Frank Gehry and a tale of two Los Angeles rivers


Few people know exactly what famed architect Frank Gehry has in mind for the Los Angeles River, but some things are clear. He can make a project iconic. And he surely can bring media attention.

But what’s more remarkable about the developments recently reported by the Los Angeles Times is that Gehry is looking to create a plan for the Los Angeles River that extends beyond Los Angeles to the river’s mouth in Long Beach.

His vision and involvement help bring attention to Long Beach and the smaller, sometimes impoverished cities along the southern part of the river that make up one third of its length.

They need to be at the table.

For almost a year Gehry has been quietly working with the L.A. River Revitalization Corp., a nonprofit created by the city of Los Angeles.

He has been researching the river, as he told the host of KCRW’s DnA, Frances Anderton, to determine “its own moral imperative.”

What struck him is that what is really needed is a water reclamation project. But as importantly, he saw a river that runs through 15 cities, not just one on the edge of Los Angeles.

“Nobody has gone to the 15 mayors to meet with them. Nobody has gone to the individual politicians in the district and met with them,” he told Anderton.

In other words, until now Los Angeles officials like Mayor Eric Garcetti were spending hours lobbying Washington and Sacramento for funds and support. And smaller cities were watching as resources were being accumulated by their neighbor.

Cities like Bell, embroiled for years in a corruption scandal, weren’t involved in the larger planning process that will affect pollution down river and the collection of storm water.

A narrative was emerging. A tale of two rivers.

Gehry’s involvement should bring all of the cities along the river together.

But it will have to be political efforts that change the course of planning for the better.

Assembly Bill 530 by Assemblyman Anthony Rendon, D-Lakewood, would create a working group to develop a revitalization plan for the Lower Los Angeles River. This would allow the cities along the lower river to play catchup.

If passed by the Legislature, the bill would provide a strong voice for under-represented communities, and, combined with other legislative efforts by Assemblyman Jimmy Gomez, D-Los Angeles, would open access to funds.