Red, White, Blue – and Green: On July 4th, Hopes for More Parks Access in L.A. County
New America Media, News Report, George White
In Los Angeles County – like much of America — July 4th is a day many will celebrate at parks and beaches. Hundreds of thousands of L.A. residents will flock to grassy preserves and ocean fronts to frolic and observe fireworks, demonstrating their love of natural settings as well as country.
When the fireworks smoke clears, the LA County Board of Supervisors will take a big step towards protecting local parks and open spaces for generations to come.
On July 5, the Board is expected to decide whether to place a parks funding measure on the November ballot. If the board approves a new proposition, advocates for more parks access for people of color (who constitute a majority in the county) are hopeful it will pass.
Some of those hopes are based on recent parks improvements in underserved areas. Park lands in the Baldwin Hills region, a predominantly black community, are a favored July 4th destination. Funds from the Baldwin Hills Conservancy and the office of Los Angeles County Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas helped finance a hiking trail in one of the region’s recreational areas.
Robert Garcia, a prominent Los Angeles civil rights attorney, is among the hopeful. In an interview, he noted that Santa Monica Beach is a popular Independence Day venue for many because it is accessible via bus and rail lines. Garcia is a promoter of the county’s natural wonders but he has also spent much of his career fighting for the creation of more and better parks amenities for low-income communities.
“These communities have been willing to tax themselves, but the moneys from public bonds and tax measures have to be invested equitably,” said Garcia, founding director of City Project, a parks advocacy nonprofit that has won numerous legal battles to create and save park land.
There are signs that a new parks tax could regain robust support from voters of color.
In 2014, Proposition P, a countywide parks measure, was narrowly defeated. Responding to criticisms about implementation, the LA County Board of Supervisors embarked on a Needs Assessment in which every city participated, providing input on the unique needs facing their communities. Thousands of residents were consulted and helped to identify priorities based on a more specific needs assessment. Those priorities, in turn, informed the measure that the Board is considering placing on the ballot, helping to ensure that all communities, including communities of color, are represented.
Also, a June poll by a public opinion research firm (Fairbank, Maslin, Maullin, Metz & Associates) indicates that a new ballot initiative would receive enough of the traditionally pro-parks Latino, African-American and Asian-American votes to generate the two-thirds majority required to pass a new levy. The respondent tally: 79 percent of Latinos, 75 percent of African Americans, 65 percent of Asian/Pacific Islanders and 64 percent of whites indicated a willingness to vote for a new parks ballot.
“The county has a needs assessment that is more promising,” said Garcia. The recent Fairbank public opinion poll reflects “the concern of people of color, residents who have the worst access to parks and the highest obesity rates,” Garcia said.
As July 4th draws near, other leading parks access advocates are weighing in on county voter predispositions, favored July 4th venues and the prospect of creating more outdoor recreation opportunities for underserved communities.
Consider the Baldwin Hills Scenic Overlook, a 500-foot peak in a restored area of an urban park just southwest of downtown Culver City. The state of California purchased the property in 2000 and closed it in 2006 to create hiking trails and stairs for accessibility. The peak is now considered one of the best county venues for viewing fireworks. Parks access advocates such as Jose Gonzalez, founder of the Los Angeles-based Latino Outdoors, would like to make it more accessible to parks-poor communities.
Gonzalez and Rue Mapp, founder of Oakland-based Outdoor Afro – another parks access advocacy group – are among the founding members of Parks Now, a coalition dedicated to improving state and county parks for the underserved. Parks Now has used the Baldwin Hills Scenic Overlook as a backdrop to promote a “Parks Forward” state legislative initiative designed to create funding and programming to meet the parks needs of an “increasingly urban, diverse and young California.”
Grand Park in downtown Los Angeles is one of the preserves that could benefit from new parks funding. The annual Grand Park July 4th “block party,” which offers food, free music and fireworks, attracts a diverse population. That event will presage the decision on a possible new parks funding measure that may be made the following day by county supervisors meeting only 500 feet away.