Los Angeles is a phony, unsustainable oasis, a lush garden in the desert that blooms only because of stolen water. Or so the story goes. The last part is arguably true: All cities import water, but Mulholland famously took it from the poor farmers of the once-fertile Owens Valley. But was native L.A. a desert? Not really -- while its exurbs have leapt over the San Gabriel range into the rainshadow beyond (aka the Mojave), closer to the coast the climate is Mediterranean, more akin to Athens than Phoenix, and Spanish explorers described a verdant valley. That's not to say water was abundant: Dammed in 1870, Echo Park Lake itself was L.A.'s first reservoir, a real estate scheme in the hills northwest of what was then a city of 6,000.