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Posts from the "Parks" Category


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. Read more…

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Park[ing] Day Installation in South L.A. Highlights Residents’ Desperate Need for Peaceful Green Space. And Plants.

Mike Kim of the Neighborhood Land Trust recruits John, a resident and plant lover, to participate in the park project planned for the vacant lot at 81st and Vermont. Sahra Sulaiman/LA Streetsblog

The young man looked nervous.

Hands jammed in his pockets, unwilling to meet my gaze, he walked towards me, backed away, moved toward the potted plants sitting on the sidewalk, came back towards me, and finally mumbled something unintelligible.

“I’m sorry?” I asked. His behavior was so unusual I thought he might be having some sort of emergency or need help with something.

Still not looking me in the eye, he asked, “Are you selling plants?”

“Not really…”

I explained that the plant had been part of a display created by the Neighborhood Land Trust in celebration of Park[ing] Day L.A. They had taken over a parking space at Manchester and Vermont — directly in front of one of the area’s trash-filled and block-long vacant lots — to raise awareness about the need for parks in South L.A. and to connect with residents on their aspirations for their community.

I pointed at Project Manager Mike Kim who was talking with John, an older resident from up the street that he had just handed a raspberry plant to. John had professed a love for growing vegetables on the sly in the building that he managed and talked about how tough it was to find fresh fruit and vegetables in the area.

“You could ask him if he had any more plants he could give out..?” I said.

“Naw, naw, it’s OK,” said the young man, backing away, disappointed.

He wasn’t looking for a handout.

It had been happening all day, Monica Curiel, Lead Organizer for the Little Green Fingers program told me. She and other staff had been surprised by the number of people that had stopped by their installation in the hopes they were selling plants. They had eagerly taken the seeds staff were handing out and were excited to hear they could now plant along parkways. But what they really wanted was plants.

Gesturing at the vacant lot behind her she said, “Apparently, this should be a nursery.” Read more…


Area Baby Rides Metro, Has Wonderful Day.

Go towards the light, young grasshopper. Sahra Sulaiman/LA Streetsblog

“Um, excuse me,” I stuck my head out the door and called out to the Metro employee who was chatting on her phone on the shady side of the elevator.

“Someone just peed in here.”

Indeed they had.

The sizable puddle of light yellow liquid shimmered and sloshed along the back wall, filling the elevator with a pungent, alcohol-tinged aroma.

“Oh yeah. I’m here to clean it up,” she said, and went back to her phone call.

I shrugged and looked at my one-year old nephew.

“You’re just glad you’re not the one who made the mess this time, huh?” I said.

He gave me a huge grin and down we went.

Pee notwithstanding, I was excited to be able to take him on the train.

For the few days my sister and her husband had been in town from Wisconsin, we had driven most places and it had been miserable.

Traffic had been insane. The kids — aged one and three — were bored being cooped up in car seats. And, my sister was intimidated by what she saw as aggressive tactics by L.A. drivers.

So much so that she announced she would no longer read signs.

“It’s too overwhelming!” she complained. “And, they don’t make any sense!”

We were all so frustrated with each other that, when we got to LACMA at about 3:30 one afternoon and she wanted to park on the street instead of around the corner in the museum’s lot, I just gave in. We all wanted out of the car very badly.

I pointed up at the parking restrictions posted on the pole in front of us and told her to check that we were OK to park there. Annoyed with me and apparently still refusing to read signs, she said it was fine and to stop harassing her.

This is why I never drive!” I said to myself as I sprinted back to Wilshire Blvd. at 4:20, when the realization finally hit me that we had parked in an anti-gridlock zone. Read more…


USC’s Planned Expansion in Boyle Heights: When Planning Objectives and Community Perceptions Collide

Gonzalo Ceja, 23, describes his Olympic aspirations and asks for greater investment in the park so other neighborhood “diamonds” can shine. Sahra Sulaiman/LA Streetsblog

Taking a deep breath as he looked out over the crowd that had gathered in the gymnasium of Hazard Park to discuss USC’s planned expansion on its Health Sciences Campus, the lanky and earnest youth with the air filtration mask dangling from his belt made an appeal to the hearts of the USC representatives.

“There’s a lot of diamonds out here,” 23-year old Gonzalo Ceja said of the youth in the Boyle Heights neighborhoods surrounding the area.

“All they need is polishing.”

