Legal challenge seeks to stop city from demolishing historic bridge

Preservationist and architect Kevin Mulcahy under the concrete and steel Riverside Drive Bridge on Jan. 10 in Los Angeles.
(Brian van der Brug / Los Angeles Times)

A legal challenge is being mounted to prevent the demolition of an old bridge crossing the Los Angeles River -- a historic span that architects and neighborhood groups want city officials to turn into a green space for cyclists and pedestrians.

Nonprofit EnrichLA and the architectural firm RAC Design Build will seek a court order Monday to stop the city from demolishing the Riverside Drive Bridge, according to a letter sent by their attorney on Friday.

City engineers say the bridge is slated to be destroyed within weeks, as Los Angeles replaces the aging span with a new one. Earlier this week, EnrichLA, RAC Design Build and their allies unsuccessfully lobbied a city commission to transform the old concrete and metal truss bridge into a “land bridge.”


Backers argued that the converted bridge would be a valuable place for Angelenos to enjoy the river amid a host of efforts to revitalize the long-neglected waterway.

The idea hinges on an important change: Plans for the new Riverside Drive Bridge originally envisioned it taking the same spot as the old one. Today, however, the new bridge is being built upstream.

“Now that it’s no longer necessary to remove this bridge, we should preserve it,” said Daveed Kapoor, an RAC Design Build architect who testified in support of the idea Wednesday.

City engineers warned that the project could jeopardize federal funds for the new bridge and add millions in new costs. Keeping the old bridge would delay the new one, because construction crews had expected to be able to use the space it occupies, interim city engineer Deborah Weintraub said.

City officials also raised concerns about the soundness of the old bridge design, which could require the city to undertake added retrofitting. The Los Angeles Board of Public Works, a five-member panel appointed by Mayor Eric Garcetti, voted Wednesday to stick to existing plans for the bridge, including demolishing the old span.

The legal challenge over the bridge is tied to a question of timing. The structure was deemed a historic monument seven years ago -- one year after city leaders had voted to replace it.

Attorney Jamie T. Hall, who is representing EnrichLA and RAC Design Build, argued in a letter to the board that as a result, the city never analyzed how demolishing the Riverside Drive Bridge would affect “historic resources.” Hall wrote that the city could not demolish the bridge without referring the plan to L.A.’s Cultural Heritage Commission and getting more environmental review.

“The city cannot move forward with demolition without compliance” with both the city cultural heritage ordinance and the California Environmental Quality Act, Hall wrote, adding that “any efforts to do so would be an abuse of discretion and all legal remedies would be preserve the bridge.”

City engineering officials and aides to Garcetti referred questions about those arguments to City Atty. Mike Feuer, whose aides did not immediately respond Friday.

At the Wednesday meeting, Weintraub told the public works board that city officials had gone to the Cultural Heritage Commission to report on “the progress of the new bridge, which includes demolition.”

“I do believe that…we went through a process that is typical for consideration for historic structures,” she told the board Wednesday. The engineering bureau declined to provide additional comment Friday.