A Creek Flows in Compton

Big-box plans encroach on an urban refuge

| August 11, 2005


Flowing through stands of marsh grass rooted to a soft bottom, Compton Creek is an oddity in Los Angeles. Unlike other area waterways, the Compton Creek bed hasn't been entirely paved over, thus saving it from having to serve as a Hollywood backdrop for drag races and car chases. A four-mile stretch of the stream retains natural elements despite being enveloped by a sprawling city. Writing in LA Weekly, Judith Lewis describes the urban creek and its environs as 'a diorama of the Emerald City in the middle of the Nevada Test Site.' But, as she makes clear, this outwardly lush creek hasn't been spared in the least.

About 10 tons of trash have been pulled out of the creek each of the last three years, according to Meredith McCarthy, who heads coastal cleanups for the nonprofit Heal the Bay. Water samples are showing high levels of coliform bacteria and lead. And city plans to build a 'commercial power center' along the bank of the creek have roiled environmentalists. They say they wouldn't necessarily have been opposed to the center, but didn't hear of the plans until it was too late to take any sort of action. They worry encroaching development will further threaten the health of the creek. Meanwhile, council members see the big-box store center as a step in the right direction for Compton, a city beleaguered by poverty, violence, and negative press. Most appealing to the council is the prospect of the center generating tax revenue that would replenish the city's dwindling coffers. The defenders of the creek are aware of Compton's economic straits; but they worry that the value of the stream has been left out of the discussion.
-- Archie Ingersoll

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