Parks in Los Angeles County need more money to pay for everything from better lighting and equipment to more police and recreational programs, according to a needs assessment report being finalized for county supervisors.
The findings, compiled from feedback received from residents during 178 public meetings across the county will be presented to supervisors May 3 to help them determine whether there is an urgent need to place a parks funding proposition on the November ballot.
“We’ve all benefited from little and big open spaces,” said Jane Beesley, district director of the Los Angeles County Regional Park and Open Space District at an Earth Day news briefing/environmental justice forum hosted by New America Media.
“We need our parks and now our parks need us,” Beesley said.
Over the last two decades, funding for county parks was supplemented through Proposition A — a county parks tax approved by voters in 1992 that expired last year. A supplemental levy approved in 1996 is scheduled to expire in June 2019.
Since 1992, the Regional Park and Open Space District – which administers Prop A revenue – has funded almost 1,500 park-related projects across the county. In addition to ongoing maintenance, the special parcel tax has helped pay for projects like a new Olympic-sized swimming pool at Belvedere Park in East Los Angeles and the restoration of the Griffith Park Observatory and Hollywood Bowl.
A similar ballot measure to pay for future maintenance and improvements was narrowly defeated in 2014. Critics at the time said the measure was too vague and lacked community input. Advocates for a new funding measure say those issues have been addressed, citing the hundreds of public parks meetings conducted countywide between December 2015 and February of this year to gather public input in preparation for a possible ballot measure asking voters to pay for park improvements.
“We asked them to dream and they did,” said Rita Robinson, project director for the county’s Parks Needs Assessment, noting that more than 5,000 people took part in the workshops.
“How many times have you seen government ask what would you like?”
Meetings held in low-income Latino, African-American and Asian-American neighborhoods were packed, environmental groups pointed out during the forum.
While no specific details of the report have been released, Robinson said more than 1,700 specific projects were recommended. Activists said many of the proposals were generated in communities of color.
Robinson made it clear that the executive summary being presented to supervisors next week would show most county’s parks have high and very high needs.
Keshia Sexton, director of organizing for Los Angeles Neighborhood Land Trust, said residents she spoke to during the outreach portion of the study had a long “wish list” that included dog parks, swimming pools, community centers, gardens, soccer fields and skate parks. Some residents even went as far as to ask for a new park, she said,
“What we heard across the board was there is a need,” Sexton said. “They also made it clear they hope this was not just another study but that there would be action.”
Pamela Marquez is one of those who has witnessed first hand that the “squeaky wheel gets the grease.” For decades, she and other residents of El Sereno demanded that a vacant lot on the outskirts of their predominately Latino eastside Los Angeles neighborhood be converted into a park – but one that fits the needs of the community.
“We were given the opportunity to design the park of our dreams and it has made a difference,” Marquez told EGP. The El Sereno Arroyo Playground is now the gem of the community, she said. Park amenities include walking paths, children’s playground, solar lights, security cameras and other features. The park has even increased property values, Marquez added.
She said having a park nearby “makes a difference” in one’s quality of life. “My husband lived near a park and joined sports, meanwhile we have friends who joined gangs” because there was no park to offer an alternative, she said, recalling her experience growing up in Boyle Heights.
For many residents and environmental activists, parks are a way to engage and build community. Several speakers emphasized the critical role parks play in a community’s health.
Belinda V. Faustinos grew up near Lincoln Park and said the park was the only place many parents could afford to take the entire family.
She emphasized fixing bathrooms and other amenities that make park-goers feel safe and comfortable.
“We need to make sure all parks have that no matter where they are built,” she said.
Andrew Yip with Bike SGV said high rates of obesity and diabetes are often found in underrepresented communities that often lack a park or open space.
People in these communities often just want the basics, like better lighting and paved streets, he said.
Rosalio Muñoz volunteers at Ernest E. Debs Regional Park in the Northeast Los Angeles neighborhood of Montecito Heights and believes safety measures are needed at the park which includes acres of open space and hiking trails.
The bodies of two young women bludgeoned to death were found at the park a few months ago and according to Muñoz the park would benefit from more lighting and a dedicated park ranger and added staff.
He worries, however, that a Metro transportation bond on the same ballot might hurt the park proposal’s prospects.
According to county officials, however, 69 percent of voters polled said they would support passage of a park funding measure even with a transportation bond on the ballot
“It’s very crowded, but people are committed to parks,” said Beesley.