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The City Project Equal Justice, Democracy, and Livability for All

Urban Parks

 

Move More, Eat Well, Stay Healthy in Schools and Parks

There are unfair school, park, and health disparities in Los Angeles. The shared use of parks and schools can alleviate the lack of places to play and recreate, while making optimal use of scarce land and public resources. Unfortunately, only 103 out of 605 LAUSD schools have five acres of more of playing fields, and those tend to be located in areas that are disproportionately white and wealthy and have greater access to parks. LAUSD provides 71% more play acres for non-Hispanic white students than for Latino students in elementary schools. There were only 30 joint use agreements between LAUSD and the City of Los Angeles Recreation and Parks Department as of April 2006.

The health implications of the lack of places to play in parks and schools are profound. In California, 73% of fifth, seventh, and ninth graders did not achieve minimum physical fitness standards in 2004. In LAUSD, 87% of students were not physically fit. Yet in 2006, 51% of school districts in California, including LAUSD, did not enforce statutory physical education requirements. At LAUSD's South Gate High School, 1,600 children took the state Fitnessgram test and not one passed. Forty schools did not have a single physically fit student. Less than 10% of students were physically fit in nearly one-third of the 605 schools in LAUSD. Only eight schools had student populations that are more than 50% physically fit.

The City Project is helping students move more, eat well, stay healthy, and do their best in school and in life. Our Policy Report Healthy Parks, Schools, and Communities: Mapping Green Access and Equity for the Los Angeles Region provides ten equal justice principles for healthy, livable schools, parks, and communities for all.

We are taking action through

new Blueprint for Change: Audit of City Parks

Children playing the parkCity Controller Laura Chick recently published three audits that document systemic management failures in the Los Angeles Department of Recreation and Parks, and more importantly, provide a blueprint for reform. The Controller’s major findings and recommendations highlight the need for: a strategic plan to improve park services in every neighborhood, and eliminate or mitigate inequities in parks and recreation; standards to measure equity and progress in achieving reform; a fair system of park financing and recreation fees; a community needs assessment now and every five years; improved park safety; and shared use of parks and schools to make optimal use of scarce land and public resources. The audits cover finances, recreation programs, and maintenance.

The City Project is organizing support to improve park and recreation programs for all the children of Los Angeles and their families and friends through, among other means, implementation of the recommendations in the audits.

The Los Angeles State Historic Park at the Cornfield--"A Heroic Monument" and "A Symbol of Hope" -- L.A. Times

The 32-acre Cornfield is the last vast open space in the heart of Los Angeles. The Cornfield, an abandoned rail yard for over 12 years, lies downtown between Chinatown on the west and the Los Angeles River on the east, within walking distance of City Hall, and just down the hill from Chavez Ravine. Chinatown until now has had no park, and has no middle school or high school with playgrounds, playing fields, or green space. The only elementary school in the area does not have a single blade of grass.

In 1999, the City of Los Angeles and wealthy developers proposed building 32 acres of warehouses on the Cornfield. The City Project helped bring together a diverse alliance of over 35 community, civil rights, environmental, business, and civic organizations and leaders to stop the warehouses and convince the state to purchase the site for a park. Secretary of Housing and Urban Development Andrew Cuomo withheld federal funds for the proposed warehouse project unless there was a full environmental impact statement, including an analysis of environmental justice concerns under Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, its regulations, and other federal laws. Read the 2000 letter from Secretary Cuomo here. Read the Administrative Complaint here.

The abandoned rail yard could have been warehouses.  Instead, it’s a park. “On a deserted railroad yard north of Chinatown, one of Los Angeles’ most powerful and tenacious real estate developers, Ed Roski, Jr., met his match,” as reported in a front page article in the Los Angeles Times. “Robert Garcia . . . organized a civil rights challenge that claimed the project was the result of discriminatory land-use policies that had long deprived minority neighborhoods of parks.”  Jesus Sanchez, L.A.’s Cornfield Row: How Activists Prevailed, L.A. Times, April 17, 2001.  The Los Angeles Times Magazine called the community victory “a heroic monument” and “a symbol of hope.” James Ricci, A Park with No Name (Yet) but Plenty of History, L.A. Times Magazine, July 15, 2001.

