The whole answer about whether you can go down the river is as murky as the waters that flow down it.
According to Deputy Julie Wong of Los Angeles City Council member Eric Garcetti’s office, in a declaration issued in February 2008, the public doesn’t have a right to go into the Los Angeles River for any reason.
The statement says: “The public has not been allowed to go into the channel for any reason (including fishing) for decades because of public safety concerns. For safety reasons, Council President Garcetti (along with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, LAPD, the Los Angeles Fire Department, and others) does not support changes to this policy.”
Last July 7, Lisa Jackson of the Environmental Protection Agency announced the designation of the L.A. River as “Traditional Navigable Water.”
"Right now EPA is developing a comprehensive and collaborative Urban Waters program to help urban communities reconnect with and revitalize the waters that are an important part of their health and prosperity,"the agency said. "The people of Compton, and those living throughout the L.A. region, turn to these waters, wetlands and creeks for activities like fishing or canoeing."
However, according to Jeremy Oberstein, communications director for Los Angeles Councilmember Paul Krekorian that “does not mean anyone can traverse the river.” It simply means that water flows there, it's connected to other tributaries, and is protected by the 1972 Clean Water Act. He emphasized, "It does not mean that anyone can go in the L.A. River to canoe, kayak, fish or swim.”
Oberstein further explained, “Councilmember Ed Reyes has introduced a motion in the City Council for a pilot program to allow kayaking and other non-motorized boating activities on the L.A. River.”
He continued, “Specifically, the motion asks that city staff, L.A. County and environmental groups work with the Army Corps of Engineers on establishing a pilot non-motorized boating program for the 32-mile stretch of the L.A. River that lies within the City’s boundaries. This covers legal, financial, public safety, education and access issues.”
Yet the real issue is whether the LAPD even has legal jurisdiction over the L.A. River, or whether any government body can. Under the California state constitution, you can’t limit access to water because it’s natural and a fundamental right of humans. The government can’t control the water.
That is what happened with the Canadian folk band, Twin. The police get people out of the water and issue citations for loitering under LAMC 41.22.
LAMC 41.22 says that you can’t loiter, camp make a fire, or wash your clothes in the River. It doesn’t mention anything at all about boating down the river.
There is no specific law concerning people being in and around the river, although it is noted that the river can be dangerous and has resulted in drowning deaths, especially when the water is fast during rainstorms.
There are more signs about having dogs on leashes in the Studio City leg of the river than "No Trespassing" signs. In fact, LAPD officer Mike Lewis knows of the only signs at the Whitsett Street Bridge, but the canoers never would have seen that sign because they were already in the river.
According to the LAPD's North Hollywood division Watch Commander Sgt. Kent Pollard, there has never been anyone cited for trespassing in the river.
Dr. Jeffrey Tipton, who in 2008, paddled 52 miles down the river in a kayak in two-and-a-half days said he believed that because there’s so much concrete, “the L.A. River flows faster than normal making it a hell ride.” It has taken 50 years to put all the concrete in, which starts in Box Canyon, Canoga Park and goes all the way to Long Beach.
“You used to be able to use the banks but now it’s a flood channel," Tipton said. "This allows developers to buy up all the land around the river and prevent flooding so they can build homes and make a lot of money.”
Tipton added, “If the concrete was dug up and the river went back to a natural state, allowing access and keeping it clean so people could use it as intended, then we wouldn’t have to get our water supply all the way from Mammoth.”
So, the bottom line is that although the river has been declared "navigable," if you try to navigate it,. Meanwhile, the Los Angeles City Council is working on defining legal and safe access to the river.
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