A small group of homeowners along the Los Angeles River in the Wrigley district in west Long Beach are fighting what they say has been an uphill battle with city and county officials to maintain their equestrian lifestyle.
Just about every day, residents who own horse stables and corrals on nine private properties ride their horses along a trail that currently stretches from Spring Street to 31st Street just west of San Francisco Avenue and which, they say, dates back to the 1880s.
According to residents, part of the housing tract was once owned by family of famed American frontier lawman Wyatt Earp, and the stables remain some of the only remaining places to house horses that participate in local parades, such as the annual Daisy Avenue Christmas Tree Lane Parade.
Though the trail was dedicated for horseback riding through legislation in the early 1940s, it still remains a public right-of-way owned by the County of Los Angeles.
The horse owners say they are perceived by the County and City as a “minority” group, adding that public and private equestrian facilities have slowly been reduced over the years. Not far away, an equestrian center, for instance, was turned into a dog park, residents say.
Now, a project to enhance open space along the county flood-control channel and a dirt berm that was built to reduce flooding would completely eradicate access to the trail for horseback riders while increasing access for bicyclers and pedestrians, according to the residential group that calls itself the Equestrian Association of Wrigley Heights.
The residents say that the project, as proposed so far, doesn’t preserve the equestrian community and the “living history” associated with it.
“These gateways and destinations are planned for and heavily weighted for the bike coalitons and the other walking communities,” said Renee Lawler, one of the horse-owning residents, during a Wrigley Area Neighborhood Alliance, Inc. (WANA) meeting on Monday, July 21. “[Project planners] advertise this as being multi-use, but there’s been no privision made for equestrians… even though that’s the original use.”
Voters passed a county-wide bond measure in 2006, giving the City of Long Beach nearly $1 million to enhance open space and parks along the Los Angeles River through a development known as the Long Beach RiverLink project.
This regional-based project includes efforts to improve eight Long Beach open-space destinations, including the Wrigley greenbelt, which, according to documents on the City’s website, “occupies narrow properties along the river channel” from Pacific Coast Highway to Wardlow Road.
Preliminary plans show that the project includes adding fitness stations, bike pathways, pedestrian trails and native plantlife. Omitted from the plans, however, is any mention of the equestrian trail or any provisions to preserve it, according to the Wrigley residents.
“We’re being treated as if we’re in the way of progress,” said Lawler in a phone interview. “This trail and land is the lifeblood of our community.”
Lawler, who has lived at her authentic Spanish rancho-style home at the end of Spring Street since the early 1980s, said that the homeowners years ago agreed to a non-fee usage permit with the County, giving a 10-percent deposit in initial steps for the residents to purchase a portion of the county land.
In recent years, the County began rewewing negotiations on a deal to sell a portion of the land to the homeowners, but, so far, such a sale would come at a steep price– $1 million, according to Lawler. She said the price tag, which was based on the property value at the “highest and best use,” is too much and unfair to the residents.
“[The County was] saying ‘this is what this land is worth,’ and we were like, ‘you’re crazy,’” Lawler said.
In addition, she said county officials have indicated in meetings that they would only sell about 12 feet of land from their property lines to the homeowners while using the rest of the county right-of-way for a third pedestrian/bike trail, which she calls “reduntant and unnecessary.”
Such a move would eliminate any pathway for the horseback riders to access the trail from their back yards and force them to enter the trail elsewhere unless they purchase and build their own alley, Lawler said. This would also eliminate any space for the homeowners to maintain manure bins, she said.
In addition, she said the City and the County have yet to post any adequate signage, notifying pedestrians and bicyclists of the equestrian zone. Lawler said this has created a “liability” for all parties involved. She said the only signage currently available is located miles from the community near the Dominguez Gap Wetlands.
“They think they can do these crossovers with mountain bikers, dog walkers and pedestrians with the horses, and we keep trying to tell them, ‘you’re setting yourself up for a huge liability,’” Lawler said. “They don’t understand the nature of the animal, the horse, and they have not educated anybody else or the public of the right of way… The City and County have consistanty ignored requests to put signs up.”
She said the greenbelt project, as proposed, would also “cut off” any access to other equestrian trails further upstream since plans call for using a connecting path under a bridge as a flood outlet.
Long Beach city officials have stated that the Wrigley greenbelt project and the County’s negotiations with the equestrian homeowners are two separate issues, but Lawler said there’s no getting around the fact that the two subjects are “interrelated.”
“The interrelationship is that [the County] wants to sell us a piece of land that we can’t access,” she said. “You can’t make a purchase if it doesn’t include all the amenities that you need. That’s where we’ve been at. It’s been this push and pull for all this time.”
Furthermore, Lawler said she worked on applying for a grant with the United States National Park Service, a federal agency that offers river- and trail-conservation assistance, such as free technical support to review open space issues related to trails. Such was the case for trails along the Compton Creek, she said.
However, Lawler, who had earned support from the Long Beach Heritage Foundation, the Rivers and Mountains Conservancy and the California State Coastal Conservancy, said the grant was denied last year after city and county officials, including staff with former 7th District Councilmember James Johnson and Los Angeles County Supervisor Don Knabe, failed to show up to a critical meeting.
Michael Clements, former chief of staff for Johnson, couldn’t comment on the record about the greenbelt project or the county negotiations since he now works for the 5th Council district office. Additionally, Connie Sziebel, field deputy for Knabe’s office, also said she couldn’t immediately comment on either issue.
Aleen Bedrosian, spokesperson for the Los Angeles County Department of Public Works, said in an email that the County is indeed “considering” a proposal to sell a portion of land to the Wrigley homeowners but “has not made a final decision yet.”
Bedrosian said the greenbelt project is a City of Long Beach project and redirected additional questions to Anna Mendiola, Long Beach parks development officer, who could not be reached before the Signal Tribune’s deadline.
With regard to the WANA meeting, however, Lawler said she had hoped to reach out to newly elected councilmembers as negotiations move forward and the greenbelt project awaits county approval.
“This is a new year, and the hope is that we can still gain support regarding these issues and very vital needs in appealing to my neighbors as well as, hopefully, the newly elected officials to, hopefully, re-evaluate this plan and project proposal,” Lawler said during the WANA meeting, adding that local residents and the City should embrace enhancing the “historical attributes” of the equestrian community rather than eliminate them.
Newly elected 7th District Councilmember Roberto Uranga, who introduced himself to residents during the WANA meeting, said in a phone interview that he was unaware of the subject but added that he plans to look into it. During the meeting, Uranga said he hopes to “blur the lines” with 6th and 8th Council district offices.
Other topics discussed during the WANA meeting include recent gang-related shootings in the Wrigley district and the city, an ongoing lawsuit between the City and Port of Los Angeles regarding a railyard proposal, new lighting on Santa Fe Avenue, and briefings on the I-710 Freeway project, among other items.
Also, 6th District Councilmember Dee Andrews gave a brief presentation, noting that his office is planning to host a budget summit on Aug. 26. Additionally, the National Night Out to Fight Crime Potluck is planned for Aug. 5.