The Dept. of Parks and Rec Wants Your Input on What Parks Should Be

Google Screen Shot of Julian Dixon Park, pre-makeover, boulders and all.
Google screen shot of Julian Dixon Park, pre-makeover, random boulders and all.

I’ve been watching the makeover that the Julian C. Dixon/48th St. Park on Hoover and 48th has been undergoing for the past couple of months with some interest.

The small playground, cracked-up basketball court, and small (but well-used) fitness zone sat like disparate islands floating along the edges of a sea of poorly kept grass populated by large, incongruous boulders. All lovingly enclosed within a hideously rickety chain-link fence.

Aesthetically pleasing it was not.

When I called the parks department to see what the plans for the makeover were, Vicki Israel, the Assistant General Manager of the Partnership and Revenue Branch, assured me that a number of good things were in the works. New walking paths would be enhanced by new landscaping and lighting, fitness equipment would be repaired, and the basketball court would be refurbished, all by the end of November or early December.

It may not sound like much, but those will be very welcome improvements.

Some of the parks in South L.A. are not nearly as inviting as they could be. Take South Park (at 51st and Avalon), for example, which has a large and beautiful grove of thickly-trunked palm trees. The poor upkeep of the grounds in and around the trees and no real paths to guide walkers, however, make it more puzzling than attractive. The illicit activity the park often sees doesn’t help, either. All of which is unfortunate, as it is a site with an incredible amount of potential.

But attractiveness is not the only problem parks in the area suffer from.

Budget cutbacks means less maintenance and fewer staff. In areas where gangs have a heavy presence, fewer staff can mean that youth will feel even less safe visiting the facilities. In the case of Augustus Hawkins — a watershed park at Compton and Slauson enclosed on three sides — the absence of staff to make rounds through some of its more secluded areas worked in thieves’ favor.

A man and woman posing as a couple apparently canvassed the park, waited for staff to leave for the day, and then approached a man watching a movie on his laptop, pulled a weapon on him, and made off with his computer. The caretakers were very surprised to hear of such a thing — they rarely saw problems of that nature when staff were on hand to patrol the area.

The parks system has not always made it easy for people to get involved in improving the parks, either. In Boyle Heights, for example, when local youth from a continuation school asked if they could help beautify Hollenbeck Park and deter tagging with a community-made mural on its stage, they got very frustrated by all the hoops they were told they needed to jump through. It turned out to be easier for them to create a mobile mural that would be exhibited temporarily in the park than try to make a lasting change for the better.

While I can’t say that they will be easing up on things like permitting, it turns out the parks department is interested in getting the community involved in hearing your concerns about parks and your thoughts on how to address them so that they can improve their services. They want to know how you currently use parks in your area, what draws you to them or keeps you away, what kinds of facilities or improvements you’d like to see — Hello, edible fruit trees? Year-round programming for teens? Arts or gardening programs? More fitness equipment? — and any ideas you have about how to finance more programs in parks.

Israel suggested that people visit the parks and rec website, here, and take the brief survey that pops up. You are also invited to attend a meeting in your council district to make your case for your ideas in person. The meetings are intended to help the department determine priorities and methods to increase its operations and maintenance budget over the next five years.

Pro-park superheroes, this means you.

A few meetings have already taken place. A full list of them is available here. If you’d like to attend one in your council district, please note that the meetings begin at 6:30 and conclude at 8 p.m. For more information, you can contact Theresa Walker, theresa.walker@lacity.org, at (213) 202-3205.

CD1 – December 4: Ramona Hall Community Center, 4580 North Figueroa Street

CD3 – December 3: Woodland Hills Recreation Center, 5858 Shoup Avenue

CD4 –December 9: Griffith Park Visitor’s Center, 4730 Crystal Springs Dr.

CD7 – December 10: Ritchie Valens Recreation Center, 10736 Laurel Canyon Boulevard (Pacoima)

CD8 – December 3: Algin Sutton Recreation Center, 8800 South Hoover Street

CD9 – December 12: EXPO Center, 3980 South Bill Robertson Lane

CD10 – December 4: Rancho Cienega Sports Complex, 5001 Rodeo Road

CD14 – December 2: City Hall, 200 N. Spring St. Public Works Board Room

CD14 – December 3: Evergreen Recreation Center, 2844 East 2nd Street

CD15 – December 5: 109th St. Rec Center, 1464 E. 109th St.

  • michael macdonald

    Bike repair stations.

  • ubrayj02

    The Parks Department has serious problems maintaining what it has to take care of. There are a lot of rumors I’ve heard about the toxic work culture that is more akin to working in Soviet factory: “Don’t work so hard, comrade, you make the rest of us look lazy.”

    How many parks have you seen with one man, in his 30’s or 40’s, breaking his back to make the rounds doing maintenance while two or three “administrators” man the phones in a locked-down office in recreation center?

