The San Fernando City Council took an unanimous vote on Monday, March 4, to erect fencing on the area known as the “bridge,” a narrow sidewalk area on Glenoaks Boulevard above the Pacoima Wash.
The bridge is used routinely by students walking, on skateboards and riding bikes back and forth to the Cesar E. Chavez Learning Academies in San Fernando. Photos of their fellow student, 14-year-old Elias “Eli” Rodriguez, along with flowers, rosaries and messages have been placed on the bridge to remember the former student who may have fallen or attempted to cross through the wash two years ago during a heavy storm. The teen’s drowned body was found miles away in the LA River in Los Feliz.
Immediately following the teen’s tragic death, family members looked toward the City to ask what could be done to secure the wash area that for years has been used by students to take “shortcuts,” so often that dirt pathways can be seen leading into the wash.
Family members held a second silent walk on Feb. 17, noting the pouring rain and the fast-moving water in the wash at this time of year that takes them back to the painful search for Eli.
It seemed little was being done until this week, when the council considered two options.
Alternative One, with an estimated cost of $554,000, would first demolish the current sidewalks and add reinforcements before widening the bridge and adding additional barriers.
Alternative Two, at an estimated cost of $100,000, would add an additional type of chainlink railing that Caltrans uses on freeway overpasses and bolt it to the existing bridge. The existing railing at the bridge is three feet tall. The added chain link railing would double the barrier’s height.
The council voted for the less expensive Alternative Two that City officials said could “conservatively be completed” in 4-6 months.
Newly elected Councilmember Hector Pacheco initially supported the most expensive plan.
“I’m in favor of a complete overhaul of the bridge,” Pacheco said. “The report says pretty clearly that the bridge is ‘functionally obsolete.’ It’s pretty old — it’s almost as old as Bernie Sanders — and needs to be reinforced, widened. On a scale of 100, it’s a 58.
“I think we need to do the right thing and bite the bullet, and make the investment the community really needs. And not just put a ‘band-aid’ on this issue.”
Pacheco however, later acquiesced and voted for the less expensive Alternative Two along with the other council members.
“I would’ve loved to have gone with the first plan,” said Vice Mayor Sylvia Ballin, following the vote. “But I don’t want us to wait any longer. I’m sure Eli’s mom doesn’t understand why it’s taken so long and I know how important this is for her that something is done,” Ballin explained.
“We have the funds for fencing right now. We just don’t have the money to do more at this time.”
Ballin and Pacheco agreed that the City should seek additional funding sources, with possible assistance from LA County that could fund the more optimum plan at a later date.