February 26, 2012 - From the March, 2012 issue

Adel Hagekhalil on Significance of South LA’s Wetlands Park

Natural spaces in cities may provide recreation areas for residents, but in Los Angeles they also contribute to an ecological infrastructure. In South LA, the creation of a wetland on what once was a parking lot marks a commitment to using landscape to treat storm water. TPR presents an exclusive article by Adel Hagekhalil of the Bureau of Sanitation on the park’s significance, followed by excerpts from Councilwoman Jan Perry’s remarks at the South LA Wetlands Park opening in February.

Adel Hagekhalil

“It is estimated that Los Angeles will need to spend nearly $8 billion over the next 20 years to comply with water quality mandates for stormwater runoff.” -Adel Hagekhalil, LA Bureau of Sanitation

Los Angeles has grown into the great City that it is today because of water. Our responsibilities today are more important than ever. We need to continue to invest in protecting and enhancing our water for our future generations.

Today, Los Angeles imports 85 percent of its water. However, every time it rains billions of gallons wash down to the ocean. We need to fix this unbalance. As Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa said: “Our future depends on our willingness to adopt an ethic of sustainability. If we don’t commit ourselves to conserving and recycling water, we will tap ourselves out.”

Across the country, we are all facing many of the same challenges. These include a growing population, an aging infrastructure, pollution at our beaches and waterways, a shortage of parks and open space, shortage in water supplies and change in our climate.

To meet these challenges and to make our cities sustainable and healthy places for our children and grandchildren, we need leadership, partnership and collaboration. We need bold and integrated solutions that provide multiple benefits. We need to leverage our resources to improve water quality, capture and reuse more local water, conserve water use and maximize the use of recycled water. Whether it is rainwater, stormwater, recycled water or groundwater, we need to harness that water and maximize its use while providing multiple benefits for our neighborhoods.

As investors, business leaders, engineers, scientists, public servants, environmental stewards and community members, we need to continue to work together to assure that we will be ready to meet our needs while providing a bright future – one of vitality and sustainability.

In Los Angeles and under the leadership of the Mayor and City Council, we have started this journey over 10 years ago as part the LA Sanitation’s award winning Water Integrated Resources Plan (IRP) .  The IRP framed the roadmap for our water future employing bold and integrated solutions. Building on the IRP, our community overwhelmingly approved in November 2004 a half-billion dollars in water quality bond (Proposition “O”) to start the journey and to improve water quality, cleanup pollution and protect public health. These projects are now a reality. We are now building more green and multi-benefit projects, harvesting and using more rainwater and stormwater, and expanding our recycled water infrastructure. Many cities across the nation and the world are looking at LA’s efforts as a model to follow.  

The anchor of these projects that embodies all these benefits is the South Los Angeles Wetlands Park at 54th Street and Avalon Street. On February 9th, Angelinos, led by students from across the neighborhood schools, gathered with City leaders to celebrate the grand opening of this urban oasis.

The South LA Wetlands Park, envisioned, championed and made into reality by Councilwoman Jan Perry, transformed a 9-acre underutilized and blighted bus maintenance yard into a stormwater wetlands park and community oasis.  The project will not only treat runoff from the surrounding community that drains to the Los Angeles River through a series of treatment wetlands and water ponds; it also provides a green park and community asset in a disadvantaged and park-poor community. The Park offers walkways, bridges and wildlife viewing and educational opportunities for the all Angelinos to enjoy.  The total project budget was nearly $30 million. Funding was provided by many sources, with the majority funded by Proposition O.  This South Los Angeles Wetlands Park is the second wetland park in the surrounding community after the unveiling of the neighboring Augustus Hawkins Nature Park in 2006.  I invite you to bring your family and friends and visit these urban oases in the heart of Los Angeles.

South Los Angeles Wetlands Park

It is estimated that Los Angeles will need to spend nearly $8 billion over the next 20 years to comply with water quality mandates for stormwater runoff.  Imagine if that investment is made across the City and region following the South Los Angeles Wetlands Park model. It will transform Los Angeles and make it clean, green with water in between for all our children and grandchildren.  I ask you to join in fulfilling this vision.