In July 2004, the California Department of Parks and Recreation unveiled the conceptual plan for the state historic park at the Cornfield that includes active recreation, cultural activities, natural open space, and a garden. A "Heritage Trail" for pedestrians and bicyclists will incorporate historical, cultural, and natural interpretive themes.

In April 2004, The City Project published an influential and highly acclaimed report on "The Cornfield and the Flow of History: People, Place, and Culture"(2.2 MB [PDF]) to guide the general plan process. The City Project served on the Cornfield State Park Advisory Committee, which recommended that "a park at the Cornfield should be connected to the struggles, the histories, and the cultures of the rich and diverse communities that have surrounded it since the site was settled."

In June 2005, the California State Parks and Recreation Commission named the new park (at the Cornfield site) the Los Angeles State Historic Park. According to the Department of Parks and Recreation, "The purpose of the Los Angeles State Historic Park is to provide the public with a place to learn about and to celebrate the ethnically diverse history and cultural heritage of Los Angeles. . . . The Park will bring a wide range of visitors together to examine and experience the complete story of Los Angeles. It will be a sanctuary from the dense, urban environment that surrounds it. The Park will connect abstract historical and social patterns to the personal experiences of Angelenos and visitors throughout the state, the nation, and the world."

The City Project advocates for public art at the Park that will reflect this vision and the values at stake - giving children safe and healthy places to play, improving recreation and health, equal access to public resources, democratic participation in deciding the future of the community and the Park, creating local jobs and economic vitality, and providing the clean air, water, and ground benefits of urban parks.

The Cornfield exemplifies the struggle by low-income people of color in Los Angeles for livable communities with parks, playgrounds, schools, and recreation. In addition to creating playing fields and open space in a neighborhood that has none, the park in the Cornfield will improve the quality of life, create quality jobs, increase tourism and property values, promote economic revitalization of the community, and preserve invaluable cultural and historic resources in the birthplace of Los Angeles.

Rio de Los Angeles State Park at Taylor Yard and the Greening of the Los Angeles River

Taylor YardThe groundbreaking for the state park in Taylor Yard took place in January 2005. The state awarded $5.5 million for soccer fields and youth services at Taylor Yard as part of the greening of the Los Angeles River in November 2004. The federal government has also awarded $3 million for the River Revitalization Plan. The City Project helped shape the social and environmental justice components of the revitalization plan.

The City Project helped build and lead the effort to stop an industrial development and create a park in Taylor Yard that will meet the diverse needs of diverse users. In November 2003, state and local officials unveiled the conceptual plan for Taylor Yard. The 40-acre park will feature soccer fields, a running track, and other sports. The park will also have 20 acres of natural parkland, a picnic area, bike paths, and an amphitheater.

"Anahuak is thrilled with the design for Taylor Yard," said Raul Macías, founder and president of our client the Anahuak Youth Soccer Association. "The children of this area will now have more space to play soccer and spend time with their families. Our children have learned a lot through the planning process; now they are looking forward to watching the park be built." The City Project has represented Anahuak throughout the struggle for the park at Taylor Yard.

Today, The City Project is working to link Taylor Yard, the Cornfield, El Pueblo Historic Monument, the Los Angeles River, and 100 cultural, historical, educational, environmental, and recreational sites through the Heritage Parkscape in the heart of Los Angeles.

The City Project published the Policy Report Dreams of Fields (572 KB [PDF]) presenting the policy and legal justifications for a balanced park with active and passive recreation in Taylor Yard and the Cornfield.

The Baldwin Hills Park and Community: Health and Environmental Impacts of Oil Drilling

The City Project is working with the Baldwin Hills Conservancy, Community Health Councils, and local leaders to study the impact of oil drilling on the Baldwin Hills community and park. The County of Los Angeles has imposed a one year moratorium on any new oil drilling to prepare a full environmental impact report and community standards district (zoning) to regulate the impact of pollution, noise, and vibrations from oil drilling on health, parks and recreation, homes, schools, businesses, clean air, clean water, and climate justice.

