Since yesterday afternoon, 1.4 million people have watched ABC 7’s live aerial footage of three dudes floating down the L.A. River in an enormous inflatable flamingo raft. The rafters, who’ve since been identified as a group of YouTubers called the “JoogSquad” (sigh), launched their vessel in the area of Boyle Heights and made it to Vernon before police officers intervened. The cops searched the float, directed the guys to deflate it, and sent them on their way (ABC 7 reported that it appeared citations were issued).
In an interview with the L.A. Times, Vernon Police lieutenant Jerry Winegar indicated that going into the L.A. River is a criminal offense that could result in a trespassing charge. But is that always the case? Is it ever OK to float down the L.A. River?
The short answer is yes, there are times of the year when recreation—including kayaking and boating in non-motorized, steerable vessels—is allowed on specified stretches of the river. But according to Stephen Mejia, Friends of the L.A. River‘s policy and advocacy manager, access to the river can become a “murky” issue.
For a long time—i.e. since it was turned into a concrete channel—the river was considered infrastructure to be overseen by the Los Angeles County Flood Control District and the Army Corps of Engineers, rather than a public resource like other rivers in other cities. Then, in 2010, the EPA designated the river “traditional navigable waters,” making it subject to the Clean Water Act and turning it into a public resource.
Still, there’s murkiness. “It’s public, but if you crossed the county right of way or the Army Corps of Engineers right of way, the center of the channel is their jurisdiction,” Mejia says. “Technically, you’re not allowed to cross the river if it’s not permitted or allowed, and I’m sure that the county and the Corps would say most of the time it’s not.”
With the help of advocacy groups like FOLAR—and with the cooperation of the Corps and the Flood District—the city established the Los Angeles River Recreation Zone, which comprises two stretches of the river that are managed by the Mountains Recreation & Conservation Authority and are open to the public from Memorial Day through Labor Day, sunrise to sunset.
There’s the Elysian Valley L.A. River Recreation Zone, from Glendale Narrows to Steelhead Park, and the Sepulveda Basin L.A. River Recreation Zone, from the Sepulveda Flood Control Basin to Encino Creek. According to rules on the Recreation Zone’s website, “steerable, non-motorized boats” are allowed as long as they are launched from designated areas. Also allowed: fishing, walking, hiking, and birdwatching. Prohibited: fire, booze, swimming, motorized vehicles, and pets.
So assuming the time of year is right and the stretch of river is A-OK, could you potentially float down the L.A. River in a large, inflatable flamingo raft? Mejia couldn’t say for sure. “I think rubber innertubes are technically not allowed, but you could argue it’s a raft—it’s unclear whether it passes the test.” Just don’t let a news helicopter catch you.
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