By “polishing,” he was referring to his desire to see a new track and improved athletic and recreational facilities at the park, situated next door to the County-USC medical complex. He had grown up and still lived within spitting distance of the park, and wanted youth like himself — a top-ranked track star at East L.A. Community College with Olympic aspirations — to be able to stretch their legs, their lungs, and their horizons.

Decades younger than most of the hearing’s attendees, he seemed to be symbolic of the future that many said they were seeking to protect.

While they had responded enthusiastically to a number of the commenters speaking in opposition to USC’s plans or demanding a more meaningful partnership, Ceja’s plea seemed to have struck a real chord with attendees. They cheered him loudly and some approached him afterwards to encourage him to continue to follow his dreams.

It dawned on me that if anyone were to have just dropped into the meeting at that moment — or at any other time during the workshop and public comment period, really — they would have had been very confused as to what the purpose of the event was.

Hazard Park sits in the bottom left of the image. The blue line extending from the set of two boxes and the small baseball diamond (the gym and other facilities) towards Soto St. is the length of the proposed extension of Norfolk St. (Source: USC)

To USC, this was a (largely) straightforward public hearing to inform the community about a set of changes that would be coming to the area.

Planned improvements included the construction of a new clinic building, student housing, and a hotel and the extension of Norfolk St. to Soto St. The buildings would be built on land USC already owned while the new roadway would be built on land the city had long-ago designated for the roadway and that was not technically a part of Hazard Park. In exchange, residents would get new handball courts and some improvements in the form of an exercise circuit.

Anticipating some pushback from the community, particularly on the street construction, Craig Keys (Associate Senior Vice President, Civic Engagement at USC) walked me out the back end of the gym to show me the cones indicating where the extension of Norfolk street would go.

He told me I would hear a lot of things said that night, but that it was important to understand that the Norfolk extension would not fall on park land. Yes, there was a handball court straddling some of the land that would need to be removed and rebuilt, but it had been put on the city land by mistake — USC was not taking anything from the community. Read more…


Friends of the Hollywood Central Park Challenge Us to Design Our Own Park

Can you do better? Rendering from the Friends of the Hollywood Central Park

Friends of the Hollywood Central Park (FHCP), a nonprofit organization dedicated to creating a 44-acre street-level park over the Hollywood Freeway in a densely populated and park-poor area of the city, launched a new facet of thir website today to encourage everyone to tap their inner architect and create their own dream park. You can visit the Design Your Own Park Tool inside the Hollywood Central Park website by clicking here.

The new feature allows individuals to create their own version of Hollywood Central Park,  by offering a wide gamut of possibilities features to choose from. These range from large multipurpose fields, cafés, dog parks and libraries to the smaller features such as rocks, trees, stones and benches. For those with more time and immagination, it also adds the ability to invent your own park element at the exact location they desire, orient it as you wish, and write notes to explain your thinking.

“Knowing the level of interest in the community about Hollywood Central Park, we decided the best way to get input on what should be built was give everybody a chance to create their dream park,” said Laurie Goldman, FHCP president. “This is everybody’s park, and everybody should have an opportunity to submit their own ideas. Now they can, and in the process can be involved in creating Hollywood history!”

One of the first users of the new website is Council District 13′s newly minted Council Member, Mitch O’Farrell. O’Farrell, a longtime proponent of the park since his time working in the field offices of his predecessor, is impressed by the new site’s simplicity and the open-ness of inviting all to participate in the design process.

“Friends of the Hollywood Central Park continue to embrace community input through the use of cutting edge technology,” said O’Farrell via press release. “The new park planner feature on the organization’s website allows real-time engagement, as well as visualization of another great public space in Los Angeles.” Read more…


Parks, Hills, Homes, Boulevards, Centers, and Industry: a Concept to Integrate Land Use and Transportation Policies in Los Angeles

(This is the first in a six part series that will run throughout the next two weeks. They’re all a little longer than our usual fare, so give yourself a couple of minutes to get all the way through. – DN)

Can the stars align for a chance to redefine transportation and land use policies in Los Angeles so that how and where we live, work and move mutually reinforce a shift towards a more inclusive and sustainable city?

For much of the past decade, planning in Los Angeles seemed uninspired, not up to the task of a city and region with an expanding transit system, a need for more affordable housing and cleaner air, and a diverse population of immigrants who use space in creative ways and young people who value urban energy and living. The planning department was understaffed, focused on processing individual development applications. The politics of land use and the content of the City’s community plans were still caught in the stale undertow of a receding slow growth movement. The City’s Department of Transportation continued to prioritize driving, widening roads, and was too timid to embrace high quality bicycle infrastructure.

