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Posts from the "Parks" Category

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Judge Denies Demolition Injunction for Riverside-Figueroa Bridge

Landbridge supporters rallied on the Riverside Figueroa Bridge this morning, while the fate of the bridge was being decided in court. photo courtesy Kathleen Smith

Landbridge supporters rallied on the Riverside Figueroa Bridge this morning, while the fate of the bridge was being decided in court. photo courtesy Kathleen Smith

At a hearing this morning, Judge James Chalfant denied an appeal that would have stopped the demolition of the city of Los Angeles’ historic Riverside-Figueroa Bridge. Plaintiffs Enrich L.A. and RAC Design Build have been pushing for the city to preserve the span into and convert it into the Landbridge, an elevated park similar to New York City’s High Line.

The Riverside-Figueroa Bridge spans the Los Angeles River in North East Los Angeles. It connects the communities of Elysian Valley and Cypress Park. The existing bridge was built in the 1920s, then partially re-built in the 1950s. In 2006, the Los Angeles City Council approved a project to tear down the bridge and replace it with a widened freeway-scale version. In 2008, the city designated the bridge as a historic-cultural landmark. In 2011, the city began construction on the widened replacement bridge, which opened to car traffic last week.

Landbridge proponents’ counsel asserted that, since the bridge was named a historic landmark, the city is legally required to bring the demolition before its Cultural Heritage Commission, which it has not done. The plaintiffs also assert that the new wide bridge design has changed from what had been approved. Initially designs showed the new bridge inhabiting the same space as the existing bridge. According to the plaintiff’s legal case documents, the “current construction extended beyond approved boundaries by more than 60 feet.” This change in design, unannounced by the city of Los Angeles, has opened space for the two bridges to exist side by side.

Deputy City Attorney Mary Decker asserted that the 2006 City Council approval is all that was needed to proceed.  The city further requested that, if an injunction were approved, the court must:

order immediate posting of a bond by the Petitioners. The amount of the bond must be at a minimum, $18,000/day for each day of delay starting June 9th, 2014, which is the amount of damages the City is estimated to incur based on delays and disruptions to the existing contractor schedule.

At the beginning of the hearing, the judge appeared heavily inclined to side with the city. He asserted that there was an “insurmountable… evidence problem” with Landbridge proponents’ documentation being gathered from city documents posted on-line. He chastened Landbridge proponents that their Cultural Heritage Commission process requests were “too late” and “not the kind of thing you do at the last minute.” Landbridge proponents’ counsel responded that their clients had been working closely with the city, up until the Board of Public Works vote last week, and that asserting legal claims too soon could have soured a process that appeared to some hope of success.  Read more…

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Weekend Update: Lawsuit and Rally to Save Riverside-Figueroa Landbridge

Tomorrow is a crucial decision point for the Riverside-Figueroa Bridge. LandBRIDGE proponents rally at the bridge at 8am.

Tomorrow is a crucial decision point for the Riverside-Figueroa Bridge. Landbridge proponents rally at the bridge at 8am.

Last Wednesday, proponents of preserving the historic Riverside-Figueroa Bridge lost an appeal before the L.A. City Public Works Commission. EnrichLA, RAC Design Build, and others, have pressed for converting the bridge into a “Landbridge” – an elevated park, similar to New York City’s Highline, accessible to pedestrians and cyclists.

Last Thursday, the new parallel bridge opened to traffic; car traffic that is, bicyclists and pedestrians are still awaiting the opening of their facilities. Late Friday, Landbridge leaders filed a lawsuit to prevent demolition. Landbridge proponents are seeking a legal injunction against demolition. The case is scheduled to be heard at 8:30am tomorrow morning at Department 85 or 86 in Los Angeles Superior Court, 111 N. Hill Street in Downtown Los Angeles.

Just before the court hearing tomorrow, Monday June 2nd, 2014, at 8am, there’s also a rally at the bridge itself. Event details at Facebook.

At a time when the city is announcing a billion dollar investment in this stretch of the Los Angeles River, it would be unfortunate for them not to preserve existing structures that contribute the historic character of river.

 

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South L.A. Park Has Great Potential, but Lacks Sidewalks That Would Make it Accessible to All

No sidewalks in sight. Jackie Tatum Harvard Park. Sahra Sulaiman/LA Streetsblog

No sidewalks in sight along 62nd St. at Jackie Tatum Harvard Park. Sahra Sulaiman/LA Streetsblog

When people talk about park access, they usually are referring to whether or not people have a park near their homes.

