The gentrification of the Los Angeles River is underway and it isn’t pretty!

FROG signage
Signs posted at the kayak races opposing kayaking and fishing on the river. The water in the river at this time of year is treated sewage, which many kayakers do not realize. I overheard a man talking with councilman Mitch O’Farrell. The man stated that the water was not safe for swimming but okay for kayaking.  What happens if river water splashes on you? Safe? Or not?

Thanks to 1 or 2 million dollars of taxpayers’ money Frank Gerhy’s gang of experts working for the River L.A group earlier this year produced what they called an ‘Index’ of the Los Angeles River. It certainly looked like basic marketing research for real estate developers to me. (I spent over 30 years working in advertising and marketing so this isn’t an offhand observation.)  And I am still shocked by the fact that Mayor Garcetti simply handed over millions of dollars from the federal government to a private ‘charity’, now named River LA, whose staff is full of people with real estate connections. River LA, by the way, is not the Friends of the Los Angeles River (FoLAR), a grassroots group that espouses restoration of the river habitat. But I digress…

marsh park los angeles
There is wide public support for turning the banks of the river into a 51 mile long park and greenbelt. This photo is of Marsh Park, adjacent to the newest gentrified area of the river and the bike trail.

Over the weekend at the kayak race on the river I fell into a conversation with Alexandro of the Frogtown Residents and Owners Group (FROG) who is angry about all the changes happening in Elysian Park, aka Frogtown, including that expenditure of public money in clear support of gentrification.

Frogtown, a tiny neighborhood, squeezed between the east end of the Santa Monica Mountains and the Los Angeles River, is filled with very small homes on very small lots with a few light industrial businesses beside the river. For decades it has been one of the neighborhoods where the working poor people of Los Angeles live. Alexandro had posted a series of signs opposing kayaking and fishing on the river near the starting point for the kayak race, but the goal of their group is larger than stopping kayakers from disrupting the habitat of birds on the Pacific Flyway. He told me they are getting together with other lower-income neighborhoods, like Boyle Heights and Highland Park, to oppose the city-wide gentrification that is forcing working class residents of those areas out of the city altogether.

The powers-that-be speak loudly about Los Angeles as a Great Diversified Community, a model for America in the 21st Century. But diversified how? If you are a rich Latino–you’re in.  If you are a wealthy African American–you’re in, too. A rich Armenian, or well-to-do Ukrainian or affluent American, again you can be part of the Great Diversified Los Angeles.  But if you are a poor Latino, or African American, or poor anything else…well, the actions of the L.A. City planners seem to say: find somewhere else to live.

So the gentrification has begun and I’ll let some photos speak about it.

The Riverhouse development along the Los Angeles River bank. Boring architecture.
The Riverhouse development along the Los Angeles River bank. The boring architecture is so very similar to buildings being thrown up all over Los Angeles, not just along the river. This complex faces directly onto the bike trail along the river.
interior riverhouse condo
Would you pay over a half a million dollars for this 1100 sq. ft. 2 bedroom condo in Riverhouse? It is the lowest price unit in the complex. It is an ‘open space’ design, which saves the developer from building walls and revealing just how tiny the combination living-kitchen-dining room is.
poppy mural near Marsh Park
A charming mural near Marsh Park, but notice the razor wire at the top. Razor wire in very common along the walls lining the bike trail.
Los Angeles River in late summer
In late summer the islands in the river are lush and green and, at one time, according to Alexandro, were home to thousands of birds–but no longer, thanks to kayakers.
l.a. river in winter
In mid-winter after a rainstorm the Los Angeles River looks like this–not the green islands of summer.
park ranger for los angeles river
There already is a Park Ranger for the river geenway/bike trail. So is it really a park? Or a developers’ beltway?




The Great L.A. River Race in kayaks was not so great.

duck-billed boy red wig
This little boy showed up wearing a duck-bill and a man popped a red wig on his head.

It was billed as the Third Annual L.A. River Race, and maybe I was expecting too much.  I wasn’t anticipating kayak races like those in the Olympics, but –c’mon, folks–what occurred wasn’t even a race.  Just a series of people, one at a time, paddling a very short distance down the river in Frogtown. To liven things up, a couple of people wore silly costumes–bravo!

While it may have been fun for the participants, it was uninteresting for spectators. And, I suspect, simply a way for a kayak business owner to promote his tours, trips, safaris along this short distance on the river.

