For Immediate Release, July 14, 2022
Severn Williams, Public Good PR, (510) 336-9566, firstname.lastname@example.org
LA County Sued Over Faulty Environmental Review Process for Los Angeles River Master Plan
County Failed to Provide Details About Environmental Impacts As Required by Law
LOS ANGELES— Conservation groups LA Waterkeeper and the Center for Biological Diversity filed a lawsuit Wednesday against Los Angeles County over the recently updated LA River Master Plan, adopted on June 14, which is intended to guide development along the Los Angeles River for the next 25 years.
The county failed to disclose impacts to disadvantaged communities along the river, says the lawsuit, which is a violation of the California Environmental Quality Act. The suit calls for the county to rescind its approval of the plan and complete a more thorough environmental review.
Environmental Review for Master Plan Lacks Critical Information
The petition points out that while the Master Plan is intended to provide a roadmap for development along the LA River, it provides little to no guidance about the details or priorities of some vaguely described projects, while simultaneously describing certain planned projects in great detail. Under the California Environmental Quality Act, an environmental review can only be successfully completed if the project being evaluated is well defined and all foreseeable environmental impacts from planned future projects are assessed.
“The Master Plan attempts to have it both ways by claiming a wide variety of projects and approaches could be pursued along the river, and then also concluding that specific projects that have yet to be fully defined will have less than significant environmental impacts,” said Benjamin Harris, a staff attorney with LA Waterkeeper. “That’s simply not allowed under our state’s environmental laws. A thorough analysis of proposed projects must be conducted now based on the information available.”
One of the central purposes of the Act is to allow adequate public participation that ensures the community is informed about a project’s impacts and has the opportunity to provide feedback on those impacts. The lawsuit argues the county engaged in a deficient planning process for the Master Plan and failed to provide substantive responses to comments provided by state agencies regarding potential project impacts as required under the Act.
LA Waterkeeper and the Center are concerned that the county signaled a pre-commitment to certain projects along the LA River. Projects such as capping the river with concrete to build platform parks are not what river communities need. These projects come at the expense of providing much-needed greenspace directly in communities near the river, many of which lack nearby access to parks and already face high pollution burdens from heavy industry, rail yards, and highways.
“We need to make sure we have a plan for the river that truly serves all Angelenos, and particularly frontline communities with little access to parks or other natural areas,” said Bruce Reznik, LA Waterkeeper’s executive director. “The plan approved by the county simply doesn’t have enough information for the public to understand how it will harm and benefit different areas.”
LA Waterkeeper participated in a steering committee comprised of representatives from nonprofits, municipalities, and other interested parties that was designed to advise the county on the development of the Master Plan. Although the Center was not a member of that committee, the organization submitted comment letters that highlighted the plan’s shortcomings during the public environmental review process. Both groups worked with other environmental justice and conservation organizations to encourage the county to ensure the plan prioritizes ecological and community health. Due to the county’s lack of responsiveness to these concerns, LA Waterkeeper and seven other groups that were either members of the steering committee or were mentioned in the plan as sources of community input requested that their names be removed from the final plan.
A Climate-Resilient LA River That Benefits All Angelenos Is Possible
Many rivers around the globe are being returned to a natural state to the extent feasible. When discussing nature-based solutions for flood control and concrete removal, the Master Plan asserts, without evidence, that concrete removal would be infeasible for the vast majority of the LA River due to flood and displacement impacts. A study commissioned by Friends of the LA River indicates nature-based solutions are viable in many areas along the 51-mile river channel and could reduce flood risk and provide greater ecological, public health and climate resiliency benefits than those a channelized river can offer.
“The river is central to building community connection to nature and to protecting the rich biodiversity that exists within our region,” said Elizabeth Reid-Wainscoat, a campaigner at the Center for Biological Diversity. “These benefits only exist if we value it as a river and don’t treat it as a ditch to build over.”
LA Waterkeeper recently partnered with students at UCLA’s Institute of the Environment and Sustainability to explore the viability of expanding the number of small parks in park-poor communities along the river. The research indicates building such parks has the potential to reduce urban runoff pollution and flood risk in these areas, while increasing access to greenspace (which provides places to cool off during hot and dry periods, among other benefits). The UCLA study concluded that more than 850 community parks could be built for the same cost as the “platform parks” described in the Master Plan.
“We’ve worked closely with the county on a myriad of policies and programs in recent years that will move our region towards a more resilient and just future,” said Reznik. “Unfortunately, the Master Plan and related environmental assessment run counter to recently adopted policies aimed at ensuring more equitable and sustainable infrastructure investments. Litigation is never our first choice, but the Master Plan is clearly deficient, and we see this as a crucial moment in the life of the LA River.”
LA Waterkeeper and the Center are represented by in-house attorneys with LA Waterkeeper and the Center in this lawsuit, as well as by Chatten-Brown, Carstens & Minteer. To receive a copy of the lawsuit, or to arrange an interview about the litigation, contact Nina Erlich-Williams at email@example.com.
LA Waterkeeper has served as LA’s water watchdog since 1993, safeguarding the region’s inland and coastal waters using the law, science and community action. The organization works to eliminate pollution, achieve ecosystem health for local waterways and secure a resilient, multi-benefit, low-carbon water supply to the region.
The Center for Biological Diversity is a national, nonprofit conservation organization with more than 1.7 million members and online activists dedicated to the protection of endangered species and wild places.