LOS ANGELES — The City Council voted to close escrow Jan. 27 on 42 acres of land valued at $59.3 million along the Los Angeles River as part of a major restoration project that could be derailed by President Donald Trump’s threat to cut off federal funds.
Despite the full revitalization project being in limbo, city officials applauded the council’s unanimous 11-0 vote to purchase the land.
“The fact that we will soon have public control over this has enormous implications for what is possible to do along the river,” Councilman Mitch O’Farrell said.
Mayor Eric Garcetti said the “riverfront parcel is the crown jewel in our plan to enliven the Los Angeles River so that Angelenos can reclaim access to its natural wonder and rich history.”
“I made the acquisition of this site a top priority, because it will create much-needed public open space in the middle of the city, provide extensive habitat restoration, and serve as a key access point for local communities to connect to the river,” Garcetti said.
The city wants to turn the industrial rail yard known as the Taylor Yard G2 plot, into park space while restoring wildlife habitat to a river which is mostly a concrete flood channel. The land will be purchased from Union Pacific Railroad.
The Taylor Yard project is complimentary to an anticipated $1.4 billion U.S. Army Corps of Engineers plan to revitalize 11 miles of river running through the Elysian Valley and return it to a more natural state.
However, the future of the Army Corps project has been thrown in doubt with the election of Trump and his threat to cut federal funding to so-called “sanctuary” cities that refuse to help the federal government enforce immigration laws.
Los Angeles is expected to be a target because of the LAPD’s longstanding policy of not initiating contact with a person simply to determine their immigration status, and other stances city leaders are taking to oppose Trump.
O’Farrell said the council voted in 2013 to split the cost of the full river project, which at the time was estimated to be $1 billion. The estimated cost has grown to $1.4 billion since then, and the Army Corps has only agreed to pay 20 percent.
O’Farrell said he would not support the city paying more for the project.
“My position is still we will not put the city on the hook for anything more than the 50/50 match we agreed to in 2013,” O’Farrell said.
The yard is on the east bank of the L.A. River, north of downtown, in the community of Cypress Park, which is in Councilman Gil Cedillo’s 1st District and bordering O’Farrell’s 13th District.
Arturo Chavez, chief of staff to Cedillo, said the parcel is key to providing future river access to residents in Northeast L.A.
“It is the crown jewel. It adds access for the people in the Northeast. We are actually on the other side of the railroad tracks, literally,” Chavez said.
The total cost of the Taylor Yard project, including the purchase price, has been estimated to come to about $252 million, but Chavez said the full cost was unclear because it is not known how much cleanup is needed.
Chavez also said it will still be five or 10 years before members of the public will get to use the space.
O’Farrell and Cedillo both credited former Councilman Ed Reyes, who was in the audience for the vote, with being the “visionary” who saw the potential in turning the river from a concrete flood channel back to a more natural state.
Reyes represented the 1st Council District from 2001 until 2013.
“Ed Reyes is a visionary. He has dialed in on this and has been for over a decade or more, and so the real work is what he’d done,” Cedillo said.
The city may get $25 million in state money toward the cost of the project, but Chavez said the negotiations are still underway.
O’Farrell said the purchase “really sets the stage for what is possible. It gets us off the drawing board and into the ground, so it’s a huge, huge step in the planning and realization of the vision.”