The City Project has worked with the community to save the park in the Baldwin Hills many times over the years. We helped stop a power plant in the park in 2001, stopped the development of a garbage dump in 2003, stopped a proposal to close the Baldwin Hills Conservancy and eliminate its budget in 2005, stopped 24 new oil wells in 2007. Strengthened by years of successful struggles, the community remains more determined than ever to make the vision for a park in the Baldwin Hills come true for all the people of California to enjoy.

The Baldwin Hills in the historic heart of African-American Los Angeles will be a two-square mile park, the nation's biggest natural urban park created in over 100 years. The Baldwin Hills Park will provide the diverse and park-poor region with much needed green space for recreation, conservation, education, and economic vitality.

Read the Culver City News coverage of the oil drilling and environmental summit in the Baldwin Hills.

On July 11, 2005, Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger and the Legislature approved the final state budget that included over $9 million for the Baldwin Hills Park and Conservancy.  State officials listened to the people and rejected the proposal by the California Performance Review (CPR) to eliminate the Conservancy and its state funding.

The City Project spearheaded a community alliance that saved the Baldwin Hills Conservancy and the park in the Baldwin Hills. The master plan for a two-square mile park in the Baldwin Hills was jeopardized by Governor Schwarzenegger's California Performance Review (CPR), which sought to eliminate the Conservancy and state funding to support it.

At the same time the CPR recommended abolishing the Baldwin Hills Conservancy, the Governor signed legislation to create a new conservancy for the Sierra Nevada that could cost the state as much as $10 million per year. The Governor's own press release said the new Conservancy will promote resource conservation and economic benefits in the counties within the Sierra Nevada region. California Resources Agency Secretary Mike Chrisman says people living within the borders of the new Conservancy will be able to protect the environment in which they live while influencing the prosperity of their communities. State officials cannot justifiably provide these benefits to some communities, while taking them away from the diverse Baldwin Hills communities. All communities are entitled to a fair share of the benefits of conservancies and natural lands. The solution is not to pit one community against another, but to distribute the benefits fairly for all.

"I think people sometimes think they can do things like this, believing that this community won't have people to speak up for them, but they're wrong," Robert García told the Los Angeles Times on October 22, 2004. "This is a human rights issue and fundamentally an issue of equal justice."

The City Project submitted public comments (188 KB [PDF]) in support of the Baldwin Hills Conservancy to the CPR on behalf of a diverse alliance.

Historic groundbreaking for Ascot Hills Park in East Los Angeles! Again

In response to community demands led by The City Project, Concerned Citizens of South Central Los Angeles, California Pan Ethnic Health Network (CPEHN), and PolicyLink, as well as hard hitting coverage in the Los Angeles Times, the city of Los Angeles held a ground breaking - again - for the Ascot Hills Park in East Los Angeles on June 14, 2010 - four years after the city held the ground breaking for the same Ascot Hills Park in East L.A. in November  2005, but failed to open the park.

"[I]n East L.A. itself, the largest open space is Evergreen Cemetery, which basically sends a message to kids: 'If you want open space, you have to die first,' The City Project's Robert García told the Los Angeles Times in 2004, when the community proposed the park. Miguel Bustillo, Former Foes Unite Behind a Proposal to Turn Old Reservoir Site into a Park, L.A. Times, Jan. 15, 2004.

According to a Los Angeles Times Editorial in November 2005, "downtown and Eastside residents could be hiking and watching the setting sun backlight downtown's skyscrapers from Ascot Hills by the end of next year"  --  that is to say, by the end of 2005.  L.A. Times Editorial, A Diamond in the Rough, Jan. 17, 2004.

Why the four year delay in opening Ascot Hills Park?

No good reason.

The City Project recently asked the city why Ascot Hills Park is still not open after four years, and received the following responses under the Public Records Act on April 23, 2010:

11.  Any reason why open, green space in Ascot Hills is gated and locked to the public with No Trespassing signs posted.

CITY  RESPONSE: "After a thorough search of the Department's files, it has been determined that the Department does not have any records responsive to this request."

12.  Any reason why the public cannot use the open, green space in Ascot Hills that is gated and locked.

CITY  RESPONSE: "After a thorough search of the Department's files, it has been determined that the Department does not have any records responsive to this request."

13.  Any comments from the public or public officials regarding the operation of Ascot Hills park as a passive park, which would require little maintenance.

CITY  RESPONSE: "After a thorough search of the Department's files, it has been determined that the Department does not have any records responsive to this request."

