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Reclaimed bus yard begins life as urban wetland

A nine-acre park at Avalon Boulevard and 54th Street offers walking paths, native plants and pools with bacteria that clean polluted storm water.

February 10, 2012|By Kate Linthicum, Los Angeles Times
  • Pedro Barrera walks at the new South Los Angeles wetlands park, built on the site of a bus yard.
Pedro Barrera walks at the new South Los Angeles wetlands park, built on… (Gary Friedman / Los Angeles…)

It took three years and more than $26 million to turn an old MTA bus yard in South Los Angeles into what it is today: a sprawling park and urban wetland that will store and clean millions of gallons of storm water — while also giving children a place to play.

The gates to the new park, built on nine acres at Avalon Boulevard and 54th Street, were opened to the public Thursday. Residents say it is a welcome addition to a neighborhood that is sorely in need of green space.

City officials say decades of lax zoning practices have left many of the area's residential streets blighted with warehouses, mechanic shops and scrap yards. The new park replaces one of those industrial islands with a novel feat of urban landscape design.

Unlike most parks, which feature green lawns and picnic tables, this one is composed of walking paths, native plants and several kidney-shaped pools filled with storm water. Naturally occurring bacteria clean pollutants from the water, which eventually feeds into a storm drain.

John Kemmerer, associate director of the water division at the Environmental Protection Agency, said the park is a model of how cities should treat polluted runoff.

Most of the project was paid for by Proposition O — a 2004 bond measure that set aside money for water quality and other projects. State and local grant money and funds from the EPA and the Metropolitan Transportation Authority were also used.

The new park is not the city's first urban wetland. About a mile away, at Augustus F. Hawkins Natural Park, a small artificial wetland was constructed in 2006. The pools there are now home to an array of animals and birds, like turtles and even an egret, said City Councilwoman Jan Perry, who backed the project and was behind the new one.

Although dragonflies have already been seen at the new park, at the moment, it looks a little spare. Many of the plants are still young, and brown because of winter. The water levels are low because of the recent lack of rain. "But in a few years," Perry said, "it will look like it's been here forever."

Perry drew criticism from some last year for a separate issue involving parks in South Los Angeles.

She supported a plan to accept money, instead of a promise to build a park, from the developer of a plot of land that once housed the South Central Farm. Perry said the land, which is in a heavy industrial zone, was not an appropriate place for a park, and she urged fellow council members to instead accept $3.6 million for improvements at two parks and a housing project nearby. The plan was approved, drawing fire from supporters of the original farm.

Perry has said she believes parks should be built in neighborhoods where people live.

Across the street from the new park, 18-year-old Rontrell Cooley lives in a two-story stucco apartment. For years, the lot across the street was strewn with metal and barbed wire. City officials say it was frequently the site of illegal dumping.

Now Cooley looks out from his front door and sees shrubs, trees and water.

kate.linthicum@latimes.com

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