We all need parks. Specifically, the availability of parks, trails, and other recreational facilities is an important factor in creating healthy communities and providing a high quality of life for residents. These amenities offer opportunities to encourage active living, to exercise, to access open space, and to connect with others and the natural environment.
The Los Angeles County Department of Parks and Recreation (DPR) is the largest local parks and recreation agency in L.A. County which has a population of over ten million residents and is the most populous county in the United States. DPR oversees a parks and recreation system which includes over 70,000 acres of local and regional parks, lakes, trails, golf courses, cultural event facilities, natural areas, and botanic gardens. In terms of planning, 2016 was a banner year for DPR during which several major park and trail planning projects were completed. In this article, I would like to highlight several of these efforts:
Adopted by the Board of Supervisors on July 5, 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.
The Parks Needs Assessment determined that the total rough order-of-magnitude cost to implement park projects identified by communities and managing agencies, as well as deferred maintenance, is approximately $21.5 billion. The findings of the Parks Needs Assessment resulted in the Board of Supervisors placing Measure A on the November ballot which was ultimately approved by voters.
(Please also refer to my article Parks and Recreation Needs Assessment: The L.A. County Story.)
Community Parks and Recreation Plans were completed in February 2016 to identify and address the unique park and recreation needs of six of the most park-poor communities in Los Angeles County. Specifically, each plan first examines existing conditions, including: local demographics; existing parkland and recreational facilities; parkland gaps; recreation programs currently offered; trees and tree canopies in existing parks; transportation, safety and connectivity issues as they relate to parks; and availability of land for recreational purposes. Based upon the review of existing conditions and findings from the public outreach process, the plan provides a detailed assessment and prioritization of the community’s park and recreation needs. The plan then presents a green space vision, design concepts for potential new urban park and trail projects, and strategies to address the identified needs. Finally, the plan identifies possible partnership and funding opportunities, and details next steps to implement the green space vision and strategies.
Implementation of the Plans is underway, with examples of projects including: a park-plaza project at a local library in partnership with County Public Library; acquisition of a property in West Athens-Westmont for the development of a pocket park; tree plantings in East Los Angeles, Walnut Park, and West Athens-Westmont; and development of a new 9-acre park in an utility corridor in East Los Angeles.
(Please also refer to my articles Park Planning for Underserved Communities in Los Angeles County and Seeing the Forest for the Trees: Planning for Parks and Urban Forests in Los Angeles County.)
This Master Plan will develop a portion of the Puente Hills Landfill which was formerly the largest landfill in the western U.S. into the County’s newest regional park. Specifically, the newly created “park for all” will offer diverse, healthy, passive, and active recreational and educational experiences and programming for residents living in park-poor areas in the San Gabriel Valley, Gateway Cities, and Southeast Cities. The additional 142 acres of parkland that will be provided by the new park will address the severe shortages of the surrounding communities. The Master Plan is reflective of extensive community input, and takes into account and balances a number of important considerations that includes the relationship of this highly disturbed, post-industrial site to the adjoining natural areas and wildlife corridor. The project places an emphasis on ecology and dedicates over two-thirds of the project area to passive uses and open space, complemented by some dynamic recreational amenities such as stair climbs, zip lines, slides, and bike skills areas. The project will include a variety of recreational facilities that can be sustained on the site, despite significant development constraints and the ongoing maintenance and operations by the Sanitation Districts of Los Angeles County. Park development would be integrated with existing landfill facilities, including a shared entrance and joint use of an existing loop road system, which would be improved to accommodate public access.
The Master Plan was adopted by the Board of Supervisors on October 25, 2016. Implementation of the Master Plan will occur in multiple phases over a long period of time, which is primarily due to the physical development constraints that exist on the site. The project envisions three major phases of park development over the next 30 years that would provide the majority of the park elements proposed in the Master Plan. Three additional phases are conceptually identified in the Master Plan for potential improvements in approximately 40 to 75 years, which would likely be re-evaluated and redefined based on the site conditions at that time.
(Here are links to two articles about this project: From ‘nasty’ to beautiful: the impact of turning a giant landfill into a park and LA County approves plan to build ambitious Puente Hills Landfill Park.)
Adopted by the Board of Supervisors on February 23, 2016, this Master Plan will transform the existing Earvin “Magic” Johnson Park in Willowbrook into a 120-acre regional facility offering a variety of amenities to meet the community and region’s growing and diverse recreation needs. The park is located on the entire former Athens Tank Farm which was a petroleum products storage and distribution facility that consisted of two large crude oil reservoirs, 22 above ground storage tanks, absorption plants, and pipelines. The revitalized park will consist of the following primary components: community event center, gymnasium, equestrian center, south agency headquarters, aquatic center, multi-purpose stadium, amphitheater, skate park, water features, wedding pavilion, walking trails and exercise amenities, dog park, sculpture garden and civic plaza, restrooms, group picnic areas, children’s play areas, and circulation and parking. The park was formerly known as Willowbrook State Recreation Area and was renamed in November 1992 to Earvin “Magic” Johnson Park after the former Los Angeles Lakers professional basketball player.
Due to both fiscal and environmental constraints, it is anticipated that development of the proposed project components would occur in six phases. The phases include six smaller areas of the site that could be developed independently from a site design perspective (i.e. functional grading phases and construction logistics) as remediation phases are completed and funding for construction of amenities becomes available. The first phase is generally located in the center of the site, has a low level of remediation constraints and provides a wide range of recreational activities.
The Castaic Area Multi-Use Trails Plan includes approximately 100 miles of proposed multi-use (hiking, mountain biking, equestrian) trails and trail related or support facilities. The study area encompasses approximately 75 square miles in the Castaic area, and is bound by the Angeles National Forest to the north, the City of Santa Clarita to the southeast, Highway 126 to the south, and Ventura County to the west. The Trails Plan encourages and promotes new multi-use trails and recommends improvements to existing trails, providing an alignment to incorporate a transition throughout the project area to additional areas, jurisdictions, and prime destinations within and adjacent to the Castaic area. The Trails Plan serves to develop a complete multi-use trail system connecting user groups and local residents to desired recreation destinations and experiences, including unified transition to the trails of adjacent jurisdictions, compatibility with adjacent land uses and environmental resources, and incorporation of a sustainable design that is consistent with the County Trails Manual.
DPR hosted a series of four public workshops at several locations in the Castaic area. Although the public was welcome to attend any or all of the workshops, several user-specific meetings were held for hikers, mountain bikers, and equestrians to allow for more in-depth dialogue and data collection to inform the development of the Trails Plan. The Board of Supervisors adopted the Trails Plan on October 25, 2016.
(Here are links to two articles about this project: Supervisors approve long-term plan for Castaic trails and Board OK’s Multi-Use Trails Plan for Castaic Area.)
While some may think of parks and recreation as simply “fun and games,” I strongly disagree. Based on our research, including both direct interactions with the community members and review of the data available, parks, trails, and other recreational facilities contribute significantly to the quality of life in communities. In particular, the provision of additional opportunities for recreation and physical activity could help address a variety of challenges many communities face, such as high levels of obesity and related diseases, gang violence, and anxiety or stress related to finances and the economy.
Note: Special thanks to all of the community members who offered valuable input through the community outreach process, and the DPR staff and consultants who worked collaboratively on the above projects.
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.