Over the future issues, I will be sharing with you more of these clean water programs and projects from across the City from the San Fernando Valley to San Pedro and from East Los Angeles to West Los Angeles.  As a foodie, I will also give you my restaurant pick from across the City to enjoy as you check out the highlighted project or program.


My Restaurant Pick:  As you visit the South Los Angeles Wetlands Park, stop by and have lunch at Chichen Itza Restaurant at Mercado Los Polmas at 37th Street and Grand Avenue.  Start with the Ceviche de Pescado and then try the grilled fish with the citrus jacama salad. Enjoy!

Remarks by Councilwoman Jan Perry at opening ceremony of the South Los Angeles Wetlands Park

Jan Perry: I’m councilwoman Jan Perry of the great 9th Council District, and it’s with a great deal of joy that I welcome you here today. We’re here with our families, our city family, our friends, our young people, our schoolfolks, and everybody who has looked forward to this project for many years to celebrate a major milestone for this community here at 54th and Avalon. This is a grassroots effort that has resulted in bringing nature back into our community. What you see now is just the beginning of something that as it grows and the plants grow in will explode into something absolutely beautiful. 

Almost three years ago we stood at this very spot and broke ground on what is to become a game changer for South Los Angeles. The spot where we stand now was covered in asphalt, with barbed wire fencing, with spare truck and machine parts, strewn haphazardly all over the place. What a difference a little creativity, tenacity, and community support can make! Now today we are surrounded by greenery and are celebrating the opening. This park is setting the stage for something magical to happen. The growth of this park that brings nature right here to the doorsteps of these children replaces what was once an ugly bus yard. This is a giant step forward.

Now this district is only 14 square miles, and it houses over 250,000 people. This is one of the most densely populated communities in our city, and obviously we needed more places for people to unwind, to relax, and to stretch their legs and get out and exercise. Ten acres in South LA is just hard to find. I saw this as an opportunity to bring this one-of-a-kind park right here to the 9th. Now the asphalt is gone, the trees and the shrubs are here, the park benches are here, the boulders to sit on are here, and we have solar lighting and a walking path. This is just the beginning. 

Since 2006 we’ve been working on getting this through the legislative process. I want to thank our Commissioner of Public Works Valerie Shaw, City Engineer Gary Lee Moore, Bureau of Sanitation Director Enrique Salazar, and General Manager of Recreation and Parks Jon Kirk Mukri. 

I would also like to recognize my Director of Environmental Affairs, Jeff Catalano. Jeff put years of hard work into this project when many people, even in my own office, thought I was crazy and that he was crazy too. But he kept at it, he was tenacious, and he was passionate. All I ever had to say was keep moving ahead, even when it looked like it wasn’t going to happen. He did it with enthusiasm, zeal, and passion, and I’m glad he never gave up. 

I especially want to thank Psomas and the Ford Construction Group for their expeditious design and construction. The members of the Citizens Oversight Advisory Committee, and the Administrative Oversight Committee, and the staff, for their assistance in getting over $10 million in Proposition O clean water bond funds. The Regional Neighborhood Oversight Committee members, thank you in your assistance in getting two separate Prop K funds and for a seven-year effort in negotiations, grant funding, community outreach, and more. 

Just a little sidenote, the first wetlands park is over at Slauson and Compton. Now we have two wetlands: the first one is two acres; this one is ten acres, right here at 54th and Avalon. This will keep the flooding down in our neighborhoods in heavy rain, and it will help the surrounding areas. It’s going to work by taking the runoff from storm drains, by cleaning the water and recharging the water table. It’s going to be an outdoor classroom for these kids, giving them something that they never had before. 

This is a $26 million investment in South Los Angeles. We’ve got the wetlands, we’ve got two viewing bridges, and you can see wildlife up close. As the plants grow in it will be visually stunning. In a few short years, just like the wetlands at Slauson and Compton, the plants will grow in and it will look like it’s been here forever. We can already see dragonflies coming to feed on the plants. The birds will have the wetlands—there will be places for them to nest. We have mosquito fish here, and larger birds like egrets and herons have already been here to feed. So this is a unique collaboration between our government and our community. I’m proud to see that the hard work has paid off. 


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