Have people begun to realize the big hype of photos that look like rapids in this very shallow river? Do prospective kayakers realize the water in the river at this point is outflow from a sewage treatment facility and is barely inches deep? Has the craze for L.A. River kayaking peaked?

More interesting was the long conversation I had with a man representing a homeowners association for Frogtown, Elysian Park’s nickname.  He had attached posters to the fence about the harm the kayakers are causing to wildlife along the river.  Tomorrow I will write more about him and the trend for neighborhood Homeowners Associations, like his and the one in Boyle Heights, to fight back against gentrification.  You will even get a chance to see what gentrification looks like in Frogtown.

Anyway…here are some photos.

getting ready for the start
Kayaks lined up at the start of the so-called race.
and red wig is off and paddling
The man (not the boy) who wore the red wig was the first out of the block, paddling downstream.
kayaker number 2
Kayaker Number 2 is carried downstream about a half a mile by the current. The man in black with a video camera was from Channel 4 News, I think. In late summer the plants have grown high on the small islands.  In mid-winter most of the plant life will have been swept away by rain floods.
kayak paddlers waiting
A kayaking group waiting its turn for each member to float/paddle down a half-mile long stretch of the LA River. You can see the end point of the race just before the bridge downstream in this photo.


en of the la river race
The guardian at the end. The large flat rock juts almost all the way across the channel at this point. Is the yellow rope strung across the river meant to be grabbed in case someone overshoots?  Will the kayaker with the red boat plunge into the river if the ‘racer’ is swept beyond the yellow rope?
frogtown homeowners posters
Posters from a group opposing kayaking in the river because of the harm it does to wildlife–mainly to birds.

Ambling along the Los Angeles River pathway from Frog Spot to Marsh Park

garbage filled fish skeleton at Frog Spot
Fish-mobile filled with garbage retreived from the river during the annual river clean-up sponsored by the Friends of the Los Angles River. This spring over 9,000 people turned out for the three clean-up weekends.

The white gravel spread across the landscape at the Frog Spot, the activity center for the Friends of the Los Angeles River, is blinding in mid-summer sun so I won’t be posting photos of their cafe — only the fish-mobile that was parked at the back of their lot.

cyclist and skater on river path
A few cyclists and this one skater traveled along the pathway beside the L.A. River.

Because it was mid-day on the first full day of the Olynpics there were few bicylists on the pathway that runs for 7 miles along the river. (The Men’s Olympic Road Race was on in Rio and I watched the end of this 5+ hour race after I arrived home.)

When initially developed, the pathway was supposed to be only for bicyles, but people in the neighborhood objected and the path is now used by people, like me, out for a walk. I walked on the shoulder because the cyclists came tearing along a high speed.

Some things I found:

Near the Frog Spot, instead of water in the river bottom, I saw a woman walking her dog. No flowing water was visible along this stretch, but there were definite paths leading into the dense stands of trees and bushes so perhaps some homeless were living in there.

woman walking dog los angeles river
A woman walked her dog in the river bottom of the Los Angeles River near Frog Spot.
Energeizing coffee and refreshing water are served up by Benjamin at the Pancake Epidemic.
Energizing Stumptown coffee and refreshing water are served up by Benjamin at the Pancake Epidemic.

A little further along I came across a nifty cafe called the Pancake Epidemic tucked into the middle of several buildings that house art studios and architecture offices.

Artist Frederick Gautier (more about him in a future post) was taking a quick coffee break before he returned to work in his studio. Benjamin at the Pancake Epidemic was serving up Stumptown Coffee. The Pancake Epidemic is a Korean-based restaurant/coffee house and this location seems to the their first in L.A.

Spoke Bicyle Cafe
Spoke Bicycle Cafe beside the pathway along the Los Angeles river jsut south of Marsh Park.

And the food did not stop there. A short walk along the path brought me to the Spoke Bicycle Cafe, where cyclists could get their bikes repaired by Dane or the owner, Laurie, or stop for a snack at the shaded cafe.

cafe for cyclists Los Angeles River
On a hot day the cafe at the Spoke was inviting. It was started by two local cycling enthusiasts who live in Atwater Village.

My next stop was Marsh Park, a haven of shade and green grass. One family from Glendale had cycled over with their children to play in the children’s area. At this point I was getting overheated so I walked back down the path and came home to spend the rest of the day watching athletes in great shape win prizes in Rio.

Oh, the Frogtown Art Walk is August 13th from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.

boy on turtle at Marsh Park
A little boy playing on the concrete turtle in the play area for children at March Park.