Wildlife, wetlands and longer bicycle trails would be part of an 11-mile stretch of the Los Angeles River under a billion-dollar boost approved by federal officials on Thursday that appears to have trumped a less sweeping option originally planned by federal officials.
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The city's river restoration plan required federal approval, which the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers recommended after heavy lobbying in Washington from Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti.
The mayor, other government officials and U.S. Army Corps of Engineers representatives announced collaboration Thursday.
"This city wasn't founded on the coast, it was founded on this river," Garcetti said. "It's our birthplace, it's our destiny, and to be able to be the mayor helping push this through the finish line is very gratifying."
The Corps manages the river as a flood control channel, but Garcetti and other city leaders urged the agency to support the $1 billion plan instead of a more modest $453 million alternative that the Corps originally wanted to recommend to Congress. The mayor calls the $1 billion plan "the most robust option" to revitalize the river and its habitat.
"We've been a donor city and a donor state for many decades to Washington, " Garcetti said. That money is coming back home."
Garcetti has been committed to the more expansive option and pushed for the project last fall when he President Barack Obama, for whom Garcetti has campaigned. He received backing from powerful Congressional ally Sen. Barbara Boxer, who joined Garcetti in Washington when he discussed the more expensive plan with key Army Corps of Engineers officials.
Boxer is head of the committee that oversees Corps projects.
"As I argued in the White House over and over, it's the right thing for the ecology, it's the right thing for the economy and for kids growing up being separated from downtown by a concrete flood control channel," the mayor told the Los Angeles Times.
A recommendation might go before Congress late this year or early next year. Garcetti has offered to split the cost if the Corp approves the larger project, according to the Times. If approved, what many Los Angeles residents think of as a concrete-lined flood control channel would eventually be lined with residences, businesses and recreation areas, according to backers of the plan.
"It's a careful balance that we need to strike between the needs of the people and the needs of the environment," David Van Dorpe, of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, told NBC4 in May. "While this is a great river and water resource, we also have to remember it has a flood control responsibility."
Earlier this year, a portion of the river's Glendale Narrows section opened to kayakers. The area north of downtown another recreation area in the Sepulveda Basin are scheduled to remain open until Labor Day.
Conan Nolan contributed to this report.