Jan. 24, 2007 — -- Known more for the concrete that surrounds it than the water that flows through it, the Los Angeles River is now closer to getting a new look reminiscent of New York City's Central Park.
The Santa Monica Mountains Conservancy is pushing for federal funding to turn 32 miles of the river into a "green belt."
"It's the most obvious way of bringing nature into the urban area of Los Angeles," said Dash Stolarz, public affairs director for the Santa Monica Mountains Conservancy.
Once the only source of water to Los Angeles, the river frequently flooded the city in the winter. A flood in the 1930s left 50 people dead, leading the federal government to straighten, deepen and reinforce the river with concrete in the 1950s and 60s.
Stretching from East Los Angeles through the San Fernando Valley, the river is now usually filled with sewage and surrounded by litter. Its claim to fame is the drag-racing scene in the movie "Grease," not the dozens of bird species that call the river home.
With federal funding, the conservancy hopes to destroy what's been built and create something the city can enjoy.
"I've created the motto 'Turn our backyard into our front yard,'" said city Councilman Ed Reyes.
Reyes chairs the Los Angeles Ad Hoc River Committee. He says a combined effort between the city and the conservancy has made federal funding a possibility.
The cost of the project could be in the billions, making federal funding a necessity.
With hope for a new river, there's still one problem: Few Los Angeles residents know about the Los Angeles River and the project to revitalize it. Reyes plans to change that.
"Once people hear the soothing sounds of the rippling water as [opposed] to the stress and tension of Los Angeles, they are blown away," he said.
The project would aim to make the Los Angeles River a thing of beauty, worthy of display, which would strengthen the community.
"Right now, it's sort of this channelized concrete waterway that people have kind of tried to hide," Stolarz said. "If it were revitalized, it would be at the centerpiece."
But former state Assemblyman Richard Katz says the city shouldn't set its hopes too high.
Katz was behind a push to turn the river into a freeway in the 1990s and now says the idea is outdated.
The new plan, he says, is a good idea as long as "nobody confuses it with the Colorado River. … People need to have realistic expectations."
The City Council plans to release a long-term plan for the Los Angeles River next month.