On Sunday evening, Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa swooped into the Los Angeles River Center and Gardens on a bicycle.
It’s possible that Villaraigosa was acknowledging the day’s fifth successful CicLAvia, the pro-bike/pedestrian/skate/skateboard event, which closed nine-plus miles of east-and-southside streets to vehicles. Perhaps the mayor wanted to try one of the foldable Tern bicycles on display at the entrance to the L.A. River Revitalization Corporation “Let’s Talk River” Urban Garden Party.
Or maybe the mayor was just in a celebratory mood because he was being honored for his “riverly” efforts by the non-profit RCC, with Nancy Sutley, White House principal environmental policy advisor, there to formally present the tribute.
The Garden Party
Held on the tree-sheltered grounds of the Los Angeles River Center & Gardens, the event featured stations where guests could check out the sponsors’ products: A shiny, blue Coda Electric Car; a climbing wall from the Fulcrum Transitional Learning Team; raised bed gardens from Farmscape; and Tern’s nifty folding bikes—the Mayor’s transportation choice for his grand entrance. Guest nibbled hors d’oeuvres under light- draped trees and posed for photos with LAstormwater.org’s Trash Monster while sampling beer from Dry River Brewing and a potent punch mixed up by Tru Organic Spirits.
It was the perfect setting for the mayor’s grand two-wheeled entrance.
Let’s Talk River
The official ceremony started with actress and RCC board member Daphne Zuniga introducing RCC Executive Director Omar Brownson. Brownson spoke of the RCC’s mission to promote responsible development, redevelopment, and revitalization of properties along the LA River corridor in accordance with the Los Angeles River Revitalization Master Plan as well as the necessity to use a “new vocabulary” to think of the river as a multi-purpose rather than single-purpose resource.
Brownson also described some of the RCC’s current projects. Expected to debut in 2013, the North Atwater Bridge will connect Griffith Park with the newly expanded North Atwater Park via a pedestrian, bike, and equestrian structure.
The first phase of the restoration of the Lincoln Heights Old Jail will be a climbing wall to provide immediate building use to the community. River adjacent properties Taylor Yard (a.k.a. the G2 Property) and the playground of Dorris Place Elementary School will be redeveloped as natural habitats and a public park respectively.
Sutley took the stage and reminded guests that because of the mayor’s efforts to create a clean-tech corridor around the river, Los Angeles was one of seven cities eligible for President Barack Obama’s America's Great Outdoors initiative and the EPA pilot Urban Waters Federal Partnership, created to revitalize urban waterways, restore wildlife, improve water quality, and stimulate regional and local economies.
The Mayor Speaks
Off the bike and on to the stage, Villaraigosa reminded the crowd of river revitalization supporters that he and Sutley have a history; the latter served as Villaraigosa’s deputy mayor for Energy and the Environment before she joined the Obama administration in 2009. Brownson and Sutley presented the mayor with a limited edition print of “Peeling Back the Concrete” by local artist and muralist Fabian Debora.
Villaraigosa then spoke about his meetings over the years with Lewis MacAdams, poet, river activist, and co-founder of Friends of the Los Angeles River (FoLAR), saying MacAdams’s passion inspired the acquisition of the Taylor Yard parcel, which is crucial to riverside development.
The mayor also referenced the Olmsted Brothers (sons of eminent landscape architect Frederic Law Olmsted) whose 1930 pre-channelization report to the Chamber of Commerce recommended development of green space along the river. While largely ignored at the time, the report is now an important reference in the river's revitalization.
Councilmember Ed Reyes (CD1) wasn’t in attendance but Villaraigosa made a point of acknowledging his “work in the trenches” on behalf of the L.A. River. As a grand finale, Villaraigosa led the crowd in singing a rousing rendition of “Happy Birthday to You” to Councilmember Tom LaBonge (CD4).
The mayor left the garden party on foot.