    Our parks need to stop being seen as money pits or as attractive nuisances. They need to be looked at as a means to directly improve mobility, health, and local property values. Parks need to be targeted to show an improved city income based on their ability to license concessions at the parks set up for that and to trigger new homes sales at higher values.

    Imagine how good a local park would have to be to allow someone next to it to either sell their home or get a home equity line to expand or improve their home?

    Oh, and one thing a park should not be is a parking lot (see Plaza de la Raza’s abuse of Lincoln Park in East LA for an example of what NOT to allow).

  • phew!

    Sometimes I feel like there’s too much public input, I’m feeling burned out going to meetings, and writing detailed emails, explaining how a bridge should be designed, or why bike lanes need to be implemented, or what features a public park should have. It’s getting exhausting– I wish we could just trust city employees to do sensible things and have the user in mind the same way they do for car infrastructure. Drivers never need to go to meetings and say “the lane should be this wide, and here’s why…” or say “there should be convenient parking in the area…” Yet this is the kind of stuff walking and biking advocates need to do just in order to be heard, and then maybe considered. Mad props to the people who go to all these meetings, I don’t know how they do it.

    My comment about how to improve parks? Tear down all the fences and concrete walls. Stop hiding parks from the public. Have the parks face outward, and not have their butts (chain link fences, concrete walls, or parking lots) face the sidewalk. There should be interaction between the park and the sidewalk, not a division between the two.

  • sahra

    Indeed–I like that they want public input, but the fact that they need so much of it (or claim to need it) does make me a little concerned. That said, I think this kind of thing, particularly for parks, could be of vaiue. Everyone wants parks but what it takes to make a park accessible varies around the city. At the 109th St. rec center, a friendly football game between pre-teens from different neighborhoods turned ugly when some of the rival gang members present started getting into it with each other. (I wrote about that incident in the last section of this story: http://la.streetsblog.org/2013/11/06/death-and-all-his-friends-cast-long-shadows-when-they-make-regular-appearances-in-the-public-space/). So, there, a safe park means working with gang interventionists and current gang members, law enforcement, rec staff and parents to negotiate safe passage and spaces for youth. A lot of parks need structured programming and the presence of staff and security so that people feel safe. In other areas, the presence of fitness equipment near playgrounds draws parents and grandparents out with their kids and helps make the area safer, as the equipment often appeals to youth who want to exercise, too. As you say, removing the fence around parks like the new watershed park at 54th and Avalon would make it more appealing and accessible. As it is, people cut a whole in the fence so they could cut through it (because the other entrances were closed off: http://la.streetsblog.org/2012/12/07/when-a-door-closes-a-window-always-opens-because-someone-will-saw-through-the-fence/). I think a big part of what the parks dept. is doing is asking for help in devising revenue-generating ideas… they clearly don’t have the budget to do all that people would like them to do. I’m not saying that is a good thing that they need that help in dreaming up new revenue-generating schemes, but that seems to be where they are. Again, it is odd that they haven’t figured out that working with the community more closely (i.e. working with GRYD to partner with non-profits, local vendors, and artists to participate in their Summer Night Lights program instead of hiring people from outside the community–i know a number of orgs that have been clamoring to help out with them for years) will enhance people’s connections to their parks.

  • andrelot

    Since when are gang members a constituency? If someone belongs to a criminal gang, someone is a criminal that doesn’t belong in open society vandalizing, brutalizing, robbing and killing others, but on jail. Any project that assumes outreach to gang members is only acceptable if the outreach is to get them out of gangs. If not, send the police and take them off streets.

  • sahra

    Since when? Since there are 70,000 of them in L.A. county, Andre.

    I’m guessing by your comment that you do not know too many people in or associated with gangs. I do. They are not all terrible people. Instead, many come from unfortunate circumstances that make them feel as if life on the margins in a gang is their best option. One of those circumstances is feeling that they have been left behind or pushed aside by society. Working with them to help them help their communities is the best way to start to integrate them back into society and show them that they have value as members of the community and that there are alternatives. And, it will help keep kids safer in the interim.

  • andrelot

    Isn’t associating with a gang enough of a character demerit to make one “not a good person”?

    In other circumstances I’d agree to some “harm reduction” policy, such as needle exchanges for IV drug users for instance. But gangs are criminals, they vandalize, murder, extort, destroy, injury and – their preferred thing – just shoot at others because they decided to become evil persons.

    For me, to “work with gang members” would be like suggesting some outreach to kidnappers so that they at least don’t kill their victims when paid ransom.

  • sahra

    No, gangs are actually very complex social organizations that serve a number of functions for their members, some of which are indeed criminal. I’m finishing a lengthy story on why kids get involved with gangs as we speak. I’ll post the link here when it’s ready. I don’t imagine it will change your mind — I have learned you are rather set in your opinions. But it may be informative nonetheless.

  • Egbert True

    The link given is to the City of Los Angeles Department of Recreation and Parks but the article talks about Parks and Recreation which is a Los Angeles County Department. Which is it?

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