Exploring a Plan to Remake the L.A. River

The Los Angeles River looking north toward downtown Los Angeles.Credit…Monica Almeida/The New York Times

Today we’ll start with a short history lesson about one of Los Angeles’s most vital (and most forgotten) landmarks: the Los Angeles River.

For centuries, the river, which begins in the San Fernando Valley and ends in the ocean in Long Beach, sustained small communities of Native peoples. In the 1800s it nurtured hundreds of vineyards and orange groves, and exporting the harvests helped expand the Southland’s reputation around the globe. The city of Los Angeles ultimately formed around the river, as opposed to along the coast, because it was the region’s source of fresh water.

But the river flooded frequently. And as Los Angeles grew, development encroached on the river’s banks, leaving less open land to absorb the overflow. That came with disastrous consequences: During a heavy rainstorm in February 1938, the Los Angeles River burst its banks and ultimately killed 87 people.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers decided to entomb the river in concrete to speed up water flow and prevent flooding, a project that was completed in the 1960s. The channel protected Los Angeles’s infrastructure and allowed the city to grow into a global megalopolis, Michael Kimmelman, The New York Times’s architecture critic, recently reported in The Times Magazine.

“Since 1938, Los Angeles hasn’t suffered a flood as disastrous as the one that year, thanks in no small part to the channel’s engineering, which has also allowed Angelenos to forget the danger the river originally posed,” wrote Michael, who is the founder of Headway, a Times initiative that aims to explore the world’s challenges through the lens of progress. “Several decades after its completion,” he added, “it is the flood channel itself — not the floods it was built to contain — that many Angelenos have come to see as the disaster.”

In his article, Michael explores a plan to remake the Los Angeles River, an idea with growing support, given that the waterway is increasingly seen as a blight.

But determining exactly how to redesign the river is a tall task. There are competing demands from some environmentalists, who want the concrete removed; from community activists, who worry that any new development would lead to the displacement of poor residents; and from engineering experts, who say the risk of flooding remains too high to restore anything like the original river.

More on California

  • Jaywalking Law: California has had one of the strictest jaywalking laws in the nation. Starting Jan. 1, that will no longer be the case.
  • Remaking a River: Taming the Los Angeles River helped Los Angeles emerge as a global megalopolis, but it also left a gaping scar across the territory. Imagining the river’s future poses new challenges.
  • A Piece of Black History Destroyed: Lincoln Heights — a historically Black community in a predominantly white, rural county in Northern California — endured for decades. Then came the Mill fire.
  • Employee Strike: In one of the nation’s biggest strikes in recent years, teaching assistants, researchers and other workers across the University of California system walked off the job to demand higher pay.

Michael told me that he became fascinated by the latest conversations about the river because they were forcing leaders to grapple with issues not only of flood management but also of equity, racial justice, culture, access to green space and more. The debate seems to reflect a new way that Los Angeles is envisioning itself, he said.

“In a city that for so long seems to have sold itself as a paradise of individual fulfillment, it presents issues that require a kind of collective thinking and action,” he told me. “The river has always been a kind of mirror of Los Angeles.”

For more:

  • Read Michael’s full article on the Los Angeles river redesign.

  • Los Angeles just elected its first female mayor.

  • Angelenos are beginning to accept that their lawns aren’t sustainable.

The police stood at the top of the closed street outside the home of Paul Pelosi, the husband of Speaker Nancy Pelosi, last month. Credit…Eric Risberg/Associated Press

If you read one story, make it this

How David DePape, the Pelosi attack suspect, plunged into online hatred.

Elizabeth Holmes with her partner, Billy Evans, at the federal courthouse in San Jose, Calif., on Friday. She was convicted of four charges of fraud in January. Credit…Jim Wilson/The New York Times

The rest of the news

  • Elizabeth Holmes: The founder of the blood-testing start-up Theranos was sentenced to more than 11 years in prison on Friday.

  • Rent stabilization: Voters this month approved capping rent increases at rates below inflation in three U.S. cities, including two in California, The Associated Press reports.

  • Prison reform: A maximum-security prison in California is adopting approaches used in Norway in an effort to make incarceration more humane and to reduce the number of repeat offenders, CBS News reports.


  • College football: U.S.C. defeated rival U.C.L.A., 48-45, on Saturday night at the Rose Bowl, and will compete in the Pac-12 Conference championship game, with a chance to earn a berth in college football’s four-team national playoff.


  • Law school ranking: On Thursday, the University of California, Berkeley, School of Law, withdrew from U.S. News & World Report’s law school rankings, joining Yale and Harvard in their boycott, Reuters reports.

Credit…Linda Xiao for The New York Times.

What we’re eating

Orzo salad with peppers and feta.

The Conservatory of Flowers at Golden Gate Park.Credit…Jason Henry for The New York Times

Where we’re traveling

Today’s tip comes from Kathleen Z. Snider, who lives in Pasadena:

Tell us about your favorite places to visit in California. Email your suggestions to [email protected]. We’ll be sharing more in upcoming editions of the newsletter.

Tell us

Did you recently buy or rent a home in California? We want to hear from you.

The New York Times’s weekly real estate column, The Hunt, features everyday people who just moved and want to share their stories. If that’s you, get in touch with us at [email protected].

Gov. Gavin Newsom and his wife, Jennifer Siebel Newsom, met with Lee Herrick last week at Fresno City College to inform him of his appointment to poet laureate.Credit…California Governor’s Press Office, via Associated Press

And before you go, some good news

California’s new poet laureate, Lee Herrick, is a community college teacher from Fresno.

Herrick, 52, is a writer and professor at Fresno City College and a teacher at the University of Nevada, Reno, at Lake Tahoe, The San Francisco Chronicle reports. He was born in South Korea and adopted by a family in Modesto as an infant.

In appointing Herrick as California’s 10th poet laureate, Gov. Gavin Newsom praised his “vivid celebration” of the California experience.

“Lee’s dedication to highlighting the diverse experiences of Californians, and making them so accessible through his poetry, makes him a perfect candidate for poet laureate,” Newsom said in a statement on Friday.

Thanks for reading. I’ll be back tomorrow. — Soumya

P.S. Here’s today’s Mini Crossword.

Briana Scalia and Steven Moity contributed to California Today. You can reach the team at [email protected].


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