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No Big Boxes in This Yard

June 30, 2001

After years of hand-wringing about the deplorable lack of parkland in Los Angeles, suddenly there's lots of action. In March, a tentative deal was reached to develop the abandoned 50-acre Cornfield property near downtown as a state park instead of as warehouses. In Baldwin Hills, residents eager to see oil fields transformed into a 1,200-acre park turned out en masse this month to protest plans to build a power plant on the property. The near-unanimous opposition prompted La Jolla Energy Development Inc. to withdraw from this ill-advised project, allowing work on the imaginative park plans to go forward.

Taylor Yard should be next on the list. Like the Cornfield, this Union Pacific railroad maintenance facility is a ruined industrial tract that has become a field of dreams for community activists.

Portions of the Cypress Park property, which runs along the east side of the Los Angeles River, have already been developed. FedEx operates a plant there, and the Metropolitan Transportation Agency stores equipment on a nearby parcel.

The fight is over two other parcels, 62 acres along the river and an adjacent 40-acre lot along San Fernando Road. Union Pacific, which owns both, will fold its maintenance operations there in a few years and may sell the larger parcel to the public. If it does, the $45 million in state funds that lawmakers earmarked a year ago for Taylor Yard would go far toward reclaiming this industrial site as a nature habitat for hikers, bicyclists and equestrians. Wilderness it will never be, but the ambitious plans envision tearing out a 2,000-foot-long stretch of concrete riverbank to create meandering side streams and trails.

Neighborhood kids just as badly need soccer fields and other recreation facilities. That's where the smaller parcel would come in. But developer Lennar Partners, which holds an option on that land, has other plans, namely to build manufacturing facilities, retail stores and a theater complex. Lennar remains more interested in pursuing those plans than in selling its option to allow for public ownership of the parcel. Councilman-elect Ed Reyes, whose district includes Taylor Yard, worked with Lennar to develop its current plans while he was a staffer to then-Councilman Mike Hernandez. Reyes now says that the availability of $45 million in state funds changes his view of how best to use this land. State Sen. Richard Polanco, Assembly member Jackie Goldberg and Councilman-elect Eric Garcetti also back the park option.

This is the same standoff, between private developers on the one hand and local families, environmentalists and politicians on the other, that gave rise to the Cornfield deal. There, Majestic Realty, which held the Cornfield option, eventually reaped both goodwill and cash by selling the property to the public instead of building warehouses. Lennar Partners now faces much the same choice.

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