river plan -- which has been posted on the Internet since February, in English and Spanish.

And when did an Alarcon deputy ask for the plan? Wednesday morning at the council meeting.

In addition, a youth group Alarcon created called the Young Senators was briefed on the river plan last May in L.A. -- with Alarcon in attendance.

How were Alarcon’s objections received?

Not so well.

Reyes said that he would have city officials look into his suggestions -- thereby securing Alarcon’s vote -- but that it will be hard enough finding the resources to do the work on the river, let alone the tributaries.

Councilman Greig Smith added that the council had in recent years made significant investments in the park at Hansen Dam along the Tujunga Wash.

That park, of course, is square in Alarcon’s district, and two ongoing park projects along the Tujunga Wash and Pacoima Wash are in the district he represented when he was a state senator.

Alarcon’s response?

He got steamed:

“I didn’t come here to patronize folks,” he said, adding that there was a plague of poverty in the northeast Valley.

He then said: “I don’t know what has been going on the last eight years and three months since I left” the council.

“My district is a community of needs, and no one is going to shut me up because I press these needs,” he said.

What Alarcon didn’t mention is that no one forced him to leave the council in 1998, when he resigned early in his second term after being elected to the state Senate.

On Friday, Alarcon said that he recently learned there are millions of dollars in community redevelopment funds available to his council district. Getting the tributaries in the river master plan, Alarcon said, would make it easier to use that money.

Cool. And we look forward to writing about those funds being used on river and tributary projects one day.

Turning to other issues, anything interesting renters may want to read?

The latest report from the real estate analyst M/PF YieldStar contains some alarming news for renters in the city.

“Los Angeles ended 2006 ranking among the nation’s leaders in terms of occupancy and rent growth,” states the report. The city “saw apartment occupancy top 97% in December 2006, with this rate allowing property owners to raise rents notably even though typical monthly rents already are among the highest in the country at nearly $1,500.”

The report also indicates that new apartments are being built in Los Angeles at a rate that is second in the country only to Dallas. Problem is most of the new units are expensive, so demand keeps rising for less expensive units.

Will putting a bus lane on Wilshire Boulevard really speed up bus travel times?

The city says it will.

The plan approved by the council this month would convert the curb lanes in each direction on Wilshire into lanes that could be used only by buses and vehicles turning right at intersections.

The city estimates such lanes would cut 12 minutes off travel time from the Los Angeles-Santa Monica boundary to downtown, from 48 minutes to 36 minutes. Bus speeds would go from an average of 11.9 mph to 15.7 mph.

Yes, that’s considered progress.

At this point, the proposal is just a concept, because the city doesn’t have the $14 million to $16 million it would take to build the lanes and make street improvements, including widening Wilshire in some places.

Let’s think about this.

What happens, for example, when a “Rapid” bus is stuck in the bus lane behind a local bus that makes more frequent stops? And what happens when a bunch of buses get stuck behind a line of vehicles waiting to turn right while pedestrians cross a side street?

Anything that speeds up buses on Wilshire -- the city’s heaviest-traveled bus line -- would be welcome. But it sure seems that Wilshire bus lanes are hardly a panacea and would work best if complemented with a subway.

Why do superheroes shun L.A.? We began contemplating this question after Councilman Dennis Zine, a longtime cop, e-mailed a police report to demonstrate his crime-fighting skills:

“Council member Dennis Zine observed two suspects acting suspiciously in his neighborhood and called the watch commander,” stated the report. “Officers responded and detained the suspects,” who were in possession of spray paint and markers. Our suggestion to Zine: Don’t get outfitted for a cape and codpiece just yet.

That said, the superhero community has shown remarkably little interest in Los Angeles, despite the city’s penchant for violent crime and car chases.

Some of this is understandable. Spider-Man, for example, probably would find shooting webs off mini-malls is hardly exciting, and Superman would be apt to grow bored flying over the same few tall buildings.

“L.A. is too spread out, and a lot of the people that do the characters are based in New York, and when you’re writing something, you write what you know,” said Shane Coleman, a clerk at Golden Apple, a comic-book store.

Coleman pointed out that DC Comics does have an L.A. superhero. Her name is Kate Spencer, and she is a prosecutor whose alter ego, the Manhunter, fights supervillains who fail to succumb to ordinary justice.

Spencer has no superpowers per se but carries a staff that blows things up. In her first several books, she rescues Batman (apparently on vacation from Gotham) and vanquishes enemies outside City Hall, in Hollywood Forever Cemetery and at Griffith Park. And this column suspects that she looks a little better in a super-skintight suit than would a certain member of the City Council.


Next week: Building a ballpark.