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FIGHTING THIS CONSERVANCY WON’T BE A WALK IN THE PARK

Baldwin Hills project is on state’s performance review hit list
but has strong local support.

By Lisa Richardson
Los Angeles Times
October 22, 2004

First they fought off a power plant.

Then they defeated a garbage dump.

Now people who have struggled for decades to transform a forlorn
patch of hills and swamps into a park stretching from the Baldwin
Hills to Culver City are preparing to take on Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger.

FOR THE RECORD:
Land conservancies — An article in Friday’s California
section about the Baldwin Hills Conservancy said the California
Performance Review proposed to save $2.1 million by eliminating
the conservancy. The report proposed saving $2.1 million by eliminating
five conservancies, including the Baldwin Hills agency.

The California Performance Review, charged by Schwarzenegger
with finding ways to save money and streamline state bureaucracy,
has recommended eliminating the Baldwin Hills Conservancy and
four others, including one in the San Gabriel Valley.

The report, which identifies more than 100 semi-independent government
agencies as extraneous, contends that the state could save $2.1
million annually by getting rid of the conservancy and putting
the land’s fate into local hands.

There is no guarantee that Schwarzenegger will forward the report’s
recommendation to the Legislature. But even the slightest suggestion
of losing hard-fought political power over the Baldwin Hills is
spurring a spirited fight.

With acres of dun-colored hills dotted with oil pumps abutting
scenic Kenneth Hahn State Recreation Area, the Baldwin Hills may
not be as easy to love as the High Sierra of Ansel Adams. But its
supporters insist that one day they will be.

The upland areas of the Baldwin Hills are a key watershed, and
the lowlands help filter the water that flows into Ballona Creek,
which empties into Santa Monica Bay at Marina del Rey. It is one
of the few places where coastal sage scrub and foxes survive in
an urban setting.

The Baldwin Hills Conservancy project, which includes Kenneth
Hahn and several smaller nearby parks, also is vital to a predominantly
black area of the city that is starved for recreational space,
advocates say.

“Within a 5-mile radius of the Baldwin Hills, there’s one
picnic table for every 10,000 people; one playground per 23,000
people and one soccer field for 30,000 people,” said Michael
Jones, president of the Friends of Baldwin Hills. “We need
our park.”

Of about 45,000 people who live in the hills, which include Baldwin
Hills, View Park, Windsor Hills and Ladera Heights, more than three
quarters are black, 9% are Latino and 6% are white, according to
the 2000 U.S. census.

The immediate neighborhood is home to one of the wealthiest African
American neighborhoods in the nation, one that wields substantial
political might. To those residents, the proposal to eliminate
the conservancy will constitute a return to the days when city
and county zoning decisions tried to foist undesirable projects
on minority neighborhoods.

“I think people sometimes think they can do things like this,
believing that this community won’t stand up for their rights and
won’t have people to speak up for them, but they’re wrong,” said
Robert García, executive director of The City Project, which says it will sue if Schwarzenegger follows
through on the report’s recommendation.

“This is a human rights issue and fundamentally an issue
of equal justice,” García added. “We will fight for the
children of Baldwin Hills.”

The Angeles Chapter of the Sierra Club also has joined the fight
to save both the Baldwin Hills and the Rivers and Mountains conservancies,
the San Gabriel organization.

“These two are of particular concern to the Sierra Club because
we are very eager not only to protect wilderness but also to improve
life in urban environments,” said Bonnie Sharpe, spokeswoman
for chapter.

“Everybody recognizes that this is not right.

“I’m not Latino, I’m not African American; I live in Orange
County. But I feel strongly about this, so what does that tell
you?” she asked.

The California Performance Review recommendations do not suggest
that parks are not needed in Baldwin Hills.

But unlike vast mountain ranges like the Santa Monicas and Sierra
Nevada, the report said, two square miles of Baldwin Hills do not
merit a state-level conservancy because they are not “of statewide
interest that benefit all Californians.”

In addition, the report says, eliminating the conservancy could
allow the state to redirect $2.1 million annually, mostly of it
from environmental license plate fees, toward other environmental
causes.

The fate of $40 million in bond money approved by voters for the
conservancy to purchase and preserve acreage, however, remains
unresolved.

“That’s the $64,000 question,” said Sen. Kevin Murray
(D-Culver City), who, along with former Assembly Speakers Herb
Wesson and Antonio Villaraigosa, helped shepherd the creation of
the conservancy through the Legislature.

“The money at this point does not revert back to anywhere,” Murray
said. “This points to the absurdity of this proposal.”

Schwarzenegger’s review board also has recommended eliminating
the Rivers and Mountains Conservancy, which has helped restore
stretches of the San Gabriel River shoreline in heavily Latino
eastern Los Angeles County.

“This governor doesn’t understand he opened up a can of worms
here,” said Rep. Hilda Solis (D-El Monte), who helped create
the Rivers and Mountains Conservancy in 1999.

Like the Baldwin Hills, the far eastern corner of Los Angeles
County has been a “dumping ground for negative projects,” Solis
said, citing the area’s vast gravel pits. For the 68 cities in
the conservancy area, the gradual restoration of land along the
river has instilled both pride and hope, she said.

“I grew up here, picnicking and vacationing along the river
and the canyon,” Solis said. “You couldn’t go to the
beach, so what you did was go to the creek. Many families couldn’t
afford to go to Yellowstone or Sequoia National Park, so that’s
something a lot of people here relate to.”

That Schwarzenegger might cut two urban conservancies soon after
he signed legislation to create a land conservancy to protect the
Sierra Nevada comes as a double blow to advocates for urban parks.

“You can’t just be for clean air and protecting birds and
protecting fish; you’ve got to do something for people,” said
Murray.

“We’ve spent decades saving various species of rats while
letting inner-city kids languish away without having opportunities
for recreation.”