How many acres of parkland does Los Angeles County have? How many parks are there in the county and where are they all located? What amenities do these park offer and what condition are they in? Which communities have a high level of park need? What are the priority park projects in each city or unincorporated community? How much would it cost to make these projects happen? These are some of the key questions that are answered in the Los Angeles Countywide Parks and Recreation Needs Assessment recently released by the Los Angeles County Department of Parks and Recreation (DPR). The Parks Needs Assessment was completed in 15 months, starting in March 2015 and ending in May 2016.
The Parks Needs Assessment was a historic and significant undertaking to engage all communities within Los Angeles County in a collaborative process to gather data and input for future decision-making on parks and recreation. The primary goal of the Parks Needs Assessment was to quantify the magnitude of need for parks and recreational facilities, and determine the potential costs of meeting that need. This goal has been accomplished, as evidenced by the final report which uses a transparent, best-practices approach to evaluate park and recreation needs, and is the product of an engagement process that involved the public, cities, unincorporated communities, community-based organizations, and other stakeholders. Specifically, the Parks Needs Assessment:
- Uses a set of metrics to measure and document park needs for each study area;
- Establishes a framework to determine the overall level of park need for each study area;
- Offers a list of priority park projects for each study area;
- Details estimated costs for the priority park projects by study area;
- Builds a constituency of support and understanding of the park and recreational needs and opportunities; and
- Informs future decision-making regarding planning and funding for parks and recreation.
Park need is affected by a variety of factors and can be measured in a variety of ways. Traditionally, the number of acres of parkland per 1,000 residents has been the most widely used indicator. However, in order to fully understand and analyze the park needs of communities, we must go beyond this single measure. As I explained previously in How Should Park Needs be Measured, four additional metrics should be evaluated as well: park accessibility, park pressure, quantity and variety of park amenities, and condition of park amenities. By considering these other metrics, we not only find out how much parkland a community has per 1,000 residents, we also obtain answers to the following questions:
- What percentage of the population lives within a half mile of a park?
- How much parkland is available to residents in the area surrounding each park?
- What amenities are available at each park?
- What is the condition of each park and its amenities?
The Los Angeles Countywide Parks Needs Assessment analyzes park needs for 189 study areas using all five metrics.
Parks Needs Framework
Analysis of the five park metrics in each study area produced highly detailed information about park need in each study area. In particular, we now have a “Where Are Park Most Needed?” map for each study area that illustrates the location and magnitude of need. Many study areas have three or more levels of park need, resulting in multi-colored maps that can help local agencies to understand park need within their jurisdiction. However, because individual jurisdictions and unincorporated communities are often treated as single entities for large-scale planning and funding purposes, it was also important to assign a single need category to each study area. Thus a Parks Needs Framework was developed using the park metrics to determine a single level of park need for each study area. The Parks Needs Framework analysis revealed that more than half of L.A. County residents live in areas of very high or high park need. Study areas with Very High park need have an average of just 0.7 acre of parkland per 1,000 residents and areas with High park need have an average of 1.6 acres of parkland.
Priority Park Projects
The Parks Needs Assessment invited input from all communities in L.A. County regarding desired park projects and reports potential park projects from three sources: projects prioritized at community workshops across the county; projects submitted by the managing agency of a regional recreation park; and projects submitted by the managing agencies of specialized facilities. These project lists provide a snapshot in time of potential projected agreed upon by workshop participants and agency staff to best meet the park and recreational needs at the time the Parks Needs Assessment was conducted. The Parks Needs Assessment developed a narrow definition of a potential park project to ensure that prioritized projects were of a similar magnitude across all study areas, assist communities in clarifying their project priorities, and increase the consistency of cost estimates. Every project was classified into one of the following categories: add or replace an amenity type at an existing park; repair an existing amenity type at an existing park; or construct a new park or specialty facility. The majority of study areas prioritized at least one new park among their projects. A total of 200 new park projects were prioritized in 138 study areas.
