Monday, July 19, 2010

How a River Makes You Free

I imagine that since time immortal curious people who have come upon a riverway have asked, 'I wonder where it goes.'  This certainly has been a question that has led to lot of my personal explorations.

Americans love to talk about freedom, and nothing is freer than a natural river course flowing through the countryside or urban landscape. It's also usually free (no cost) to wander along its river banks while observing nature, creating art (music, plein air painting, photography, video), recreating (bicycling, golfing, horseback riding), meditating (yoga, tai chi) or picnicking with friends.

Rivers teach us so much about the flow of life, if we stop by their shores and contemplate enough about the ecosystem of which they are the centerpiece. Lessons like the power of gravity, the tremendous change achieved over a long period of time (tree growth, worn rock, eggs to tadpoles to frogs), and the 'moods' of water (angry, raging flows ~ bubbling brooks ~ languid glassy weirs).

In fact, much of America was 'discovered' as explorers followed riverways to see where they led. The Lewis & Clark Expedition to the Northwest Passage is a great example.

In modern times, though, we've put down roots and harnessed the power of the rivers for our drinking water, transportation corridor, and sanitation needs.

Often lost in our attempts to be 'civilized' is giving ourselves permission to be free. Because virtually all communities are established next to rivers, accessing river trails, bridges, and river parks is usually pretty easy.

And that is one of the great joys of the Arroyo Seco in Southern California.  For much of its 26+ mile journey from the Angeles National Forest to its confluence with the Los Angeles River, the Arroyo Seco is free and accessible by foot, horseback or bicycle.

Its northernmost shores are natural riparian habitat, with plenty of shade trees, song birds, and small wildlife, creating a bucolic idyll in the midst of the City of Pasadena and surrounding areas.

Its central shores focus on recreation with the Rose Bowl, soccer fields, and three golf courses providing outdoor fun within view of the river's edge, often overlooked because of the concrete channel in which it now flows. Yes, The Arroyo Seco, which flows through Brookside Golf Course, is even a water hazard and intrepid 'fishermen' are often seen retrieving golf balls from its stream.

Along the lower channelized Arroyo Seco in Los Angeles, there's the chance to walk/bicycle right next to the streambed along the approxinmately 2 mile Arroyo Seco Bikeway that connects York Blvd. to Avenue 43 via the river. (See my July 12, 2009 post on the Bikeway)

Yes, the river truly opens us to our free-est selves when we meander its shores. Yet none of us will truly be free until all our rivers flow free as well.  And that's why I work so hard to restore our urban riverways to their natural states.

Have you visited your river recently?

Friday, July 16, 2010

A Tale of Two Rivers ~ A Tale of Two Cities

It was a week of big decisions for the Los Angeles and Arroyo Seco Rivers.

First, the City of Los Angeles, which has encased its beautiful Los Angeles River in concrete for decades, received word from US EPA that the River and its tributaries have been declared 'traditionally navigable' waterways. This means both federal funds for restoration and revitalization under the Clean Water Act, as well as regulatory support to improving ecosystem and drinking water quality.

In contrast, the City of Pasadena, which has prided itself on its 'Arroyo Culture' and 'Arroyo Seco Master Plan,' saw its City Council refuse to reconsider its 7-year-old decision to construct new athletic fields in the sensitive Hahamongna riparian basin, groundwater source of drinking water to hundreds of thousands in the region and home to one of Southern California's most sensitive urban interface ecosystems. (In fairness, the Council did reject one of two proposed 'soccer' fields which would be located in a part of the Basin currently inundated as a small lake with ducks swimming in it.)

The irony? While Los Angeles continues to move forward in removing concrete and debris from the Los Angeles River, Pasadena moves forward with building an artificial turf athletic field and parking lot within its natural Arroyo Seco riverine corridor.

These actions beg the question: which city is truly more committed to natural resource sustainability and local water supply reliability?
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Tuesday, July 6, 2010

An Open Letter to the Pasadena City Council on Hahamongna Athletic Fields

Dear Mr. Mayor and City Council Members:

Please support the Hahamongna Advisory Committee's request to reconsider current city plans to build an athletic field and parking lot in the Hahamonga Watershed Park.

As a resident and constituent, I am voicing support for this reconsideration in light of numerous changed conditions since the Council's initial approval of plans in 2003.

These include:

1. environmental, climate, and political factors that have negatively affected the security of our local water supply and water quality.

Pasadena's current heavy reliance on imported water at a time of protracted water shortage creates tremendous vulnerability for our City's ability to provide reliable domestic water for local businesses and residents. The recent Station Fire, which devastated the upper Arroyo Seco watershed, has caused increased run-off and groundwater toxins into this already vulnerable water basin. A healthy natural habitat is essential to supporting a clean local water supply, and the building of any new infrastructure, including those planned, will destroy key elements of one of Southern California's last remaining allevial canyons where five habitat zones intersect. The City's inability to provide for local long-term water storage, treatment, and distribution will have a wide ranging effect, including negative consequences for the City's very important tourism economic engine.

2. mobility barriers that make it difficult to reach the proposed fields.

The Hahamongna Watershed Park currently has access from a two-lane street which is already experiencing heavy traffic congestion. Further, the Park itself has narrow lanes for vehicular traffic. Because of the park's location and current natural/passive recreation atmosphere, it is not easily accessible by bicycle, walking, or bus/shuttle transit. This Council is already on record stating that there will be no new roads in the Hahamongna without direct Council approval. This means that in addition to the cost of building parking lots in the Hahamongna, which will both disturb rare and sensitive natural habitat as well as prevent vital groundwater percolation, it is highly likely that 'overflow' of cars and vans will end up creating their own 'roads' and parking on non-parking surfaces, as I have witnessed at other sports recreation complexes. As a soccer mom, I can personally attest to the amount of equipment, water, first aid, chairs, umbrellas and other 'entourage' materials that regularly are part of organized youth athletic activities. I fear that the end result of any field/parking lot construction will overburden already taxed mobility access and available surface parking.

3. lack of consistency between the Hahamongna Master Plan and Pasadena's Green City Action Plan.

Since City Council passed the Green City Action Plan in 2006, almost three years after the Hahamongna Master Plan was approved, there has been no formal effort to reconcile the Green City elements with the Hahamongna Plan. Given Pasadena's leadership within the US Conference of Mayors Climate Protection Agreement and the 2006 United Nations Green Cities Declaration and Urban Environmental Accords, any final plans for the Hahamongna, including but not limited to athletic fields, would be flawed without coordination and reconcilitation of differences between these two important initiatives of the City, which prides itself as a sustainable community.

Your vote on July 12th to support reconsideration of the current city plan for athletic field construction in the Hahamongna will give our community and city staff a full opportunity to review and weigh the merits of current plans in light of the critical factors set forth above.

Thank you very much for your serious reflection on this request for reconsideration of plans for Hahamongna athletic fields. I look forward to your affirmative vote to support the reconsideration process.


Meredith McKenzie
The Arroyo Lover