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Rains Leave L.A. River Activists Jubilant

L.A. City Council's preliminary passage of the Low Impact Development ordinance could be a step toward a greener future.

Rains Leave L.A. River Activists Jubilant Rains Leave L.A. River Activists Jubilant Rains Leave L.A. River Activists Jubilant Rains Leave L.A. River Activists Jubilant Rains Leave L.A. River Activists Jubilant

For environmental advocates in Los Angeles, the wet weather has raised hopes that future rains could someday be put to better use.

On Dec. 17, the  Los Angeles City Council granted preliminary approval to the draft of a  Low Impact Development ordinance that would put in place tighter storm water mediation regulations for property developers.

The ordinance would require developers of projects larger than 500 square feet to put in place safeguards that will prevent storm water from winding its way into the Los Angeles River and, eventually, the Pacific Ocean.

"Right now, whatever pollutants that aren't left in the river for us to clean up are washed into the bay," says Shelly Backlar, executive director of the  Friends of the Los Angeles River, a nonprofit organization whose stated mission is to "protect and restore the natural and historic heritage of the Los Angeles River and its riparian habitat through inclusive planning, education and wise stewardship." Adds Backlar: "It has a huge impact on the entire region."

Backlar explains that the ordinance would require developers to come up with creative measures for capturing rainwater, whether it be through spouts that would divert storm water far from the river and into gardens or by building permeable surface parking lots through which rainwater can be filtered and reintegrated into the groundwater supply.

The positive benefits of storm water remediation are twofold, she explains. First, there will be less polluted storm water making its way into the river and eventually into the bay. And second, low-impact developments will allow for more storm water to be absorbed into the ground, which improves the area's ability to be self-sustaining as opposed to relying on imported water.

Stephanie Taylor, director of policy at Green LA Coalition, says the L.I.D ordinance has been underway for about two years, and as the rain began to fall on Thursday, the urgency of the ordinance's passage became all the more clear.

"I think the message was, 'We're wasting time here,'" Taylor says.

For local river advocates, such as Meredith McKenzie, Mount Washington's representative on the Arroyo Seco Neighborhood Council, the sight of a rushing L.A. River is bittersweet. "It's nice to see all the water in the river—I don't feel great about where it's going, though," says McKenzie, who goes by the handle @ArroyoLover on Twitter.

McKenzie—who is a real estate broker in the San Gabriel Valley and Northeast Los Angeles, as well as an advocate for green development—says she believed the passage of the L.I.D. would have positive economic effects, in addition to being beneficial to the environment.

"It's going to create green-collar jobs," McKenzie says, pointing out that the regulations would be a boon for companies that specialize in developing storm-water remediation systems.

As for the cost to builders, who had put up the strongest opposition to the L.I.D., McKenzie says the efforts to create exemptions for projects that are already in development would help reduce the financial burden.

"Developers don't so much mind spending a little more for sustainability if they know the cost going in," she says. "It's when they have to go back and request a change order and pay extra that it becomes difficult."

McKenzie says she hopes that the ordinance, which is still pending review by the city's attorney and a final vote by the council in the spring, will force developers to think about the impact of their projects beyond its own lot lines.

"What I want the L.I.D. to do is to get developers, builders and remodelers to think about their impact beyond their footprint and recognize that they are part of a bigger whole," she says.

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