The University of Southern California has backed away from plans to build a street through a popular local park as part the expansion plan for its Health Sciences Medical Campus, and has now agreed to invest $1 million for improvements at that park, the office of Councilman Jose Huizar has announced.
USC’s expansion plan includes the building of a 178-unit student housing facility, a child daycare center and a hotel to accommodate the growing number of health service professionals and scientists being recruited to the area. Their goal is to also make the area more pedestrian friendly by building new connecting walkways in some areas and widening others which already exist.
The plan included a proposal to dissect Hazard Park by building a new street through it on land owned by the university. The propodsal drew the ire of local residents who said it would destroy valuable natural habitat and take away scarce green space in the densely populated community near the LAC+USC Medical Center, which also includes General Hospital. Community activists also said USC’s plans would bring greater density to an area where adequate parking is already a big issue.
At several community meetings facilitated by Huizar, community activists called on USC to drop its development plans for the park and to instead contribute to improving park facilities to better serve the community where it is located. Speaking loudly and passionately, they told the university it was time to be a good neighbor and to consider other alternatives to splitting up Hazard Park, home to a one-time armory that now houses a number of youth oriented service programs.
According to Huizar, USC has agreed to include plans for substantially increasing available parking in the area over the next three years. They have also agreed to vacate the parkland they own, valued at $1.5 million, and turn it over the City’s Department of Recreation and Parks. In doing, so, “the University is forgoing any future development of that property,” according to Huizar’s press release announcing the agreement.
The streetscape plan and pedestrian improvements still calls for the removal of some parking meters to allow for wider sidewalks and new tree plantings, but the removal will be phased in over two 10-year phases. USC, however, will also add 40 metered parking spaces in a new surface parking lot adjacent to the park, plus eight additional metered spaces on the new Norfolk extension, for a total of 48 new spaces that will benefit park-goers, according to Huizar.
They have also agreed to permanently preserve street parking immediately adjacent to Hazard Park on Norfolk and San Pablo Streets, and the Council office worked with USC to preserve more than 250 street parking meter spaces for the next 10 years.
As part of it’s Health Sciences Master Plan, USC had previously indicated it would invest $12 million to move utilities underground and would pay to construct a new sidewalk on Soto for Hazard Park and new pedestrian crosswalks.
“Hazard Park is a long treasured community asset and a source of pride for many,” said Huizar. “When these plans were initially announced, I asked USC to meet with the community to hear their concerns, which they did. During these frank and open discussions, USC heard from a vocal, passionate and proud community who let the university know that more work was needed. To their credit, working with my office, USC responded with an agreement that not only brings much-needed improvements to the park, but shows the university’s commitment to engage the Hazard Park community in a positive manner now and in the future,” the councilman said.
“No agreement of this magnitude would’ve been possible without the community making sure their voices were heard. I want to thank the Hazard Park Preservation Committee and all our other concerned residents for their activism.”