New York Design Firm to Head Verdugo Wash Project

Work will soon begin on the researching, outreach and design phase of the bike path and linear park envisioned to line the Verdugo Wash all the way to the Los Angeles River.
The project is likely to come in phases, officials said, and would ideally be funded in large part by outside grants aimed at promoting the sustainability, active transportation and habitat restoration that the project would achieve. The City Council voted 4-0 to approve a $440,000 contract with New York City-based design firm !melk this week to take the reins. (Councilman Ara Najarian abstained because his wife owns property abutting the Verdugo Wash.)
“I’m tremendously excited about this, and I want us to move forward,” Councilman Dan Brotman said Tuesday.

The city received a whopping 21 responses from design firms for this project, a process made easier by the preponderance of virtual communication on account of the pandemic. Bradley Calvert, assistant director of community development, indicated that many of these firms distinguished themselves such that the city truly had a wealth of options at the end of the day.
“Having been involved in projects of similar scope and gravity, this was easily the most exciting RFP process I’ve been engaged with,” he said, referring to the term “request for proposal.” “We saw firms from all across the country. This was an incredibly competitive process. The firms that participated in this were some of the leading firms in the country, if not the world.”
The city aims to remake the façade of the Verdugo Wash, which was a natural river that connected with the L.A. River before Los Angeles County paved it into a flood control channel in the 1930s. Calvert and other officials behind the planning hope to turn the 9.5-mile stretch into a continuous park that highlights each of the 18 Glendale neighborhoods that it passes through.
“This does impact a very broad cross-section of the city, but also [represents] a great opportunity to connect these neighborhoods,” he said. “Ultimately, really, this entire vision — all of these elements, all of these features — packages into what we would describe as creating a very unique identity and a memorable experience for the city of Glendale. This is really an opportunity to create something that can create civic pride, create something that serves as an attraction not only for our residents but [also] in the region and, as our consultant has noted, maybe this is something that can attain a national attraction.”
Calvert added that !melk distinguished itself both with the company’s portfolio and the energy its team brought to the interview and proposal. Criteria the city sought included strong graphic presentation and a dynamic outreach plan, particularly with the pandemic in mind. Past projects design by !melk include Pier 97 in New York City, the 5M Open Space in San Francisco and The Barn in Sacramento.
“With !melk, what we identified was a level of creativity that we felt was very befitting and necessary for this project to deliver new ideas and a new vision,” Calvert said. “Their graphic representation was exceptional. The overall energy that the team brought to the interview process as well as their submittal was, I wouldn’t say unparalleled — there were others that were also very excited — but they had a personality and energy we greatly appreciated.”
The council also agreed to beef up the scope of the project — using Measure M money to fund that — because of its complexity. Altering the construction of the wash will require additional hydrology and engineering work, Calvert explained, and both the city and the firm agreed to broaden stakeholder outreach in order to better work on branding for the project.
Outside agencies that will have to be involved in implementing the linear park, Calvert added, include the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, the city of L.A., the L.A. County Flood Control District and the myriad homeowners and businesses along the wash’s path.
“It’s going to take many phases and being able to hash out some of those technical details early on is going to be key. We did not quite have enough in that original scope, we believe, as we look back on this,” Calvert said. “The last thing we want to do is walk into a room — or into a Zoom meeting — with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and have a vision that actually can’t be executed.”
Trying to assuage funding concerns by Mayor Vrej Agajanian, Community Development Director Philip Lanzafame explained that the thorough preparation would open avenues for grants. The phased approach of the project would tie into this well, he added.
“At the end of the day, that’s where we see a lot of this money coming from. It’s not something that we’re going to do all at once,” Lanzafame said. “This is a plan that hangs it all together and we can go out time and time again and say ‘We’ve done the work; we’re ready for this kind of funding’ and be in a good position to obtain that funding.”
Agajanian, himself a former engineer, was skeptical of the lack of a price tag assigned to the construction phase of the project, though he ultimately approved the design contract.
“We don’t know,” Lanzafame countered. “It hasn’t been designed. We can’t give you a figure.”
Councilman Ardy Kassakhian added concern that !melk was not local and sought assurance from the firm that its team would be highly engaged with the city throughout the process. He referenced a prior branding project for the city, in which a design produced by a firm in Nashville did not take off and was quickly replaced.
“I am cautiously optimistic,” Kassakhian said, “and I want to make sure we have the full involvement of the firm and staff and that not a dollar is wasted.”

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