14.  Any reason why Ascot Hills, or parts of Ascot Hills, cannot operate as a passive park now?

CITY  RESPONSE: "After a thorough search of the Department's files, it has been determined that the Department does not have any records responsive to this request."

The City Project and Mountains Conservation and Recreation (MRCA) have offered to take over the project and open the park faster than the city will.

Now the city claims that the park will celebrate its "grand opening early next year."  The City Project working with the community will serve as a watch dog to make sure the city this time keeps its promises to the children of East L.A. and their families and friends.

Louis Sahagun reported in the Los Angeles Times as follows:

Against a backdrop of smiling children, cheering officials and rolling grasslands, Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa savored a groundbreaking ceremony on Nov. 1, 2005, for a nature preserve just northeast of downtown, declaring it "a historic moment for this community."

"The effort was a great example of what can be accomplished when the community and elected officials work toward a common goal -- in this case, preserving green, open space for the public to enjoy," said Villaraigosa, wearing a white hard hat and clutching a shovel to turn the first spadeful of dirt at Ascot Hills Park.

Today, the property tucked in the working-class communities of Lincoln Heights and Hillside Village stands as an emblem of what has not been accomplished. Scant areas of the 140-acre park are open to the public. Its most panoramic hilltops and largest patches of remnant native plants remain locked up behind "no trespassing" signs.

The park was scheduled to be completed by June 2007, according to an analysis of park documents conducted by the City Project, a nonprofit organization dedicated to creating more public open space.

"Instead, we have padlocks, no trespassing signs and broken promises -- and no good explanation for it," said attorney Robert Garcia, executive director of the City Project, which has begun the process to file a suit against the city.

Surveying the land recently from a road blocked by a locked gate, he shook his head and said, "These locks and signs are symbols of bureaucratic incompetence and political indifference toward our rights to open space."

Joe Edmiston, executive director of the Mountains Recreation and Conservation Authority, a joint powers authority under contract to design and manage the park, would not go that far. But he was only half-kidding when he said in an interview, "I hope Mayor Villaraigosa's New Year's resolution is to finish Ascot Hills Park in 2010."

Read the rest of the article by Louis Sahagun, City Years Behind Finishing Ascot Hills Park in East L.A., in the Los Angeles Times, Jan. 2, 2010, here: www.cityprojectca.org/blog/archives/3146.

Click on the image above for more pictures of Ascot Hills.

Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa issued the following press release in 2005.

"Mayor Breaks Ground on 140-Acre Park: Largest Open Space on LA's Eastside

Los Angeles, CA (November 1, 2005) - Mayor Antonio R. Villaraigosa, CD 14, the Mountains Recreation, and Conservation Authority (MCRA), and the Los Angeles Department of Recreation and Parks today hosted a groundbreaking ceremony for Ascot Hills Park, the largest passive park and open space on LA's Eastside.

In February, then-Councilmember Villaraigosa announced a $3 million state grant had been secured to convert Ascot Hills, located between El Sereno and Hillside Village, into a 140-acre passive park, offering hiking and nature trails, an outdoor learning center for children, as well as open grass areas with trees.

Partnering with the MRCA, a public entity dedicated to the preservation and management of local open space and the group that will manage the new park, Villaraigosa authored the $3 million grant in January 2004 and coordinated a grassroots letter-writing campaign that sent thousands of letters to Governor Schwarzenegger. The grant was secured from Proposition 40, the 'California Clean Air, Clean Water, Safe Neighborhood Parks, and Coastal Protection Act of 2002.'

Villaraigosa and the MRCA pursued the grant in response to local residents', students', and environmentalists' efforts to block various proposals to develop the area for other uses.

'The groundbreaking of this 140-acre park is an historic moment for this community,' said Mayor Villaraigosa. 'The effort was a great example of what can be accomplished when the community and elected officials work towards a common goal - in this case, preserving green, open space for the public to enjoy.'

After holding a town hall meeting on the idea and submitting the grant application, the Councilmember's office, along with The City Project, generated 6,000 letters from the public to the governor in support of the project that faced stiff competition from numerous other proposals. The Councilmember also met with the governor's Chief of Staff in September 2004 to further lobby for the funding.