In the case of the Jackie Tatum Harvard Recreation Center, you have a great park with some great new facilities in South L.A. — a traditionally park-poor area — but it isn’t that easy to access.

The reasons for this are many.

The park, located at 62nd and Denker and has traditionally been a hangout of the Harvard Park Brims (Bloods) sets that run in the area.

As HPB territory is surrounded on all four sides by Crip sets, it has historically been somewhat embattled. Long-time residents all have stories of how active the area and, in particular, the park used to be, both as a place for gang members to party and where daytime shootings were not out of the ordinary.

While things have gotten better of late, gang members can still limit park access; they apparently even temporarily chased out workers putting in the new skate park there just a few years ago. And, the fact that it is a known gang hangout endangers non-gang members, too. In 2012, Patrick Carruthers, a beloved nineteen-year-old park volunteer with a learning disability was shot in the back and killed in a middle-of-the-day walk-up while listening to music on a picnic bench.

Some attempts to manage the problem have been made with the (overdue) installation of cameras around the park last year that are monitored by the LAPD’s 77th Division. But, budget cuts have hurt the ability of parks in lower-income neighborhoods like this one to fill staff positions and offer classes to the community that might help keep youth engaged in healthy activities and out of trouble. And, because many in the area struggle financially, the park lacks the ability to charge fees for programs to cover some of their costs the way one in a wealthier community might be able to do.

No sidewalk here, either. Sahra Sulaiman/LA Streetsblog

No sidewalk here, either. Sahra Sulaiman/LA Streetsblog

The other access issues should be more easily (and are long overdue to be) fixed.

While it may have nice tennis courts, indoor and outdoor basketball courts, an awesome water slide and aquatic center, several playing fields, beach volleyball pits, a playground for kids, and even horseshoe toss pits, if you’re disabled, pushing kids in a stroller, or just want to take a stroll around the park, you’re out of luck.

Somehow, the park has gone all this time without having sidewalks on three sides. Read more…

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Kickball to the Rescue!: How Active Programming in Parks Makes Communities Safer

Championship game of the kickball tournament held this past Sat. at Ted Watkins Park in Watts. Sahra Sulaiman/LA Streetsblog

Championship game of the kickball tournament held this past Sat. at Ted Watkins Park in Watts. Sahra Sulaiman/LA Streetsblog

When I first visited Ted Watkins Park at 103rd and Central in 2001, I didn’t stay very long.

I was exploring the community with my boyfriend of the time, who happened to be white, and we caused quite a stir. A few people even jeered at us, with one asking if we had “come down from the hills” to grace Watts with our presence.

Despite it being one of the few “neutral” sites everyone could access (not located within a housing development or claimed by a gang), the 27-acre park itself didn’t seem particularly welcoming, either. The equipment and facilities were in bad shape and the place felt rather dirty. There wasn’t really much of a picnic area where we could sit down and take everything in, and my ex was pretty sure no one wanted us to do that anyways.

Fast forward a decade and a $6.8 million renovation later, and Ted Watkins Park is a totally different place.

Bright and colorful, nicely landscaped, chock-full of picnic tables, playing fields and handball courts, and peppered with fitness equipment along the west side, it is a jewel of the community.

Jimmy and his daughter take a break from the kickball game. Sahra Sulaiman/LA Streetsblog

Jimmy and his daughter take a break from the sun and the kickball game. Sahra Sulaiman/LA Streetsblog

During daylight hours, you can find many people working out on the equipment and jogging or walking around the outer edge of the park (there is even a path through the tree-lined fitness area on the west side, so folks don’t have to make their way past the guys selling used cars along the park’s edge on Central). The handball courts, skate area, and children’s play area are also always bustling with activity.

With regard to programming, the Watts farmers’ market can be found there Saturday mornings (10 a.m. – 2 p.m.), there are often formal soccer games or informal practices and games happening at one or more of the playing fields, and, in summer, the Parks After Dark program lets people enjoy the park until late into the evening.

While both the renovations and programming play an important role in the park’s success, my observation is that programming plays a bigger role than you might imagine. Read more…

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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…

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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…

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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…

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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…

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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…