Sometime in the last few years, accelerating in the last few months, the conversation around mobility and land use pivoted from the past to the future. The Planning Department is accelerating updates of community plans; revising the mobility and housing elements to the general plan; adding a new health and wellness element. This week, Planning will start fully rewriting the zoning code for the first time since 1946.  The Department of Transportation is moving in the direction of complete streets with more bike and pedestrian enhancements.  The city and Metro are studying  how to integrate transit into our urban fabric. Walking in L.A. has gone from a mark of desperation to one of hipness and health.

Los Angeles has also just elected a new mayor and majority of the City Council. With new leadership and a sense of momentum,  how can transportation and land use policies be aligned for a more green, appealing and just Los Angeles?

To advance this discussion, I will discuss a concept to divide Los Angeles into six zones: parks, hills, homes, boulevards, centers, and industry. Each zone has a “preferred” mode of transportation, by which I mean a form of getting around that can be reinforced by land use regulations to create a positive feedback loop between the built environment and mobility. The overall goal is a Los Angeles that is more sustainable, healthy, affordable, economically thriving and socially integrated. 

Today, I’ll focus on Parks.

Parks Zone

Preferred mobility: walking Read more…


Politicians Raise Awareness about Blight by Sticking their Signs on Every Vacant Lot in CD 9

If there is a lot in CD 9 that is vacant, foreclosed, abandoned, or in severe disrepair, you can bet either Ana Cubas or Curren Price (especially Price) has found it and stuck a sign on it, like this lot (above) on Broadway and 48th.

Or this one just up the street, at 45th.

Cubas’ and Price’s staffers are to be commended for their intrepidness — tracking down the many vacant lots across the district is no small feat.

While intensely park poor, South L.A. has an abundance of empty spaces. So many, in fact, that the city doesn’t actually know how much land is out there. For some time now, organizations like Community Health Councils (CHC) have been working to get support for their effort to catalog vacant and foreclosed properties in South L.A. so that residents could start organizing for access to unused parcels.

The highlighting of the sheer number of lots gathering dust (and garbage) in CD 9 alone couldn’t come at a better time.

Why? Because the recently released proposed budget does not include funds for the park and tree master plans for South L.A., despite the fact that these were conditions of the Mayor’s Memorandum of Understanding with the parties involved in the Space Shuttle Endeavour Transport settlement agreement. Read more…

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Clean-up Effort of a “Beauty Spot” Unearths a Strange History in Watts

The semi-parklet at 96th and Central that the East Side Riders cleaned up on MLK Day (photo: sahra)

When is a public park not open to the public? Or even a park?

Apparently, when it is owned by the Department of Water and Power (LADWP).

This little plot of land on the corner of 96th and Central Ave. in Watts was one of the many vacant lots that Ted Watkins helped turned into a park in 1968. In the years following the 1965 Watts Riots, Watkins, a labor leader, civil rights activist, and founder of the Watts Labor Community Action Committee (WLCAC), put youth to work converting blighted spaces into pocket parks.

The dedication of the "beauty spot" to workers everywhere in 1968 (photo: sahra)

According to the dedication on the cornerstone, the park was intended to serve as a symbol of unity and hope to the weary and oppressed.

Over the years, however, it has fallen into disrepair. Earlier features have been paved over or covered with dirt upon which sad patches of grass grow. Not only are there no places to sit, a large and heavily tagged “No Trespassing, Parking, or Dumping” sign tacked to a tree warns you shouldn’t have bothered thinking about getting comfortable in the first place.

A few years ago, the East Side Riders bike club took on the task of trying to keep the site up so elderly neighbors could have a place to sit. They planted some trees and got a letter of reference from the WLCAC recommending that they be allowed to take over upkeep of the park. They wanted to plant flowers, put in benches, fix the sidewalk where tree roots had buckled it, and paint a mural on a wall across the street from the park to beautify the surrounding area.

Unsure of who could grant them that authority, they started reaching out to city officials.

Janice Hahn’s office told them it was County Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas’ territory. Ridley-Thomas’ office told them it was city property (Central Ave. is city-maintained on one side and county-maintained on the other in some areas of South L.A., which can make things confusing for everyone). So, they reached out to the mayor’s office and were told it might be something they needed to take up with Bernard Parks’ office. Parks’ people told them it was LADWP-owned.

The LADWP told them that they needed to have insurance in order to be able to take care of the park, something which was beyond the budget of a completely volunteer-based community bike group.

