Three hundred years ago, the Los Angeles River roamed free.

Sometimes it meandered west and emptied into the Santa Monica Bay. Sometimes it went south and met the ocean at Long Beach. Because of the long dry season, the L.A. River never carved a deep channel that kept it in the same place year after year. In that way, it was like a lot of the people who moved here.

But as the city grew and developed, the river’s habit of moving around began to cause problems. Most of the time, the river was quiet. And then it would rain.

Great gushing torrents of water would come rushing down from the mountains, through creeks and canyons, surging into the L.A. River and causing devastating and unpredictable damage.

A witness to a catastrophic flood in Los Angeles in 1884 described the transformation of the river that usually was a “narrow, shallow, garrulous brook.” Emma H. Adams told an Ohio newspaper, “During the rainy season it enlarges to a broad river, with a powerful current and a dangerous shifting bottom. Widely overflowing its banks, it sweeps away real estate and personal property in a most merciless fashion.”

There were devastating floods in Los Angeles in 1914 and during the 1920s, but it was the killer flood of 1938, which destroyed thousands of homes and took the lives of nearly a hundred people, that finally pushed the growing city to adopt serious measures for flood control.

The Army Corps of Engineers encased the L.A. River in the concrete channel that comedians have joked about ever since.

There’s a period of time, somewhere around 50 years, after which people completely forget the problem that was solved and begin to think the solution is a problem. Polio vaccines would be one example. Devastating killer floods in Los Angeles would be another.

L.A. officials are planning to restore the natural state of the L.A. River. The City Council just voted to spend almost $60 million of your money to buy a piece of land next to the river in the Klasbahis Cypress Park area, north of downtown. The 42-acre parcel, which once was part of a Union Pacific rail yard and is thoroughly contaminated, will ultimately cost taxpayers $252 million to clean up and turn into a park on the water’s edge.

In dry weather, the flow through nearby storm drains is 0.8 million gallons per day. In major storms, that volume of water increases to 4.8 billion gallons.

Emma Adams would think we’re crazy to jackhammer the concrete that controls the river. “Scarcely a season passes in which adventurous men do not lose their lives in attempting to cross it with teams when at its flood,” she wrote. “Both driver and horses soon disappear beneath its restless quicksands.”

And her warning that the river “sweeps away real estate” should interest River L.A., the non-profit corporation that’s planning the “revitalization.” Real estate is in its plans.

River L.A.’s website is promoting an event with the USC Alumni Real Estate Network called “Navigating the L.A. River: Real Estate Opportunities and Challenges.” It’s on Thursday, February 2, from 6-9 p.m. at the Standard Hotel downtown, if you’d like to go and hear what this is really all about.

Your tax dollars will restore nature, making a lovely view from the windows of the new luxury residential towers that developers are sure to build on property near the newly-scenic public lands, just as soon as they can chase away the working families that currently live there.

The projected cost of “revitalizing” the 11-mile stretch of river between Griffith Park and downtown is $1.6 billion. The city was counting on the federal government to pick up half the cost, before Los Angeles declared war on the Trump administration.

That’s probably one of the “challenges” the Real Estate Network will be discussing at the Standard Hotel.

The city of Los Angeles doesn’t have the money for this project, having recently announced that it has to borrow $70 million just to cover lawsuit payouts. And another lawsuit could soon end the city’s practice of taking hundreds of millions of dollars from the Department of Water and Power every year—8 percent of the gross revenue from electricity sales—to pay for general city expenses. The sidewalks are still broken, and the crime rate is up.

But the city plans to drop a billion dollars that we don’t have on river landscaping for real estate developers.

Don’t buy anything below the fourth floor.

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