As a plannerd, I am naturally drawn to events like the American Planning Association (APA) conferences. However, when I told my wife that this year’s APA California Conference would be held at Disneyland, she was actually more excited than me and made sure that we would be going! Well, we went as a family a few weeks ago and had a great time. I enjoyed the different sessions and activities, while my wife and daughter made good use of our annual passes and had fun at Disneyland and California Adventure. As I shared previously in this article, the conference was one of the events I was most looking forward to in 2014. It certainly lived up to my expectation as I learned a lot, caught up with old friends, and got to meet other planners working on a variety of interesting projects. Summarized below are the highlights of the conference for me:
How Green is Disneyland?
While some planners may dislike Disneyland for its fake environment and promotion of consumerism, I think the Walt Disney Company does deserve some credit for pursuing some green business practices. Specifically, Mary Niven, the vice president of Disneyland Park and the plenary luncheon keynote speaker, shared the following information with the audience:
- The Disneyland Resort uses an on-site weather system to alter irrigation based on weather conditions.
- The Disneyland Railroad and Mark Twain Riverboat are powered by biodiesel made from used cooking oil from kitchens in the theme park.
- Compressed natural gas (CNG) is used to fuel the parking lot guest trams, Sailing Ship Columbia, Rafts to Tom Sawyer Island, Jungle Cruise boats, and Main Street buses.
- The Finding Nemo Submarine Voyage vehicles were converted to a system that uses magnetic coils to propel the submarines, making them zero-emission vehicles.
- in 2009, the Disneyland Resort was honored with the Governor’s Environmental and Economic Leadership Award, California’s highest and most prestigious environmental honor.
- As part of the original design of Disneyland in 1955, two-thirds of the storm drains flow to one of a number of connected waterways: the Rivers of America, Storybook Land canals, the castle moat, Carnation Creek, and the Jungle Cruise. This system retains a great deal of storm water while providing natural biological treatment.
It is unlikely that even regular patrons of Disneyland would know what is being done to promote sustainability at the theme park.
Completing the Initial Study Checklist
Led by experienced planners from URS Corporation, this session was a good refresher for planners like me who do not deal with CEQA on a daily basis, but still need to know how to prepare an Initial Study checklist when the need arises. The following are the key takeaways and reminders for me:
- An Initial Study (IS) is not required if an environmental impact report (EIR) would clearly be required for a project. However, an IS may still be desirable to identify the scope and potential cost of an EIR, and may serve to eliminate some issues from further analysis.
- An IS is required for any project that is tiered under a program EIR.
- We should consult with responsible and trustee agencies as early as possible because this allows issues to be resolved early on.
- Having good information is key to the preparation of an IS. We should keep track of all information that explains or shows why a certain environmental determination is made.
- It is important to review previous environmental documents, and research and address known controversies.
- Some checklist questions may appear similar, but they are not duplicates. We must answer all questions, although not necessarily at the same level of detail, depending on the context and whether the impact is determined to be significant.
- Questions on the IS are not thresholds of significance. These thresholds should be identifiable, quantitative, or qualitative.
- The Negative Declaration is just one page; it needs a detailed IS as a background.
Urban Greening of Anaheim and El Cerrito
This was one of my favorite sessions at the conference as the speakers shared about projects similar to the Community Parks and Recreation Plans my department is working on. Specifically, I learned about the Anaheim Outdoors Connectivity Plan which aims to encourage greater pedestrian and bicyclist activity via linkages between recreation areas throughout the city. These areas include parks, school sites, trails, open spaces, golf courses, equestrian facilities, recreation centers, and the Santa Ana River corridor. According to Pamela Galera with the City of Anaheim, the Santa Ana River winds about 10.5 miles through the eastern part of Anaheim from Yorba Regional Park to just south of Anaheim Stadium. The Plan recommends not only increasing recreation and mobility opportunities along the river, but also contributing to the completion of the Santa Ana River Trail and Parkway. The City of Anaheim has created a very informative website and a catchy slogan “Anaheim Outdoors: It’s Your Backyard” which promotes greater stewardship of the community by residents. I also enjoyed hearing about the City of El Cerrito’s Urban Greening Plan which seeks to identify needs, opportunities, and strategies for creating a greener, more environmentally sustainable and livable city. Strategies in the plan include: increasing connectivity; creating day-to-day green places to gather, play and enjoy; improving existing parks and green spaces; and identifying new ways to meet a community’s need for different types of open spaces given limited resources. Melanie Mintz with the City of El Cerrito pointed out that the city is not park poor based on traditional indicators (such as acre per 1,000 residents), but it just “does not feel as green as it can be.” She pointed out that “strategic interventions” were needed (like shutting down a street once a week for community events, making existing parks more multi-use) and that “nuggets of open space” had to be created in less green areas.
