Sepulveda Basin Vision Plan – Act Now!

Written by President Katheryn Barton, Pat Bates, Joanne Millius, and Muriel Kotin on behalf of the SFVAS Conservation Committee

The Sepulveda Basin Vision Plan Public Draft lays out the framework for expanding the footprint of the Los Angeles River and its tributaries throughout the basin, while retaining and expanding recreational facilities, flood and water storage capacity, and amenities. Here is the link on the Los Angeles City Bureau of Engineering website to download the plan and also to enter your comments on the plan:

The public comment period has been extended through January 2, 2024. The plan is very extensive but is conceptual at this point with some projects slated to begin almost immediately as they obtain  funding, and all the rest contingent on funding. This is our chance to submit comments prior to work beginning on the Environmental Impact Report and future planning.

The following comments regarding the Vision Plan Draft have been prepared and submitted by the San Fernando Valley Audubon Society.

The San Fernando Valley Audubon Society (SFVAS) is delighted that the Wildlands Alternative was selected as the model  for the Sepulveda Basin Vision Plan (SBVP), with all waterways to be widened and naturalized. The slightly reduced sizes of the golf courses allows improvements to the waterways while keeping 54 holes and improving the habitat on the courses. The comments of SFVAS on the SBVP follow. Page numbers refer to pages in the SBVP Public Draft released on October 18, 2023. A prime reason for SFVAS endorsing the Wildlands Alternative is the significant amount of wildlife-friendly habitat that would be gained, hopefully with expanded areas of native vegetation. A significant concern of the SFVAS is the degree to which current and expanded habitat will be protected, as noted in the following comments.

The Wildlife Reserve (Page 213):

The plans for the reserve look good in general. We are encouraged that some of the improvements are listed to occur soon. We hope that the member organizations of the Sepulveda Basin Wildlife Reserve Steering Committee will be consulted as details of the improvements evolve. 

  • It is urgent to stabilize and repair the collapsing Viewing Area #3 (flood monument) and stabilize the cracking Viewing Area #4 (compass rose at south end of lake). The water level of the lake needs to be properly controlled in general to control erosion near all viewing areas and features. 
  • We are interested in the possibility of excavating the south end of the West Field and a small part of the south end of the East Field. The addition of two ponds south of Burbank unfortunately is not included in the SBVP Public Draft. It should be included if feasible.
  • The bike path connecting the neighborhoods east of Sepulveda Basin via a proposed bridge over I-405 is currently shown as continuing into the Wildlife Reserve’s parking lot. It would be much safer to route it just north of the parking lot, then into the park road known as Wildlife Way. Wildlife Way will need to be widened to accommodate the bike and pedestrian path(s). The additional path(s) might be located a few feet south of Wildlife Way’s roadway for safety and to avoid any loss of existing trees. 
  • Instead of a costly bike and pedestrian bridge with steep grades, a more natural way to route the bike path would be to use the existing underpass next to Victory Boulevard to connect to a new path running along the east bank of Haskell Creek to Wildlife Way. The only drawback is that such a route would not provide emergency vehicles with access to the perimeter maintenance/access path along the toe of the dam other than driving over lawns.

Additional Cricket Fields (Page 226) We object to two cricket fields being added east of Woodley Avenue, immediately north of the Wildlife Reserve. There is not enough room there for two cricket fields and certainly not for parking. The map on page 226 shows the new cricket fields overlapping the oak trees that are part of the Wildlife Reserve. The pathway shown there is not the boundary of the Wildlife Reserve. Rather, the oaks alongside the pathway are part of the reserve. If one cricket field is built on that area just north of the reserve, a fence should be built along the boundary to protect the Reserve, along with informational signage at any fence openings into the reserve. Consider placing an additional cricket field north of the existing archery range or at the far north end of the model airplane field.

