After Pasadena Mayor Terry Tornek called for a new vision for the Arroyo Seco during his State of the City address last January, the Arroyo Advisory Group (AAG) that he established will be presenting its initial report to the Pasadena City Council this January.
“During 2017, the city will consider the entire Arroyo Seco in a comprehensive way, not just as a site for a huge variety of user-driven functions, but as the living, beautiful, natural heart of our city,” Tornek said in his Jan. 18 speech.
In a recent interview, Tornek said his goal of getting people to refocus on the Arroyo as a total, integrated ecosystem was the product of the AAG.
“If we could get people to think about the arroyo in a comprehensive and holistic way, I thought we could get people excited about it and have them recognize the tremendous value that it provides to the city, and maybe write a check, since the city doesn’t have the capacity to fund everything,” said Tornek. “As I traveled around the country and looked at best practices in urban parks, I realized that the ones that are most successful are ones that have a high degree of citizen, community participation, both in terms of governance and funding.”
UNIFYING THE ARROYO
Earlier this year, Tornek appointed former Pasadena Mayor Bill Bogaard and current Rose Bowl Operating Co. board member Doug Kranwinkle to co-chair the AAG, a citizen committee of 20 Pasadena residents. They have been tasked with soliciting input from the community as well as rebranding the Arroyo Seco as “One Arroyo,” rather than the three distinct parts that most people see it as now: Hahamongna Watershed Park, Central Arroyo and Lower Arroyo.
“The purpose of the Arroyo Advisory Group is to spotlight the Arroyo Seco as the natural resource that it is, to develop a stronger public interest and support for the Arroyo Seco and to seek funding that will allow the city to maintain and improve the Arroyo Seco in a way that hasn’t occurred in recent years,” said Bogaard, who added that he is delighted to be able to serve the city again.
The AAG is currently in the second of three phases. The first phase was internal organization and an initial announcement of the effort. The AAG divided itself into four subcommittees: Vision, Funding, Outreach and Projects and Priorities. The Vision Committee drafted a vision statement for the One Arroyo project: “Pasadena’s great outdoor space, the historic Arroyo Seco, will become One Arroyo. From the headwaters in the north to the tributaries in the south, its natural habitats, resources and historic sites will be preserved, enhanced and connected by an extraordinary end-to-end trail system, all anchored by a central hub.”
The second phase involves heavy emphasis on public outreach, including presenting their project at community meetings and neighborhood associations for the past several months. They have also posted an online survey available at onearroyo.org/survey, which ends Nov. 30. More than 1,300 people have already filled out the survey.
ONE ARROYO DAY
A major element of the project is a single, unifying “One Arroyo Trail” that will connect and circumnavigate the entire Arroyo Seco, which currently does not exist, as well as restoring and connecting the approximately 20 miles of trails that exist on the banks of the Arroyo. The AAG’s report to the council in January will lay out the priorities identified so far, including the trails project.
“We’re moving very cautiously and carefully because all of it depends upon the response from the outreach program,” said Tom Seifert, who chairs the AAG’s Projects and Priorities Committee. “We’re very concerned about how people feel about the arroyo. We’re sensitive to what the community is going to be interested in. Behind the scenes, we’ve been developing our potential projects list, and the one that we’ve identified so far that everyone has enthusiastically embraced is the trails project.”
The AAG and the city are also hosting One Arroyo Day from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Saturday at Brookside Park, 360 N. Arroyo Blvd. Many of the organizations who are involved in the arroyo will have exhibitor booths where residents can learn more about them. There will be a trail clean-up, a nature scavenger hunt for kids, a native wildlife reptile station, lawn games and crafts, raffles and a hot dog cookout by the Pasadena Firefighters Association Local 809. Officials will be on hand to answer questions. And most importantly, the survey will be available.
Tornek held three “Walk the Arroyo with the Mayor” events in September and October, which he said taught him a lot about what the community wants for the Arroyo.
