May 30, 1997 - From the May, 1997 issue

Los Angeles’ Two Park Bonds: An Update From “Mother Park”

New L.A. County Planning Commissioner Esther Feldman is the outgoing Director of the Trust for Public Land’s LA. Field Office.

By Esther Feldman


Esther Feldman: “Parks… are a critical component of what makes cities livable... makes families want to raise their children there and helps senior citizens to feel safe.”

Last November, Los Angeles County voters overwhelmingly approved Proposition A, the Los Angeles County Safe Neighborhood Parks Act, by more than a 65% margin. City voters also approved Proposition K, the City Parks Act. Similarly, in 1992, 64% of county voters approved an earlier Countywide parks measure.

So what does this all mean? Beyond a doubt, voters in this County know what they are doing and are deeply interested in protecting and improving our quality of life. Clearly, they understand the link between healthy and safe neighborhoods where families want to live and raise children and well-kept parks and recreation areas. While many of us grew up in urban parks and playgrounds (and consider those long afternoons spent hanging on swings a rite of childhood), many children in this county today don't have that right.

Voter approval of these two parks measures will help us make sure that these very basic amenities—vital to the long-term health of any attractive and livable community—are attended to throughout Los Angeles County, and will help us respond to the far different social issues we confront today.

Parks aren't just about pretty green places, an add-on that you get if your community is lucky, or affluent. Think about it. If you grew up in a city, what did you do after school or on weekends when you were a kid? Safe neighborhood parks, soccer and baseball fields within easy walking or driving distance, quiet places in which to walk or have a picnic, trails lined with tall, shady green trees—these things should be an integral part of our daily living. They are a critical component of what makes cities livable, helps maintain property values, encourages businesses to stay in a community, makes families want to raise their children there and helps senior citizens to feel safe.

Imagine San Francisco without Golden Gate Park. New York without Central Park. Boston without the Emerald Necklace. Los Angeles without Griffith and Elysian Parks, or the Santa Monica Mountains and beaches. Imagine no ball fields, no basketball court, no playground for your energetic children and grandchildren. With a population in the County of nearly 10 million and growing, it is vital that we protect and improve the park and recreation resources we have, provide healthy and modern recreation alternatives for our youth, address the recreation needs of an older and more active population, and set aside some natural lands now so that our children will have the opportunity to enjoy them in the future.

Proposition A, the Los Angeles County Safe Neighborhood Parks Act, specifically set aside funds to: 

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  • Provide safe places for our children to play
  • Give at-risk youth healthy recreation alternatives to gangs and graffiti
  • Restore our rundown parks and recreation areas, improve safety lighting and fencing
  • Clean up Santa Monica Bay and our beaches
  • Purchase some of our last remaining natural mountain and canyon lands
  • Restore old and build new senior citizen facilities
  • Plant trees, build trails, restore rivers and streams
  • Help create a network of parks and trails along the 51 mile Los Angeles River Greenway
  • Improve and restore park facilities in every city in the County.

We now have a total of over $700 million in public funds to invest in improving the quality of life in neighborhoods throughout the county, to help clean up Santa Monica Bay, to create new and exciting modern recreation facilities and to protect some of our most precious natural lands. There are even some funds available to help operate and maintain these park and recreation facilities annually.

It sounds like a lot of money. It isn't. We were already far behind in terms of providing adequate parks and recreation opportunities in this county; in fact, with less than one acre of park space per 1,000 residents, we don't even come close to national standards of 6 to 10 acres per 1,000 people. We're still playing catchup. We need not only to repair old, unsafe and aging facilities, we need to provide for our current population and think ahead for future generations. What kind of a legacy do we want to leave our children?

Now is the time for Los Angeles County's corporations, small businesses, private foundations and sports and philanthropic leaders to step up to the plate and match these public dollars. The voters have made their desires known, beyond any shadow of a doubt. They are willing to pay for these parks, recreation facilities, beaches and natural lands. Most of the funds are earmarked only for acquiring, improving and restoring lands and facilities; private funds could match these dollars, and could provide the badly needed funds for providing recreation programming and keeping the doors open at these sites. Many well-known sports leaders and players, as well as businesses and foundations, give large grants to build and restore sports and recreation facilities. Just think what those dollars could do if leveraged with the $700 million in public funds already set aside for those purposes.

While there has been a lot of controversy recently regarding the use of Proposition K, the City park measure, none of these problems exists with either of the two County measures Proposition A (1992) and Prop A (1996). All of the funds in the earlier Proposition A were specifically earmarked for over 140 different, strongly supported park, recreation, at-risk youth and natural lands projects. Today, 75% percent of the projects funded by measure A are either in process or complete.

There are new public funds available now, and we should work as a team to make sure they go as far as possible. The voters have done their part—now it's time for private funding sources to do theirs. Together, in the true definition of "public-private partnership," we can make a difference, in Los Angeles and in every one of the 88 cities in this county.

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