But the LADWP didn’t seem to be taking care of the property; it continued to accumulate garbage and debris. Read more…

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Dear Santa: the 50 Parks Initiative is Great, but Please Bring South L.A. Some Green Space for Christmas

L.A. Taco finds a squirrel trying to beat the summer heat in his apartment complex (photo courtesy of L.A. Taco; click on photo to see original post)

While hiking in Griffith Park, my friend remarked that he found it refreshing to be surrounded by so much wildlife.

“What wildlife?” I hadn’t spotted any yet.

“All the squirrels.”

“The squirrels…?”

Yes, the squirrels.

A ubiquitous chattering presence in some areas of town, they are a rarer sight where my friend lives in South L.A. Fewer trees line the streets there and the numerous and largely treeless vacant lots are strewn with garbage and overgrown with weeds. It’s not exactly prime habitat.

It is also incredibly park-poor — on the whole, South L.A. averages about 1.2 acres of park space per 1,000 people. Broken down by race, African-American, Asian-Pacific Islander, and Latino communities receive .8, 1.2, and 1.6 acres per 1,000 persons, respectively, while white-dominated neighborhoods average 17.4 acres per 1,000 residents (partly due to many being near the Santa Monica Mountains). These figures present a stark contrast to the median of 6.8 acres in high-density cities and the recommended ratio of 10 acres per 1,000 people.

It’s tough out there for a squirrel, in other words.

Which means it’s not great out there for people, either.

Over the past decade, study after study after study has found that limited access to parks/green space and limited physical activity correlate with higher incidence of health risks in lower-income communities of color.

Park access and child obesity rates by State Assembly District (source: The City Project; click on map to visit site)

In South L.A. this translates to one in seven people suffering from diabetes and 1/3 of the children being overweight, increasing the likelihood they will grow into adults with chronic conditions, including diabetes, heart disease, arthritis, high blood pressure, lung disease, asthma, cancer, and depression.

Yet, for years, the city did little to tackle the disparity in access to parkland. Spaces smaller than 5 acres seemed unworthy of time, effort, or investment. And, as little of the available land in  South L.A. came even close to 5 acres, the area continued to go without.

It did not help that Proposition K funds for park construction and improvement were unevenly distributed, with “South Central, the subarea of the city with the second highest poverty rate, highest share of children, and the lowest rate of park acres per 1,000 population within easy access to a park, receiv[ing] only about half as much as affluent West LA in per child Prop K funding” or that Quimby park funds — fees developers pay to build park space within two miles of their developments — were disproportionately distributed among communities. District 11 got $11.9 million to invest in parks in 2007, while Bernard Parks’ District 8 received only $58,000 because there had been so little new construction there.

And, even though the Quimby funds were available, Steve Hymon reported, the city was slow to turn them into actual park space. Some council members struggled to find available land within the mandated two-mile radius. Others were unaware of how much money they had at their disposal. Worse still, the city didn’t have a viable method for matching up projects with needs. Read more…


When a Door Closes, a Window Always Opens…Because Someone Will Saw Through the Fence

The unofficial entrance to the South L.A. Wetlands Park. That's Maya Angelou High School in the background. (photo: sahra)

The South Los Angeles Wetlands Park located at 54th and Avalon is having a rough go of it these days.

Earlier this year, officials had to drain it in order to replace the leaking ceramic basin with plastic liners. It remained dry as a bone until the recent drizzling rains. But those have left it looking more like a fenced-in mud pit than a park. It appears to have even depressed garbage-eating seagulls and other fowl. None were to be found when I stopped by yesterday.

It wasn’t particularly beautiful to begin with — to passersby, it resembled a lot of dirt sparsely sprinkled with plants. The water often resembled more of a big puddle or muddy pond than an oasis, and there was no real place for kids to play or people to sit.

Still, it was a major improvement over the 9 acres of trash-collecting blight that it had been before. The abandoned former bus and rail yard now cleans the runoff waters that flow through it with native plants, offering area schoolchildren firsthand lessons about how ecosystems work. And, the looping trails provide a peaceful spot for joggers, elder residents who enjoy a stroll at sunset, and mothers out for a walk with young children.

Even knowing that neighbors had been slow to embrace it, I was genuinely surprised at how empty it was yesterday afternoon. The high school across the street had just let out and the students that I had seen cutting through the park when it first opened were nowhere to be found.

Taking a loop through the park, I realized that all the exits were locked with rusty padlocked chains. The only open entrance was the one to the parking lot, off Avalon. There would be no passing through the park — you only entered it if you specifically wanted to spend some time there. Read more…