With information provided to the San Fernando Valley Sun/el Sol
On the last Saturday of each month, volunteer residents from Reseda, Tarzana, Winnetka and Woodland Hills gather at the headwaters of the LA River in the West San Fernando Valley on a mission for beautification.
The volunteers, known as the L.A. River Walkers and Watchers (LARWW), remove debris, trash, graffiti, bulky items and hazardous materials from the dried sections of the river floor, under bridges and the adjacent bike path to both maintain and improve the stretch of the LA River across Canoga Park and Reseda neighborhoods.
They will be at work again this weekend, April 30, beginning at 8 a.m.
“The bike path was abandoned, blighted, and neighbors no longer felt safe. The city and county didn’t provide a long-term plan for its maintenance and security. We didn’t know who would care for the native plants, irrigation system, repairs, or who was responsible for the enforcement of regulations,” said Evelyn Aleman, LARWW co-founder and a Valley resident
“Broken sprinklers would run for days with neighbors unable to report these problems to the proper agencies,” Aleman said.
The volunteer group was formed in 2017, when more than 30 neighbors gathered at the Tampa Avenue gate of the LA River bike path in Reseda to meet with Councilmember Bob Blumenfield and LAPD West Valley senior lead officers to voice concerns over increased crime, littering, illegal dumping, drug sales and drug use, and gang activity along the bike path — a city and county public works project inaugurated in 2007.
Without a maintenance agreement or a city agency to enforce one, the area had been overtaken by overgrown brush, graffiti, broken fences, out-of-service lamp posts, and homeless encampments, dangerous for local residents, she said.
According to Aleman, LA city and county agencies pointed fingers at one another and referred local residents to call either 211 or 311 with complaints.
Blumenfield has been working with the group to address various issues, Aleman said, including funding for a pilot program so that Mountains Recreations Conservation Authority Rangers, state peace officers, patrol the area. His office also equips the volunteer group with cleaning supplies and tools, and offers ongoing support.
But, the organization says, as long as agencies continue to point fingers at one another, the results of the pilot program are inconsistent.
In the meantime, the volunteers gather each month to help clean the bike path and the headwaters. Aleman said the River Walkers want to ensure that local government agencies, state conservancies, and joint power authorities with LA River jurisdiction provide public safety, maintenance and resource-management services, enforce regulations, outreach to the homeless, and care for the overall wellbeing of natural resources.
LARWW organizes on Nextdoor.com, monitors the headwaters daily, reports concerns to agencies, does monthly community cleanups, provides tours to policymakers as well as city and county engineers, and meets with elected officials on how to improve the area and engage the community in the LA River Masterplan process.
“Engineers and policymakers must return to projects like these to see how they’re working out, and the impact they’re having on the community and the natural environment,” Aleman said.
“The bike path is supposed to stretch 51 miles across our city. We want to make sure that when it reaches other communities, they don’t face the challenges we’re currently seeing. We want to make sure that communities and our treasured wildlife are protected.”