A Baldwin Vista resident speaks during a recent press conference. (Rickey Brown photo)

At 3:30 a.m., on December 14, 1963, less than two years after Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s famous visit to Los Angeles, the Baldwin Hills Reservoir Dam, in South Los Angeles broke, releasing 250 million gallons of water, destroying homes and killing five people.  

Then, L.A. County Supervisor Kenneth Hahn, the White politician who stepped in amidst the racial strife of the 1960s to welcome Dr. King   at the LAX tarmac, also stepped in to not just save, but bolster the fast-emerging Black South LA enclave surrounding the reservoir.   

His heroic decision was to replace the reservoir with a world-class park and begin the process of restoring safety and economic health to a community that was evolving as one of the leading hubs of Black wealth in America. He did so with diligence and planning to ensure the safety of those immediately impacted next to the park. Hence, public access to the Kenneth Hahn Recreational Park was established on La Cienega Blvd. while protecting the adjacent residential community by not permitting park access through our neighborhood.  

The neighborhood remains a predominantly Black community and the residents who, in the 1960s, bought into what is now called Baldwin Vista, are deeply hurt and angered by the recent decision of the Los Angeles County Department of Parks and Recreation and the State of California’s Baldwin Hills Conservancy, to open two pedestrian gates at the end of two hillside cul-de-sacs, which dead-end against Hahn Park.  

The county’s plan is to allow access to the public and actively promote these entrances as “public trails”. Shockingly, LA County Supervisor Holly Mitchell, who is Black, supports the move.  

The properties adjacent to the park have recorded easement rights to access the park from two locked gates at the terminus of Cloverdale Ave. and Padilla St. This legal right has existed for nearly 50 years. To justify this intrusion into our neighborhood, the county used the term “equitable access” as its license to establish and promote new trail access points from these two locations.  

There is no issue of equitable access as everyone has the same access to the park and trails from the main entrance. The county staff response was to say they had the right to do as they saw fit. 

“We’ve been trying for years to reduce crime in our neighborhood and establish a peaceful place for families to thrive. Smart urban planners try to further that agenda by helping to reduce traffic through neighborhoods. In this case, they’re doing the opposite. They want to increase traffic, increase public access and in doing so are potentially in violation of the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA), which requires environmental, traffic, public safety and other reviews prior to implementing a project,” said Angela Baber, a 20-year resident, schoolteacher and co-chair of the new association.  

Baber continued, “ ‘Equity’ would actually dictate that we have a crisis of dying generational wealth in the Black community and government should leverage its resources towards protecting not destroying property values and our quality of life.” 

Ben Reznik, a leading Los Angeles area land use attorney hired by the neighborhood association agreed and sent a letter to the county, stating, “The county is turning our client’s neighborhood into state-park entrances, without considering how doing so will impact the neighborhood, our clients’ rights as access easement holders, or how it will impact community safety, traffic management, crowd control, noise, security, parking or trash management.”  

The letter went on to state, “The Parks [Department’s] proposal amounts to a ‘project’ under the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) and therefore would require review and action under CEQA prior to implementation.”  

Since the City of Los Angeles owns the park, Reznik also wrote to Mayor Eric Garcetti, the L.A. City Council and city officials stating, “How ironic that the City of Los Angeles has gone to great lengths to protect similarly situated neighborhoods around the Griffith Park area, the Hollywood Hills area, and the Brentwood Area from users of the adjacent parks and trail…” 

John Murrell, a 47-year resident and former manager for L.A. County said, “This is a stunning and outrageous chapter, in a long history of government using the facade of ‘public necessity’ to willfully bulldoze South L.A. neighborhoods. This would never happen in Malibu or Beverly Hills. We will not take this sitting down.  

“I was so grateful when Kenneth Hahn visited my home in the 1970s to tell me that the dam was being replaced with a park, and to further remedy us for the trauma, we would always have a safety access point to that park given that in the future, we would only have one way up and one way down our hillside. We’ve been great neighbors to the park and why they would do this to us after 60 years is wrong,” Murrell said.  

“There’s nearly 6.4 miles of parkland perimeter space. At a time when violent, home invasions are on the rise, why they chose the 20 feet into our residential neighborhood for their version of ‘equity,’ when they had thousands of other options, is risky, irresponsible and dangerous,” he stressed.