How much would it cost to carry out all of the park projects identified in the Parks Needs Assessment? In order to find out, planning-level cost estimates were developed to provide a rough order-of-magnitude estimate of the dollar amount needed to implement the identified projects and complete deferred maintenance work Countywide. Cost estimates for prioritized projects and deferred maintenance were developed by the Parks Needs Assessment team and apply a standardized set of cost estimates to each project. Due to the unique needs of both regional recreation parks and specialized facilities, cost estimates for projects at these facilities were submitted by the managing agency of each facility. The total rough order-of-magnitude cost to implement park project identified by communities and managing agencies, as well as deferred maintenance, is $21.5 billion. This consists of $8.8 billion for prioritized projects, $12 billion for deferred maintenance, and $0.7 billion for specialized facilities.
Community Engagement and Support
The motion passed by the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors to launch the Parks Needs Assessment emphasized the importance of a community-led engagement process to share parks data and gather community input on park needs. The sharing of data and gathering of input occurred through a series of community workshops that were held in every study area between December 2015 and February 2016. To ensure that community members were aware of the opportunity to learn about the parks in their community and share their input on park needs, the Parks Needs Assessment launched a significant community engagement effort two months prior to the first community workshop. Engagement efforts occurred at two levels: 1) a Countywide education and awareness campaign and 2) efforts within each study area to draw residents to the community workshop for that area. Thousands of residents participated in workshops across the county, revealing a high level of interest in park and recreation issues. Community workshops were facilitated by the lead agency in each study area which was either an individual city or the County. (A few cities and the County opted to use community-based organizations as facilitators for a number of the meetings.) Facilitators were provided with various resources, including a group training session, a Facilitator Toolkit in print and digital formats, and a $2,500 stipend to cover workshop expenses. Translation of workshop and outreach materials were also available in Spanish, Chinese, Korean, and Armenian.
Future Park Planning and Funding
The Parks Needs Assessment lays the groundwork for making important park planning and funding decisions in L.A. County. Most importantly, it provides the County, its jurisdictions, and all residents with a wealth of parks-related information and opportunities. This information helps us to better understand the challenges facing our communities, and can be used to seek funding and support for parks, inform staffing and programming decisions, and focus outreach efforts. Data in the Parks Needs Assessment can also be used to allocate funds to meet identified needs in ways that emphasize areas with Very High park need and High park need, while also addressing the specific needs of every community in the county. The Parks Needs Assessment shows that there is a high level of park need in many areas of L.A. County. Local agencies will need to find creative and innovative solution to address this need, especially because many of the communities are densely populated and lack vacant land. Underutilized land, utility corridors, alleys, and other public lands should all be considered as potential locations for new parks. In addition, partnerships, such as joint use and reuse with schools, hospitals, libraries, and other facilities, should be considered in order to expand park opportunities and meet recreational needs.
On July 5, 2016, the Board of Supervisors adopted the Countywide Parks Needs Assessment and voted in support of placing a parks funding measure on the November ballot. The “Safe, Clean Neighborhood Parks, Open Space, Beaches, Rivers Protection and Water Conservation Measure” would add a parcel tax of one-and-a-half cents per square foot of development. This would represent an average of approximately $22.50 annually for a 1,500 square-foot home. The measure would replace Prop A from 1996 which expires in 2019. If approved by voters, the measure would raise approximately $94 million annually. The proposed measure would provide guaranteed funds that will go directly to cities and local communities to protect, enhance and maintain our neighborhood parks, open space, trails, beaches, natural habitat and rivers, creeks and streams.
For more information regarding the parks funding measure, please visit the website for the Regional Park and Open Space District: http://parks.lacounty.gov/wps/portal/dpr/OSD/
For interactive maps and data from the Parks Needs Assessment, please visit the project website: http://lacountyparkneeds.org/interactive-maps-and-data/
For a report recently released by the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health regarding parks and public health, please visit the following site: http://publichealth.lacounty.gov/chronic/docs/Parks%20Report%202016-rev_051816.pdf
Note: As explained above, the Countywide Parks Needs Assessment was a very significant undertaking. I am humbled and honored to have been a part of the team for such a meaningful and impactful project. Special thanks to all of the residents who offered valuable input through the community engagement process, the over 100 DPR staff who helped with this project, and consultants from PlaceWorks who worked with DPR to complete the Countywide Parks Needs Assessment.
All graphics shown above were prepared by PlaceWorks and can be found in the final report available at http://lacountyparkneeds.org/final-report/.
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.