Until recently, the site has been used by the DWP to train pole climbers and repairmen."

That is the end of the Mayor's press release.

Lawsuits Seek to Keep Historic Millard Canyon and Altadena Crest Trails Open for All

A Pasadena Star News editorial urges La Vina homeowners to “live up to the original agreement” and allow public access to Millard Canyon and hiking trails: “The situation is akin to those who live on the beach, public property, who want to fence it off from that very public owner. That’s just not right.”

Private firms have filed a complaint to preserve public access to the trails in historic Millard Canyon that begins in the Angeles National Forest and ends at the Arroyo Seco in Altadena. Property owners in the gated La Viña enclave have sought to cut off public access to the trails by posting "No Trespassing" signs and harassing hikers and equestrians. The suit names La Viña Homeowners Association, the County of Los Angeles, and the Santa Monica Mountains Conservancy as defendants. Recently, the public won a victory when the court ruled that the case may proceed to trial, throwing out the property owners’ objections.

The trails have been used by the public for millennia, beginning with the Native Americans who traveled seasonally through the canyon from the mountains to the plains along the Arroyo Seco and the Los Angeles River. In the 1820s, Millard Canyon was known as Church Canyon because the lumber to build La Placita Catholic Church was brought from the canyon to the original Pueblo de Los Angeles, the birth place of the City. La Placita (now also known as Our Lady Queen of Angels Church) was the first church built in Los Angeles and is now in El Pueblo Historic Monument. Robert Owens, a slave who bought his freedom and moved to Millard Canyon around 1850, used local trails to get firewood and building materials down to the U.S. Army post near the Los Angeles harbor. Owen Brown, son of abolitionist John Brown, moved to Altadena after surviving his father's raid on a government arsenal at Harper's Ferry in Virginia in 1859. Owen Brown was buried on a peak overlooking Millard Canyon.

Plaintiffs Marietta Kruells and Karina Macias are members of the public and taxpaying residents of the County concerned with the obstruction of their right to access, use and travel on the open space and trails.

The suit seeks to keep the trails open for all, and to preserve the rich historical and cultural legacy of Millard Canyon and the beauty of the site. Los Angeles is park poor. The trails are needed for hiking and horse back riding, to improve human health through recreation, to promote spiritual and environmental values of stewardship of the earth, and for equal access to public resources, whether or not one can afford to live in a secluded gated enclave. Plaintiff Save the Altadena Trails filed a similar suit on July 19, 2005, represented by the law firm of Monroe & Zinder. The County of Los Angeles also filed a suit on July 21, 2005.

The effort to preserve access to historic Millard Canyon has been covered by the Los Angeles Times and the Pasadena Star-News.

Save Public Access to the Big Wild in Westridge-Canyon Back Wilderness Park

Westridge Canyon Back Wilderness ParkPrivate developers and wealthy homeowners seek to block access to the Westridge Canyon Back Wilderness Park in the Santa Monica Mountains, one of the most precious natural resources in Southern California. The "Big Wild" is a 21,000 acre urban wilderness with a continuous network of green space and trails stretching from the San Fernando Valley to the Pacific Ocean. The roads and trails must remain open for all.

Part of the Canyonback Trail is a public street, Canyonback Road, just west of the Sepulveda Pass along the 405 Freeway. Last year, a wealthy homeowners' association tried to gate off Canyonback Road to restrict public access to public parkland. Thanks to tremendous public opposition, we stopped construction of the Canyonback Gate – temporarily.

A new development is being planned along Canyonback Ridge, to the south of Canyonback Road. The developer wants to privatize the area, including Canyonback Trail. If the City approves, the public will be forced to beg access from residents of the planned private gated enclave. While the developer promises that it will provide pedestrian access, future residents could restrict or prohibit public access.

This plan should have been fully analyzed in the Environmental Impact Report ("EIR"), but the EIR ignores the issue. The developer must circulate an EIR that analyzes these impacts and how to maintain public access.

Another scheme calls for the creation of a substandard "bypass trail" to route trail users off Canyonback Road, which would be privatized and gated. This two-mile bypass trail would be carved into the steep, unstable, landslide-ridden slopes that would be impossible to maintain, thereby degrading public access. But by then Canyonback Road would be "private," and the public would have lost forever access to this public parkland. The bypass trail would destabilize the hillsides, placing lives and property at risk in the canyon below.

