After public pressure, city will explore ways to buy parkland along LA River

After a publicity blitz by residents pushing for more open space on the city’s west side where parks are scarce, Long Beach will explore the possibility of purchasing parcels of land adjacent to the Los Angeles River.

At a City Council meeting Tuesday, Councilman Al Austin asked that city manager to look at what it would cost—and how Long Beach could come up with funding—to purchase land next to the river.

Austin’s request comes as a community group called the Riverpark Coalition has mobilized against the development of an RV parking and storage facility near the Los Cerritos and Wrigley neighborhoods. The coalition has argued the site at 3701 North Pacific Place, which is a former toxic dumping ground, should be a park.

As part of their argument, the coalition has pointed to the city’s 2007 RiverLink plan, which identified the parcel as the potential future home of green space lining the river and wetlands. Currently though, the site is on track to become a storage facility.

While Austin’s request was not aimed specifically at the disputed project near Los Cerritos, members of the Riverpark Coalition called on the city to block the development of the storage facility.

“I think we’re all clear what the challenges are, what the costs are. We’ve been part of planning for decades,” said Amy Valenzuela-Mier, a member of the Riverpark group. “Now it’s time to act.”

A much more ambitious Los Angeles River master plan that would develop green space along the river is still working its way through an extensive public review process, but that plan does not preclude the city from acting before its adoption.

Through combined efforts of the city and the county about 70 acres of wetlands, green space and parks have been developed near the river in the past 13 years, but Austin said he’d like to see more.

“With these efforts, we’ve significantly increased the amount of green space in the western part of our city and we must continue to do so,” Austin said.

He called for the exploration of possibly purchasing not only private land but also other parcels owned by the county.

The proposal, while supported by the rest of the council, was questioned by some for a perceived lack of continuity with existing projects along the river. Some members asked that the proposal be reworked to align with projects along the river in an effort to potentially connect them in the future.

Representatives from Congressman Alan Lowenthal and Assemblyman Patrick O’Donnel’s office both read letters expressing support for the city seeking out more open space for residents along the river.

Before taking the vote, Austin responded to some of the criticism expressed during public comment.

“I heard some comment that all it requires is political will,” Austin said. “It requires a lot of money, too.”

A report is expected back before the City Council within the next 60 days.

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Jason Ruiz covers City Hall and politics for the Long Beach Post.