Built Out and Underserved: Creative Strategies for Greening Urban Communities
This session focused on strategies for developing new parks and open space in underserved urban areas. Moderator Isabelle Minn from the firm PlaceWorks and Norma E. Garcia, deputy director with the Los Angeles County Department of Parks and Recreation, shared information about planning efforts underway to create new green spaces and trails in six park-poor unincorporated communities (this is a project I am involved in and wrote about previously in Parks and Recreation, Parks and Climate Change, and Unincorporated Areas Need More Parks Too; see also Community Parks and Recreation Plans). Valerie Watson with the Los Angeles Department of Transportation (LADOT) spoke at length about the city’s People St program which seeks to make it easier to transform underused areas of L.A.’s largest public asset—about 7,500 miles of city streets—into active, vibrant, and accessible public spaces. The city has developed a wonderful website which is a one-stop shop for information, resources, and materials on plazas, parklets, and bicycle corrals, and the process for applying to bring these projects to neighborhoods. People St facilitates partnerships between the community and the city. According to Watson, community Partners are required to be active players in order to build neighborhood support for a project, identify an appropriate site, conduct outreach, raise funds required for materials and furnishings, install project elements, and provide and fund long-term management, maintenance, and operations of the project. This session also featured Claire Robinson with Amigos de los Rios who talked about the Emerald Necklace Expanded Vision Plan which was inspired by the 1929 Olmsted Bartholomew Plan, prepared for the Los Angeles area by the Olmsted Brothers – John Charles and Frederick Law Jr., sons of Frederick Law Olmsted. When complete, the Emerald Necklace Regional Park Network will unify a vast region of Southern California from the desert through the San Gabriel Mountains to the Pacific Ocean, by linking more than 1,500 acres of parks and open spaces along an interconnected greenway around Rio Hondo, San Gabriel and the lower Los Angeles Rivers. As Robinson shared, the Emerald Necklace has the potential to become a world-class park network and will be a significant piece of the vision for an urban Los Angeles connected by river greenways.
Shaheen Sadeghi and the Anaheim Packing District
Shaheen Sadeghi, the founder of LAB Holding, was a plenary luncheon keynote speaker and gave one of the most memorable talks at the conference. His presentation began with a rather philosophical and abstract tone, and it took me a while to make the connection between his talk and urban planning. However, as he explained further, I began to understand and appreciate what he had to say, especially with respect to the need to create places of lasting value and interest, rather than cookie cutter buildings and communities. While most may not have heard of Sadeghi, many are probably familiar with his work which includes the highly successful and popular LAB Antimall in Costa Mesa and the Anaheim Packing District. The LAB Antimall was created through the revitalization of an abandoned factory and offers an outlet for local students, emerging artists and musicians, and like-minded retail entrepreneurs. The LAB has become the creative heart of the SOBECA (South On Bristol, Entertainment, Culture, Arts) District, a pedestrian friendly area located around Bristol Street, south of Baker consisting of trend-setting, eco-friendly shops, restaurants, services and galleries. The Anaheim Packing District project involved the restoration of two historic buildings and addition of Farmers Park, a community park. According to Sadeghi, the project was inspired by his travels and European experiences where food, art, culture, and educational programs are intermingled and integrated.
Planning Regional Multi-Use Trails: Challenges and Solutions
Moderated by Jonathan Berlin from Rincon Consultants, this session was all about multi-use trails as a means to promote active transportation. Specifically, I learned about different strategies for selecting the best trail alignment, achieving buy-in from property owners, minimizing user conflicts, and mitigating environmental impacts. Three interesting trail projects were featured in this discussion: the Monterey Bay Sanctuary Scenic Trail, the Chorro Valley Trail Study, and the Park to Playa Trail. The Monterey Bay Sanctuary Scenic Trail is a 50-mile bicycle and pedestrian pathway along the coast of Santa Cruz County, from the San Mateo County line in the north to the Monterey County line at Pajaro. The system’s “spine” will be within the 32-mile Santa Cruz Branch rail right-of-way, adjacent to the train tracks. The rail trail will coexist with existing and potential future train service, and abide by conditions set forth as part of the rail purchase. The trail will serve transportation, recreation and interpretive uses for walkers, joggers, bicyclists, people with mobility impairments, and families. The rail right-of-way passes within one mile of half of the County’s population and will provide access to 44 schools and 92 parks. Another project in the Central Coast region is the Chorro Valley Trail Study which assesses the feasibility of building a trail for bicyclists and pedestrians through an approximately 12-mile corridor between the cities of San Luis Obispo and Morro Bay. This trail would traverse the Route 1–SLO North Coast Scenic Byway, providing connections to key points such as California Polytechnic State University San Luis Obispo (Cal Poly), Camp San Luis Obispo (Camp SLO), Cuesta College, and El Chorro Regional Park. Finally, the Park to Playa Trail project in the Los Angeles area was discussed. The vision of the Park to Playa Trail is to create a seamless trail that connects urban residents with the natural coast. Alta, a planning and design firm, completed a trail feasibility and way-finding plan for the five-mile “Park to Playa” corridor within Baldwin Hills, the eastern portion of the 12-mile trail, to the sea. This project will be realized through multiple-agency and jurisdictional coordination with the office of Los Angeles County Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas, California State Parks, Los Angeles County Department of Parks and Recreation, the cities of Culver City and Los Angeles, Baldwin Hills Regional Conservation Authority, and other partners. Alta is currently leading a design team to prepare construction documents, environmental documents, and obtain permits to implement the project.
Overall, I really enjoyed this year’s APA California Conference. I learned a great deal, especially about projects that are similar to and relevant to the work I am doing as a park planner. It was also helpful and inspiring to hear about innovative and creative planning efforts outside the realm of parks and recreation. I would like to commend those in charge of planning and hosting the event for the excellent work they did. I do not know the exact turnout for the conference, but it certainly appeared to be a very well-attended and successful conference. At times (especially during the luncheons), I almost felt like I was at a national (rather than state) planning conference because of the large number of planners present!
Photos of Disneyland by author.
Screenshot of Anaheim Outdoors website from www.anaheim.net
Screenshot of Los Angeles People St program website from peoplest.lacity.org
Disclaimer: The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author alone, and do not reflect the official views or positions of the Los Angeles County Department of Parks and Recreation.