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Groups Join to Rescue the 'Dying' City Parks

February 05, 1989|CAROL McGRAW | Times Staff Writer

Citing a serious deterioration of the region's parks and open spaces, a diverse group of community organizations came together Saturday in an unusual alliance to breathe life back into Los Angeles' "dying" recreation areas.

Representatives from more than 20 organizations--including the church-based South-Central Organizing Committee, Sierra Club Angeles Chapter, Santa Monica Mountains Conservancy, Community Youth Gang Services and Los Angeles Beautiful--met to forge People for Parks, which will promote cleaner, safer and more accessible parklands.

"There is a crying need for coordination among all the splinter groups working to preserve open spaces," said David Kramer, a public affairs consultant who coordinated the all-day conference at Griffith Park sponsored by the Center for Law in the Public Interest. "There cannot be a pitched battle against gangs and crime in the parks, or increases in volunteerism, or preservation of open spaces without it."

Lack of Communication

The idea for the coalition came from a recommendation in a 1987 study on Los Angeles parks conducted by the private Coral Foundation. Kramer, one of the authors, noted that he and others were struck by the lack of communication among like-minded groups.

While similar groups in Boston, Chicago and New York have organized powerful grass-roots efforts, this is the first time a unification of the varied park and conservation organizations has been attempted on a large scale here, Kramer said.

Parks began seriously declining after passage of Proposition 13 in 1978, which forced severe budget cutbacks. The city's 355 parks were considered especially expendable in light of the many social services vying for money; park hours and programs were cut back, staff was let go, and repairs were left undone, according to activists and city officials.

Among the acute problems spotlighted by the study: The city is losing $15 million in equipment a year because of vandalism in parks; 66 inner-city parks, which are dominated by gangs and almost totally abandoned by the public, are considered "dead," and the city has only about half the amount of open space considered adequate by park planners.

Inner-city parks have especially suffered, according to city officials who were among the 150 people at Saturday's conference.

James Hadaway, director of the city Recreation and Parks Department, who applauds the new People for Parks coalition, explained that parks traditionally received their budgets through complicated formulas based on size of the buildings and acreage.

For example, he noted, both South Park in South-Central Los Angeles and Cheviot Hills Park were alloted four caretakers under the old formula. But the grounds of South Park have been overused and its buildings assaulted by vandals, thus becoming more and more rundown.

Under a plan adopted last year and designed to help poorer parks catch up, South Park is receiving six caretakers. The other 65 inner-city parks considered especially endangered are now receiving 40% more funds than those in more affluent areas such as West Los Angeles and the San Fernando Valley.

And last year the City Council allocated $10 million extra for inner-city parks, to be used for maintenance and staff increases. All told, the city spends about a $100 million annually on its parks.

Among about 50 park improvement projects under way or in the planning stages are a community building at Mt. Carmel Park, $1.5 million; a gymnasium at Alpine Recreation Center in Chinatown, $1.7 million; land acquisition in East Los Angeles for a soccer field, $20 million; refurbishing of park grounds in Baldwin Hills and Manning Park in Wilmington, and a new ball field in Silver Lake, $2 million.

Among issues People for Parks will tackle in the next few months, organizers said, will be to consider lobbying for changes in the so-called Quimby Ordinance. This measure requires developers to plow money back into the community within a mile and a half radius of where they are doing construction. However, because little new construction is taking place in the inner city, the wealthier parks, such as those in the West Valley, get the bulk of the funds.

Tony Massengale, spokesman for the South-Central Organizing Committee, a network of 40 inner-city churches, noted that one possibility would be to give 50% of the Quimby Ordinance fees to parks with the greatest need, regardless of their location. People for Parks will also examine whether fees gathered at parks in wealthier areas should be used to help bolster poorer parks.

Other Participants

Among other groups participating in People for Parks are: Citizen's Committee to Save Elysian Park; Coalition to Preserve Bonelli Park; Heal the Bay; Hillside Federation; More Advocates for Safe Homes; Open Space Task Force for the Community Redevelopment Agency; Pershing Square Management Assn.; TreePeople; Urban Impact Task Force and USC Office of Urban Affairs.

Said Massengale: "One of the real tests to come out of the conference will be whether or not all the different park interests, the inner-city park supporters, the suburban and rural advocates can put aside special interests, do some creative thinking and fight together."

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