Equestrian Facility (Page 247): The equestrian facility proposed for the far western section of the basin is undesirable and should be eliminated. Horse dung will support greater populations of the nest-parasitic Brown-headed Cowbirds to the detriment of other songbirds, especially the endangered Least Bell’s Vireo. Horse dung entering the river near the west end of the basin will inevitably flow downstream. This will impair the usefulness of riparian nesting habitat throughout the basin for the federally protected Least Bell’s Vireo. Trails for riders of the rental horses would have a negative impact on the newly terraced banks of the LA River and reduce the enjoyment of other park visitors. Further, that very small area could be put to much better use.

Park Rangers and Station (Page 228): Adequate safety officers and a ranger station are urgently needed now. This is essential. The success of any of the proposed improvements to the Basin hinges on the consistent presence of Park Rangers.

Wayfinding Upgrades (Page 220):  This is long overdue and should incorporate addresses which are findable by navigation systems.

Shuttle (Page 221): A shuttle service will be an excellent addition to Sepulveda Basin. As shown, it goes no farther east than Woodley Avenue. Either the shuttle should continue to the Wildlife Reserve’s amphitheater or a stop and formal entry gate should be added near Woodley Avenue and the path in the West Field of the Wildlife Reserve, just south of the two proposed cricket fields. Again, we hope that only one cricket field will be added there, at most.

Bridges: Widening the main bridges, including a grand-statement bridge over the LA River along Burbank Boulevard, is excellent. So are additional pathways and smaller bridges. 

Native Tree Canopy: We hope native tree canopy will be included along all waterways, trails, and between land uses. We understand that in certain areas other forms of native habitat are more appropriate and will be used. It is essential that invasive trees, especially Shamel Ash, be removed in the process of widening and naturalizing the streams. There are significant benefits to the addition of native tree canopy beyond increase in habitat. With increasing summer temperatures predicted for the Basin by climate change models, adequate shade becomes imperative. Corridors of native trees connecting recreational areas of the Basin will allow for more comfortable pedestrian passage between those areas, reducing automobile usage within Basin. The increase in canopy is likely to reduce maximum temperatures in neighboring communities as well.

Bull Creek and Water Quality Infiltration Habitat: We are delighted at the prospect of the Bull Creek area (Page 233) being restored and the creation of water quality and infiltration wetlands being created east of the bus line and north of the river (Back 40 Habitat and Infiltration, Page 249), as well as west of the bus line and south of the river (Water Quality and Infiltration Habitat, Page 245). 

Parking: It is important to add adequate parking to support the new facilities. There is already a parking shortage. One opportunity is to design the edges of all roadways to accommodate parking. Such parking might be interspersed with native trees. Parking might be on vegetation or permeable paving. A second opportunity is at the dirt/mud parking lot west of Bull Creek. It should be re-graded and permeable paving added. This is especially important with playgrounds being added in this area which is already deficient in parking.

Model Airplane Facilities: The use of model jet airplanes should end, since it appears that the model airplane facilities will remain. This would permit the fields northwest of the intersection of Burbank and Woodley to be used safely for habitat and passive recreation. Any drone use allowed at this facility should be restricted to the boundaries of the facility. 

Sepulveda Collaborative (Page 197):  If the Sepulveda Collaborative is envisioned to be the next iteration of the current Technical Advisory Council (TAC), the selection of members needs to be a transparent process. The current TAC was determined in secrecy and inexplicably excluded both Neighborhood
Councils representing the basin, as well as non-profit organizations which are intimately familiar with the area including the San Fernando Valley Audubon Society and the California Native Plant Society.

Persons Experiencing Homelessness (Page 139):  The second paragraph is misleading – it erroneously refers to encampments as shelters – there are no permitted shelters in the basin. The unhoused population throughout the basin is reasonably estimated at 100-150 people based on annual homeless counts, and in the past has approached 500. Many encampments are tucked in along the river between Balboa and Woodley as well as along Encino Creek. In addition to increasing outreach services, shelters, and supportive housing, it is essential that encampments be quickly removed once they appear to avoid dangerous conditions including fires and accumulation of massive amounts of trash.