“The walks stimulated a lot of discussion and confirmed my notion that people don’t have a comprehensive understanding of the thousand acres that comprise the Arroyo and the very different kind of environments, opportunities and challenges that it offers,” said Tornek. “I learned a lot, too. It wasn’t a lecture tour. It was a conversational tour. I enjoyed the hell out of it.”
KEEP IT NATURAL
Bogaard said the response from the community to the project has so far been mixed. On the one hand, everyone loves the arroyo and wants to see it improved. On the other, there was some initial suspicion that the purpose of the AAG was to create new, commercial activities in the arroyo, which many people oppose.
Mic Hansen, who serves as the vice chair of the Projects and Priorities Committee, said that many people would prefer for the arroyo to remain natural.
“It’s very important that the community tell the AAG what their perspective regarding the arroyo is,” she said. “How do they want the arroyo to look and feel now? How do they want it to look and feel in five years, 10 years, 15 years? This is not a project for and by the AAG principals. It is a project for and by the community. It’s a group designed to elicit and then make sense of what the community wants.”
It is a complicated endeavor for many reasons, not least of which is funding and governance issues. There is $80 million worth of approved but unfunded projects already on the books. And the number of stakeholders in the arroyo is staggering. JPL, the Rose Bowl, Tom Sawyer Camp, the Pasadena Roving Archers, the casting pond, the Audubon Society, the Rose Bowl Aquatic Center, Kidspace Children’s Museum, the Rose Bowl Riders, Brookside Golf Course, the bird sanctuary, the Arroyo Foothills Conservancy, Arroyo Seco Foundation, the Army Corps of Engineers, the Rose Bowl Flea Market, UCLA football, Arroyo Seco Weekend, the Frisbee golf course, AYSO and the horse stables are just a partial list.
“The issues that we’re coming to grips with in the arroyo are not strictly issues of, ‘Do we build a trail or not,’ and, ‘What should the signage look like?’” said Tornek. “It’s not just physical alterations or improvements; it’s also the issue of governance. We have three different city departments doing it, which is not an efficient or effective way to do it.”
Bogaard and Hansen pointed out that the AAG is primarily looking to the four existing master plans for the arroyo that were developed and adopted by City Council in 2004. The funding sources they will soon begin looking at include foundation grants, donations and public funds. The state Legislature has approved a ballot measure for November 2018 that will provide $4 billion worth of support for parks, open space and waterways statewide.
“If it’s approved by the voters in the fall of 2018, we will be prepared to seek funding under that program through the work that’s being done right now,” said Bogaard.
A LEGACY PROJECT
After the report to city council in January, the AAG’s work will not be completed. At that point, the committee will turn its attention to the issues of funding and governance.
“We have not yet fully identified funding sources, which is really one of our more important missions,” said Kranwinkle. “Until we really know what we’re funding, it’s hard to go to John Q. Public and say, ‘Hey, we’d like a thousand dollars.’ We also have some charge to look at better coordination or management of activities in the arroyo. I’m expecting that there will be an additional phase after the report to the City Council.”
Kranwinkle pointed out that the arroyo has fallen into a state of disrepair due to strained city budgets.
“If you walk down there, it’s a mess,” he said. “It’s a bit of a fire hazard right now. I think that’s what brought our group about.”
Seifert agreed that the deferred maintenance is one of the major issues facing the arroyo. The Lower Arroyo in particular, he said, is in dire need of brush clearance for fire hazard considerations.
“The arroyo is such a treasure,” said Seifert. “I’m so happy to be part of this undertaking because it’s so sorely needed, to really concentrate major attention on what a wonderful natural resource we have.”
Tornek said that the city and the community are in it for the long haul.
“This project won’t be completed in my lifetime,” he said. “If this works right, if we set some things in motion and make some organizational changes in how we manage all this stuff, the actual improvements should be going on over generations. So this is intended as a legacy project, not as a quick hit. If we can score some early wins and demonstrate to people this is not just conversation and a random idea, but rather a sea change in terms of how we manage and think about this resource, I think we can have some real success both in the short term and in the much longer term.”
Learn more about the Arroyo Advisory Group and One Arroyo Day at onearroyo.org