Evolving Strategies for Securing Open Space:
Legal Tactics Aid Movement's Efforts To Secure Land In Park-Poor Los Angeles

By: Anne Marie Ruff
Los Angeles Daily Journal
November 14, 2005

Evolving Strategies for Securing Open SpaceLOS ANGELES - A 20-year legal battle over 14 acres at the corner of Alameda and 41st streets in South Los Angeles points up how legal strategies have evolved, as part of the Urban Park Movement, for securing open space in a city that is 'park-poor.'

Meanwhile, the latest chapter in the fight for open space is being written a few miles away in East Los Angeles.

Here, 100 acres of undeveloped, rolling hills owned by the Department of Water and Power recently has been designated as Ascot Hills park. The conversion required just a few minutes of discussion with the key players.

The earlier battle over the Alameda space began in the mid-1980s when the city bought the land through eminent domain from its owner, Ralph Horowitz, developer of Home Depot on Figueroa Street and the Los Angeles River Center. The city's plan was to build a garbage incinerator. But the community successfully fought to stop the incinerator.

What they got instead was a 14-acre vacant lot.

The link between these two sites is Robert Garcia of [The City Project at] the Center for Law in the Public Interest.  The center represented Concerned Citizens of South Central LA to stop the incinerator in the mid-'80's and has been a driving force behind the new East Los Angeles park, Ascot Hills.

The difference between these two sites is almost 20 years of lessons learned.

Garcia said of the Alameda space, "with 20/20 hindsight, it would have been better to come up with an alternative affirmative public good, rather than just stop the development."

In 1996. . . Garcia was part of a coalition that included the Busriders Union, the NAACP Legal Defense and Education Fund and Environmental Defense that had just won a federal consent decree against the Metropolitan Transit Authority.

He received a call from Mayor Richard Riordan.

Garcia said, "He wanted me to look at Ascot Hills [in East Los Angeles] as a possible park site. He said, 'You need to bring a lawsuit against the city. Suing that park allocation is discriminatory.'"

Garcia was surprised: "I said, 'You're the mayor. You should be able to make Ascot Hills into a park.' But Riordan said he needed the pressure of a lawsuit to get it through."

Garcia figured that the same approach he had used against the MTA - arguing for equal access to public resources - could be used to argue for parks as well.

But before he could test this theory with Ascot Hills, Majestic Realty, the huge commercial developer that built the Staples Center, proposed buying and developing the Cornfields, a 32-acre abandoned rail yard east of Chinatown in 1999.

The Cornfields had been owned by Union Pacific for a hundred years but unused for the last 10. Garcia saw this as an opportunity to suggest to the city the development of a park on the parcel.

He said Riordan, who favored the commercial development, "fought us tooth and nail."

So Garcia developed a strategy that was political and legal. Political pressure came through the formation of the Chinatown Alliance.

His legal theory blended civil rights, environmental law and historic preservation. His legal strategy included filing a California Environmental Quality Act claim in state court and an administrative complaint with the federal Housing and Urban Development authority (Majestic was seeking $12 million, or nearly 75 percent of the project's cost in HUD subsidies).

The complaints proposed a park as an alternative and argued Majestic had failed to do a comprehensive environmental impact report. In response to the complaint, HUD withheld any funding, pending the completion of an environmental impact report considering both the development and park alternatives.

William Delvak, a partner at Latham & Watkins, represented Majestic. He said legal strategies based on civil rights or environmental protection were irrelevant. "It was a simple land use dispute," he said. "I don't think land use litigation is a very efficient way to secure open space. The best way is through zoning and the city's general planning process."

But Delvak negotiated with the Center for Law in the Public Interest and came up with an agreement that if the center could find funding to buy the land for a park, Majestic would pull out. If it could not find funding, the center would withdraw its opposition to the development.

The state was willing to spend $36 million worth of the $2.1 billion park bond authorized by Proposition 12 to buy the site. Majestic pulled out.

Although it will take another several years to secure the funding to develop the Cornfields into a full-fledged park, Garcia saw this as a vindication of his strategy.

