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Council committee backs purchase of river property

LOS ANGELES — A City Council committee backed a proposal Sept. 26 to begin purchasing a piece of Union Pacific Railroad property in Glassell Park that has long been considered key to the city’s Los Angeles River restoration goals.

The Arts, Parks and River Committee voted at a special meeting to open escrow on a $59.3 million purchase agreement for the Taylor Yard G2 parcel.

The city has plans to turn the 42 acres of industrial rail yard land into recreational and passive park space, and to restore a wildlife habitat to a river that has more of a reputation of being a storm channel.

The cost of the full project, including the purchase price, is expected to come to about $252 million, of which $120 million would be for remediation.

Councilman David Ryu said that while he supports projects to improve the Los Angeles River, he still has “concerns with the price tag associated” with the purchase.

“We are already currently struggling in searching for funds to pay for repairs to our aging infrastructure and services to our homeless population,” he said.

Ryu voted along with his colleagues to move forward with the purchase, but said that during the escrow process, he hopes the city will vet the purchase agreement.

“We need safeguards in place, and I want to make sure we are watching every dime to get the highest and best use for this property,” he said.

Former Councilman Ed Reyes, a longtime supporter of revitalizing the Los Angeles River, made an appearance at the committee hearing. He called the proposed purchase agreement for the parcel “historical” and that it would benefit the region.

The purchase of the parcel, at 2850 Kerr St., was negotiated in anticipation of the $1.5 billion U.S. Army Corps of Engineers plan to revitalize an 11-mile stretch of the river running through the Elysian Valley.

The Corps of Engineers plan focuses on widening the river next to the yard but does not actually detail improvements on the Taylor Yard G2 plot, which is a complementary project.

The city would need to pay nearly $1.2 billion of the Corps of Engineers river restoration cost, as well as $2.5 million annually for ongoing maintenance and operations, according to estimates released by City Administrative Officer Miguel Santana. City leaders had initially hoped the costs would be split between the city and federal government.

Councilman Mitch O’Farrell, who chairs the Arts, Parks and River Committee, said last week that if council members agree to open escrow on the purchase of the Taylor Yard G2 land, they would still have time to look more closely into the deal, and if necessary, back out before the end of the escrow period.

O’Farrell said that while the rail yard parcel is tied to the Army Corps of Engineers project — which has increased in cost since it was first proposed — the plot of land has also long been the “lynchpin” of the city’s own Los Angeles River restoration plans.

“What I want to do is make sure we don’t get distracted by what is sort of an abstract exercise” of contemplating the city’s estimated $1.2 billion share of costs in the Army Corps plans, he said.

O’Farrell said he plans to consider the immediate $252 million costs of improving on Taylor Yard itself.

The purchase of the yard would be “an enormous investment in a space that has a high value for the future of the Los Angeles River,” he said.

Under the tentative deal, the purchase amount would include setting aside $14.7 million for part of the soil remediation costs.

The city is also counting on the state providing $25 million of the purchase cost, which would need to be funneled through a potential agreement with the Santa Monica Mountains Conservancy, according to Santana.

The state’s portion would likely not be available to the city when it comes time to purchase the land.

Santana’s report also gives City Council members the option of forgoing purchase of the property at this time.

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