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L.A.'s Own Conservation Corps Ready to Work

May 29, 1986|JILL STEWART | Times Staff Writer

Beginning this summer, more than 50 inner-city young adults will paint, plant and build new projects at county beaches and parks as the newly formed Los Angeles Conservation Corps moves into full swing.

Under an agreement signed Tuesday by the county Board of Supervisors, the nonprofit corps will provide crews of young men and women--many of them unemployed high-school dropouts--and the county will provide equipment and materials.

In the San Gabriel Valley, the corps has proposed improvement projects ranging from clearing fire-prone brush in Frank G. Bonelli Regional Park to constructing cages for the nature center at Whittier Narrows Park and tree pruning and clearing vegetation that is a fire hazard around the county sheriff's and Fire Department complex on Eastern Avenue in City Terrace. Elsewhere, the corps has proposed landscaping Topanga State Beach in Malibu and building rock retaining walls at Friendship Park in Rancho Palos Verdes.

The agreement with the corps was widely supported by county officials, including John W. Englund, forester and fire warden; Ted Reed, director of beaches and harbors, and Ralph Cryder, director of parks and recreation.

County officials said it is not yet known how much money the county will save because of the donation of labor by the corps.

County Crews Freed

Tony Yakimowich, a spokesman for Cryder, said the arrangement will enable the county to use its regular employees for other pressing needs.

"We won't have to divert county employees to do these specialized projects," he said. "This provides training and opportunities for young adults as well as giving them some real experience for outside employment, and the benefits to the county are obvious."

Patterned after the federal Civilian Conservation Corps, which built roads and parks throughout the country during the Depression, the Los Angeles organization will provide disadvantaged young people, ages 18 to 23, a chance to learn construction, landscaping and other skills. It is the first local corps created for the Los Angeles area and is similar to the statewide California Conservation Corps and local corps in Oakland, San Francisco, Sacramento and Marin County.

Martha Diepenbrock, executive director of the organization, said that since it was formed in April, it has attracted "really tremendous response, even more work than we can do. We think the agreement with the county will give us a real challenge, and at the same time give a boost to the public parks and beaches."

Still Hiring

Her office has hired 34 young people and expects to hire another 20 before July. All corps members are paid the minimum hourly wage of $3.35 and are hired for one year. By next year, she said, the corps should be nearly 100 strong.

The corps' first major contract was with the Santa Monica Mountain Conservancy, which has hired the crews to build new trails in the local mountains. Crews have also helped renovate enclosures at the City Zoo, and in their first emergency assignment sorted and packed books after the Central Library fire downtown.

"We are going for a tough, hard-working reputation, and we think employers will want someone who has had that kind of experience for a year," Diepenbrock said. "We're looking for people who are interested in getting something going for later, moving ahead with their lives."

Working out of their new headquarters at 2824 S. Main St., in Los Angeles, the corps' members begin their day at 7 a.m. with a half hour of exercise, then are bused to a project site, she said.

So far, she said, the crew members are evenly divided between Latinos and blacks, with just one Anglo and one Indian. About 40% are women.

"On certain days they won't work on projects for the county or the conservancy, because we'll be providing classes and workshops to round out their backgrounds," Diepenbrock said. "Job search skills, completing your GED (General Educational Development Test), self-improvement, are very important to us."

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