The Center for Law in the Public Interest has used a similar legal rationale and strategy to secure the Taylor yards (adjacent to the Cornfields) and land in Baldwin Hills for open space.

As for Riordan's idea to create a park in Ascot Hills - it was opposed by the community, which preferred the undeveloped hills to the leveling Riordan proposed to create soccer fields.

In 2004 Garcia met with Joe Edmiston of the Santa Monica Mountains Conservancy. They hatched a plan to propose the land, which had been owned by the Department of Water and Power for the last 80 years, be turned into a passive park (an open area without playgrounds or sports equipment).

They organized community support and took their plan to Councilman Antonio Villaraigosa, who had a good record on environmental and minority issues. "It was amazing. Within 15 minutes he said we could make it happen. It didn't require a lawsuit or a legal complaint. Villaraigosa exhibited leadership," Garcia said.

The Santa Monica Mountains Conservancy now has a $1-a-year 50-year, renewable lease from the Department of Water and Power. It will restore native vegetation and maintain a park ranger at Ascot Hills.

Garcia considers it a success for the Urban Park Movement and the evolution of his legal and political strategy.

Larry Kaplan, the L.A. area director for the Trust for Public Land, commends Garcia and the Center for Law in the Public Interest for their successes but thinks there need to be alternate strategies. "If you are not able to get open space through regulation or litigation, then buy it." The Trust for Public Land has basically worked as a real estate organization to buy open space with public and private money and transfer it to park districts or private land trusts.

While this has been a long-used strategy in rural areas, it is relatively new in urban settings. The use of urban land trusts has grown as part of the Urban Park Movement.

In the last 10 years the Trust for Public Land has helped secure open space in the Ballona wetlands, in areas along the Los Angeles River northeast of downtown and in the city of Maywood, in Watts near Jordan Downs and in the Cornfields, following Majestic's dispute with the Center for Law in the Public Interest.

In a similar fashion, the L.A. Neighborhood Land Trust has helped raise public funding, known as conservation financing, to buy up open spaces in the last year and a half. Tsilah Burman, executive director of the L.A. Neighborhood Land Trust, said, "We work with really small parcels, 5,000-to-12,000 square feet."

While the trust received seed money from the city, "as an independent nonprofit we have more freedom to be more entrepreneurial and work outside of the bureaucracy," she said.

But Garcia is optimistic that with the current mayor, the bureaucracy is open to open-space proposals.

Ascot Hills is now the largest open space in east Los Angeles, a claim that previously went to Evergreen Cemetery. Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa said, "Now the kids of East Los Angeles know they don't have to die to get open space."

Urban Parks, Healthy Communities, and Infrastructure Talks

The failure of the negotiations over infrastructure bonds in Sacramento is bad for urban parks, for revitalizing communities, and for the children of California, but the struggle is not over. We can and will continue to build diverse alliances to fight for urban park funds to be distributed fairly among all communities.

The Senate infrastructure package that was being negotiated as of March 15, 2006, included about $2 billion for urban park type projects, and $2 billion for wilderness park type projects. We urge the Governor and legislative leadership to put together a similar package for the November 2006 ballot.

Statewide environmental groups have also put together a $5.388 billion water bond for the November 2006 ballot that would provide funds that can be used for urban parks, including about $490 million directly for urban park type projects, and another $600 million that can include urban park projects including the greening of the Los Angeles and San Gabriel Rivers. The California Department of Parks and Recreation must prioritize a fair share of its $400 million for urban parks. Another $800 million for flood control purposes can be used for urban park projects. The Sepulveda basin in Los Angeles, for example, is a park and flood control basin.

People of color were instrumental in passing Prop 40 in 2002, which included funding for urban parks. They will make a difference again in November 2006. Prop 40 passed with the support of 77% of Black voters, 74% of Latino voters, 60% of Asian voters, and 56% of non-Hispanic White voters. Seventy-five percent of voters with an annual family income below $20,000, and 61% with a high school diploma or less, supported Prop 40 – the highest among any income or education levels. Traditional environmentalists need to work with diverse communities to pass resource bonds for the good of all the people.

