Arroyo Seco Restoration

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I am having nature park withdrawal. I have not been there since last Saturday. Nevertheless, it is very much on my mind. Last week I spent two days talking to environmental science students at South Pas High School about the park. Five different classes of students heard and discussed the history and possible future of the park. While talking about people who helped preserve our park, I learned a bit more about a student who was instrumental in saving it from development. She weeded with me during the early days of Friends of South Pasadena Nature Park, but I did not realize until now how much she had done. In fact, she won an award for her work. The park truly is a story of individuals who made a big difference.

In addition to talking with students, I also attended a “scoping meeting” held by the Army Corp of Engineers and the LA County Department of Flood Control. In a very governmental presentation, I learned about NOP (Notice of Preparation), the SMART planning process with 3 by 3 blah blah blah (36 months, $300,000, and 3 something else), CEQA, NEPA, FS/EIS/EIR, and loads of other abbreviations (they do love acronyms!). What I really learned, though, is that the discussion about Southern California and what our rivers will look like in the future includes the Arroyo Seco, along with the better publicized Los Angeles River. Also, the time has come to broaden our focus from solely flood control to include quality of life and environmental issues such as habitat, water conservation and quality, and parkland.

Public comments on the meeting are due tomorrow, and so in true procrastinator style I sat down to write them this afternoon. Here’s the letter I came up with:

Friends of South Pasadena Nature Park
1852 Monterey Road, South Pasadena, CA 91030



May 22, 2015


County of Los Angeles Department of Public Works Watershed Management Division

Attn: Mr. Patrick Goodfellow

900 S. Fremont Avenue Alhambra, CA 91803


Dear Mr. Goodfellow,


I attended the scoping meeting held at the South Pasadena Public Library on April 29, 2015. The following are my comments on the proposed alternatives for the Arroyo Seco Ecosystem Restoration Integrated Feasibility Study.


I support action to increase habitat along the Arroyo Seco. As such, I would like to see as much of the channel removed as possible. The parallel natural system, low-flow channel alternative and the parallel natural system with culverts do not go nearly far enough in restoring habitat and natural hydrologic function to the Arroyo Seco. I cannot comment on the last three alternatives (notched side-walls with low-flow channel, floodplain benching, and sheet-pile bank protection with floodplain benching) without understanding more about what these alternatives mean. It was unclear to me, from this early scoping meeting, what any of these alternatives actually involve. I hope that the public will be fully informed about the consequences of all of the alternative as they are being considered.


Ecosystem restoration of the Arroyo Seco should include the following elements:

1. Restore habitat and structure and function to the Arroyo Seco, while maintaining flood control services required by law.

2. Water conservation and the improvement of water quality, also critical to the region’s well being, should be considered along with flood control goals.

3. Remove as much of the concrete channel as possible to restore a beautiful and natural waterway.

4. Plan for natural stream conditions including the flooding of parkland adjacent to the Arroyo Seco. Integrate parkland and the river.

5. Work with cities to encourage the removal of buildings and houses located within the flood plain to facilitate the restoration of riparian, wetland and alluvial sage scrub habitats. In particular work with my city, South Pasadena (Reach 6, p. 25), to relocate tennis courts and recreational buildings and structures that are directly adjacent to the flood control channel.

6. Integrate the existing 4-acre habitat park, South Pasadena – Arroyo Seco Woodland and Wildlife Park, into the plan to increase habitat and restore the ecosystem along the Arroyo Seco.

7. Include plans for the Hahamongna Watershed that will result in the development of a sustainable flood control system. The current system of dams along the San Gabriel Mountains is not sustainable given the need for ongoing sediment removal due to continuous deposition in the dams. Large scale changes downstream should include plans for the future need to re-engineer these archaic structures.


Thank you for providing an opportunity for the community to be involved in this exciting project. We all look forward to getting our river back!

Whether speaking with students in a classroom or volunteers at the park, or holding a conversation with myself, this is the picture that I want to share. This is what we should all work towards.

York St. Bridge, 1930s
York St. Bridge over the Arroyo Seco in 1930s. Photo courtesy of the South Pasadena Public Library.

One thought on “Arroyo Seco Restoration

  1. Joan McGuire

    Barbara, thanks for your thoughtful letter to the LA Department of Public Works. Further, thanks for including the 1930 photo. I had some general idea of how verdant the area was before all the concreting of the river, but that photo just stunned me. One of the things you addressed and that has been on my mind with the “free the river” conversations has been allowing for the existence of natural flood plains. The river WILL flood. It always had, and it will do so once the concrete is gone. Yes, there will be lots of sturm und drang about not developing the nearby land—land being so expensive in Los Angels—but developing newly-freed lands near the river is neither sane nor sustainable. So, kudos and keep it up, and thanks for providing the information.

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