First published in the Nov. 19 print issue of the Glendale News-Press.
by Alexandra Applegate
The Glendale City Council unanimously gave city staff the green light to take the next step in the multi-year Verdugo Wash project, after the Community Development Department spent more than a year and a half gathering initial public input and envisioning high-level possibilities to transform the wash.
During this week’s City Council meeting, Director of Community Development Bradley Calvert presented the city’s initial ideas to add bike lanes, pedestrian paths, green spaces and natural wildlife corridors along the 9.4-mile flood control channel that runs through Glendale.
Dozens of residents packed into the City Hall Council Chambers to voice their opposition over the city’s vision to revitalize the concrete-laden Verdugo Wash. The crowd included representatives from the Verdugo Wash Coalition of Neighborhoods, a grassroots organization that submitted a petition with 616 signatures against the project during the meeting.
During more than an hour of public comment, there were a handful of excited supporters. But the majority of speakers urged the council to reject the project. Some were identified as longtime homeowners with properties backing up to the wash. They cited concerns revolving around safety, crime, privacy and noise, parking and congestion as well as wildfire and flooding risks.
Since the project passed its latest hurdle, the city will now use $6 million in state funding dedicated to the Verdugo Wash reimagining to further refine design feasibility, environmental goals and initial construction plans as well as significantly expand public outreach.
“The idea of having a safe, unmitigated path for pedestrians and bicyclists, especially in our downtown area, makes sense,” said Mayor Ardy Kassakhian. “There’s a lot of potential.”
From the onset, staff has viewed this project as a way to significantly increase the connectivity between the city’s bike lanes, parks, neighborhoods and employment areas such as downtown as well as establish routes to west Glendale, other bus or rail lines, the city of Burbank, the Glendale River Trail and Griffith Park. Additionally, the city hopes to incorporate vegetation, natural wildlife and shade structures into the channel to help mitigate extreme heat and stormwater runoff.
“[This project] is about enhancing access and connectivity,” Calvert said during the presentation. “Also, the idea is to recharge, restore natural habitat and incorporate more vegetation.”
The initial designs showed various raised pathways, deep planting wells for trees and plants as well as multi-functional design elements such as playgrounds or social meeting spots meant to have a “light touch” on the natural environment. The wash varies in height and width throughout 18 Glendale neighborhoods, so the design would be catered to each area.
“The ideas and concepts are not location specific,” Calvert said. “These are just what are possible within the channel and some of the ideas and concepts that could move forward. But they have not been tailored to a specific location.”
After listening to feedback from residents, the council also directed the Community Development Department to research how environmental concerns, groundwater management, public art and wildlife crossings could be integrated into the project.
One of the main concerns expressed by Glendale residents was proposed changes to the Verdugo Wash north of the Debris Basin, which is distinctly different from the channels that run downtown. The wash itself is much narrower than other sections and the steep inclines could make construction costly. The council refrained from removing this section from the plans completely and instead suggested looking into simpler solutions for the northern region.
The city also acknowledged the wash was first encased in concrete as a way to manage floods, and any future construction would have to maintain those safety standards. All of the structures, pathways and plants that could reimagine the Verdugo Wash would all be designed to be submerged in water and withstand flood conditions, according to Calvert.
“We would not have brought those concepts to you here today if they were not something [the Army Corp. of Engineers and the L.A. County Flood Control] could see as viable,” Calvert said. “Now, that doesn’t mean they’ve signed off on what we’ve shown. They have their own comments, questions and thoughts as well.”
Additionally, Calvert noted the Glendale Fire Department offered recommendations regarding fire-resistant planting and structural guidelines. If followed, the fire department did not have concerns about the wash project increasing the wildfire dangers in Glendale.
The Verdugo Wash project is still in its early stages and could take years to see any section completely redesigned, if at all. Calvert emphasized it was not a “shovel-ready project by any means.” More research will be conducted during the next step to determine specific locations for various designs, elements and access points.
Next, staff will bring a Request for Proposal (RFP) to the council to approve hiring outside contractors to conduct specific studies, broaden public outreach and begin mocking up construction blueprints.