In the wake of a 2014 Los Angeles County proposition vote that narrowly rejected a ballot measure that would have funded future maintenance and improvements of parks, critics characterized it as a vague proposal that needed public input and a list of specific spending projects.
At an Earth Day news briefing that participants framed as an environmental justice forum, advocates for a new Los Angeles parks funding proposition said they have solved the “specific projects” problem by addressing the “public input” problem.
“More than 5,000 people participated in community meetings early this year to help us determine what folks wanted us to do about their local parks,” said Rita Robinson, director of the Los Angeles County government’s parks needs assessment project. “More than 1,700 projects were recommended by citizens…a remarkable response.”
Those project proposals will be included in a report that parks officials will soon submit to the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors, the elected body that will determine whether a parks funding proposition will be placed on the November ballot. A 1992 county parks tax expired last year and a 1996 supplemental levy is set to end in 2018.
Representatives of African-American, Latino and Asian-American environmental groups told the forum – an event organized by New America Media – that many of the project proposals were made at packed meetings in low-income communities of color.
That turnout was driven by residents who want more park funding because more green fields are the key to healthier, more ecologically sustainable county environment, said Keisha Sexton, who directs organizing efforts on behalf of the Los Angeles Neighborhood Land Trust. She said South Los Angeles, home of many of the city’s black and brown residents, want more greenery to replace the trees that have been removed to make way for a new rail system.
“They know trees help clean the air,” she said. “Parks and trees are a way to address the need for a healthier and cleaner environment.”
Sexton, who attended many of the community meetings, said new parks, soccer fields, dog parks and better park lighting were among the projects that residents proposed.
Citing studies that conclude that 51 percent of county residents do not have reasonable access to parks, Belinda Faustinos, a consultant for San Gabriel Mountains Forever, a group that represents Pasadena and other communities in that area, said it will be easier to obtain state and federal fundng for more parks if county residents support park financing on the local level.
”We have to have parks for everyone,” she said. “It’s critical to our health.”
People of color have the “highest rates of obesity and high blood pressure,” said Andrew Yip, a representative of the Los Angeles-based Asian American Environmental Leadership Academy. “You can’t expect low-income people to drive to national parks. We need to bring parks to them…This is an environmental justice issue.”
One forum advocate, Pamela Marquez of Concerned Neighbors of El Sereno, an Eastside Los Angeles community, referenced the successful residential push for the conversion of a state transportation lot into a local park in 2012.
“We did it to give our kids access to outdoor play, but we later realized it was good for socializing as well as health,” she said.
Some of the parks advocates at the forum also discussed other benefits of a more robust parks system in Los Angeles County. For example, Viviana Franco, executive director of Lot to Spot, a Los Angeles organization that focuses on the relationship between green space and quality of life, said parks “are economic, social and cultural centers of our communities.”
That benefit was also touted by Ronald “Kartoon” Antwine, a former gang member who participated in the movement that helped prompt the county to convert an abandoned Watts railroad lot into Serenity Park in 2015.
“I’ve seen rival gang members using exercise equipment and rival gang members interacting in other ways,” he said. “I’ve seen Latinos and blacks at the same baby shower in the park – something I’ve never seen before. Can we have more greenery?”
County officials asked the same question in a December poll that indicated that 69 percent of residents wanted more financial support for parks, said Jane Beesley, administrator of the L.A. County Regional Park and Open Space District, the agency that manages funds dedicated to greenery. The 2014 parks funding measure fell just short of the required two-thirds for approval.
“We hope and expect to have a new ballot measure in November,” she said.