Regions and cities around the state reflect the need for urban parks, including Oakland and the Bay Area, and Fresno. The Los Angeles region, for example, is park poor, and there are unfair disparities in access to parks and recreation. Children of color living in poverty with no access to cars have the worst access to parks and recreation, as the linked map illustrates (map 201) (941 KB, PDF). Too many people live more than half a mile from the nearest park (map 202) (754 KB, PDF). Children of color disproportionately live in the state assembly districts with the highest levels of child obesity and the worst access to parks and recreation (map 601) (611 KB, PDF). This is the first generation in the history of the country in which children will have a lower life expectancy than their parents if present trends in obesity and other diseases related to inactivity continue.

There are unfair disparities in access to parks and recreation by Assembly District and Senate District. Thus, for example, Speaker Fabian Nuñez's District 46 has only .51 net acres of urban parks per thousand residents, compared to 283 net acres in Senate District 37. Senator Kevin Murray's District 26 has only 1.18 net acres of urban parks per thousand residents, compared to 160 in Senate District 17. The disparities are even more dramatic if total acres of parks including forests and other large natural open spaces are included, as illustrated by the charts and graphs for State Assembly District and State Senate District. For example, Speaker Nuñez's District 46 has only .51 total acres of parks per thousand residents, compared to 3,348.72 in District 37 (217A and 220A).

According to a survey by the Public Policy Institute of California, 64% of Californians believe that poorer communities have less than their fair share of well-maintained parks and recreational facilities. [Mark Baldasare, Public Policy Institute of California Statewide Survey: Special Survey on Californians and the Environment vi (June 2002)].

State and local school bond funds can be used for the shared use of schools and parks. Schools must be built with playing fields open after school and on weekends. The same children need schools and parks for places to play and engage in physical activity to improve their health and reduce obesity and diabetes. Fully 87% of the children in public schools in the Los Angeles Unified School District are not physically fit.  The same taxpayers pay for schools and parks.  The shared use of parks and schools can alleviate the lack of places to play and recreate, while making optimal use of scarce land and public resources. This is demonstrated by the map of parks and schools with five acres or more of playing fields (map 502).

California faces an historic opportunity to improve the quality of life enjoyed by our residents for generations to come. Strategic infrastructure investments will enhance the economic competitiveness of the state, increase social equity, and improve the environment. Infrastructure plans should be guided by statewide interests, but tailored by region to meet particular needs and priorities.

Urban parks, open space and related human health issues are a critical component of any state, regional, and local infrastructure plan for livable, just communities. Urban parks promote the core values at stake in building public infrastructure: providing children the simple joys of playing in the park; improving health and recreation; equal access to public resources; democratic participation in deciding the future of the community; economic vitality for all with increased property values, local jobs, small business contracts, and affordable housing; spiritual values in protecting people and the earth; the environmental benefits of clean air, water, and ground; and sustainable regional planning.

The City Project will continue to fight (1) for significant funding for urban parks resulting from any resource or infrastructure bonds as part of a comprehensive plan to promote economic, environmental, and equitable development for all, and (2) to make sure that underserved communities receive their fair share of public benefits.

The City Project is working with a diverse and growing urban park network including: Alianza del Rio, Amigos De Los Rios, Anahuak Youth Soccer Association, Asociacion de Fraternidades Guatemaltecas, Association for Environmental and Outdoor Education, Audubon Society, Center for Law in the Public Interest, Coalition for Clean Air, Congreso de Hermandad Centro Americana, Eco Maya, Federaciones de Guanajuato, Federaciones Mexicanas, Highland Park Neighborhood Council, KIPP: LA Prep, Mujeres de la Tierra, National Hispanic Environmental Council, Nature Conservancy, North East Trees, Organización en California de Líderes Campesinas, People for Parks, Salvadorian American National Association, Sierra Club, Socal Grassroots, Trust for Public Land, William C. Velásquez Institute, and Youth Empowered Scholastic Sport Service (YESSS).

What You Can Do:

Check The City Project’s web site and blog regularly for new developments concerning healthy parks, schools, and communities. 

Write to the Governor, Speaker, Senate President Pro Tempore, and other Conferees letting them know you support urban park funding that reaches underserved communities in any infrastructure bond. A sample letter (38 KB, PDF) with the contact information for office holders is attached. Please send a blind copy to The City Project, or otherwise let us know what action you take.