Environment, Parks, Libraries

Seeing Helen Keller Park in a New Light

IMG_1340

Children played on swings, raced down slides, and even frolicked in the snow as the community of Athens celebrated the grand reopening of Helen Keller Park.

Out of an abundance of caution, the seven-acre park on 1045 W. 126th Street was closed to the public in the summer of 2013, when pieces of construction debris were found embedded in the soil.

A $5.2-million investment by Los Angeles County cleared away the environmental hazards, and installed a new playground, ball field, walking path and outdoor exercise equipment. The landscaping and south parking lot were also upgraded.

IMG_1343 (1)“When it comes to health and safety, we simply don’t mess around,” Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas said during the grand reopening ceremony. “We’ve taken an environmental challenge and transformed it into a state-of-the-art recreational oasis.”

The site used to be a dumping ground for construction companies until the 1940’s, prior to its acquisition by Los Angeles County. Some of the old debris was unearthed during the $7.3-million renovation of the Community Center, which opened in late 2014.

For over a year, the Departments of Public Works and Parks and Recreation partnered with a private contractor, Environmental Construction, to replace the top layer of soil throughout the park and provide new attractions for visitors, both young and old.

Their work culminated in a grand reopening ceremony that transformed the park into a winter wonderland for a day, to the delight of local kids.

“I hope the message is clear: the Athens community deserves nothing but the best,” Supervisor Ridley-Thomas said to cheers from the crowd.

He said several projects are still in the works, including more affordable housing units, the renovation of the Youth Activities League building, and an art installation at Woodcrest Library.

IMG_1341

Take A Stroll in the Gardena Willows Wetland Preserve

Video Provided by Friends of Gardena Willows Wetland Preserve

Savor the sights and sounds of autumn by taking a stroll on the newly renovated walking path at the Gardena Willows Wetland Preserve.

With an $85,000 grant from Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas, the Los Angeles Conservation Corps made various improvements to the 0.75-mile long perimeter trail in the 13.6-acre preserve.

“Right in the middle of an urban city, filled with cars, pavement, and concrete, sits this incredibly unique and well-preserved treasure,” Supervisor Ridley-Thomas said. “We must maintain it, celebrate it and showcase it in the appropriate manner.”

_DFA2801“The renovated path will make sure that all visitors are able to walk safely and enjoy the wetlands without adversely affecting the natural habitat and native flora and fauna,” he added. “It is very important that we all tread lightly in the wetlands.”

Gardena Willows Wetland Preserve is unique in that it offers people a view of how this area looked before it was settled,” said Cheral Sherman, vice president of Friends of the Gardena Willows, which maintains the preserve and organizes docent-led tours, monthly strolls and other activities

“We feel strongly that it should be accessible to as many folks as possible,” she added. “With the new path, which is much wider and smoother than the old path, even visitors with restricted mobility can enjoy the Preserve.”

Located behind Arthur Johnson Park, formerly South Gardena Park, the preserve is the remnant of an ancient watershed. About two-thirds of its acreage is upland, while the rest is wetland. The native vegetation provides a habitat for various insects, amphibians, reptiles and birds.

Those interested in taking a walk through the Gardena Willows Wetland Preserve can come on the second Sunday of every month, from 1-4pm. Wear sturdy walking shoes, a hat, sunscreen and insect repellant.

For more information visit www.gardenawillows.org.

_DFA2881

Transforming Urban Blight into Community Gardens

6302786851_1e2d5d99cd_z

Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas trying out his green thumb at the Florence-Firestone Community Garden in 2011

Vacant lots overgrown with weeds could soon be transformed into community gardens bursting with fruits and vegetables.

Acting on a motion by Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas, the Board of Supervisors unanimously voted Tuesday to begin the process of establishing an Urban Agricultural Incentive Zone (UAIZ) program in Los Angeles County.

By turning vacant lots into community gardens, it would reduce urban blight while increasing the supply of fresh produce grown in urban areas.

The program is authorized by the California Urban Agriculture Incentives Zone Act or AB 551, and requires the owner of the vacant lot to enter into a contract with the County to dedicate the property for agricultural uses.

In exchange, the owner would get a property tax discount.

Supervisor Ridley-Thomas said the benefits of the program would outweigh any revenue losses to the County.

“I see this as one tool in the toolkit to address the significant food desert issues prevalent in urban areas throughout the County,” said Supervisor Ridley-Thomas. “The fiscal cost of establishing a UAIZ program are likely to pale in comparison to the anticipated public health, environmental, quality of life and economic benefits for the participants and the surrounding communities.”

His motion drew support from several advocates of urban gardening, including Matthew Van Diepen, founder of Homegrown Gardens. He declared at Tuesday’s Board meeting: “We are ready to turn blighted areas of our city into hubs of life that will foster nature, community and the economy through community gardens and production farms.”

Francesca de la Rosa, policy director for Women Organizing Resources Knowledge & Services WORKS, said the program would help address one of the biggest obstacles to community food growing efforts – access to land.

“This program will be a win for gardeners, property owners and, most importantly, neighborhoods across this County that stand to benefit from an increase in access to healthy fruits and vegetables; the creation of new green, open spaces; and renewed neighborhood pride generated from beautiful community garden projects,” she said.

Luke Ippoliti, with the nonprofit Meet Each Need with Dignity, said the program would address the county’s high rates of poverty, food insecurity, diabetes and obesity. Meanwhile, Breanna Hawkins, a policy and research fellow at the Los Angeles Food Policy Council, estimated that every $1 invested in community gardens yields about $6 worth of vegetables.

“We recognize the many economic, social, social, health and environmental benefits that urban agriculture can bring to the county, as well as the tax benefit it can bring to property owners,” she said.

According to County Assessor, almost 57,000 parcels of land may be eligible for the program throughout Los Angeles County, including almost 8,000 in unincorporated areas governed by the Board. Those living in incorporated areas cannot participate until their respective cities adopt a resolution.

LA County Will Monitor Oil Drilling Activities

The oil pump

Hoping to reduce misinformation and continue monitoring oil drilling activities, the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors has asked for a detailed inventory of all oil fields currently operating within the jurisdiction of the County of Los Angeles.

The report, which is due back to the board by late fall, will be conducted by the Department of Regional Planning in consultation with the Department of Public Health and is expected to provide recommendations on a strategy to ensure optimal, appropriate and consistent regulation of these facilities.

In addition, the Board directed county representatives to advocate for statewide legislation to fund continued studies on the potential environmental and health impacts associated with oil and gas production activities.

“The Inglewood Oil Field has more protections than other oil fields in the State,” said Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas, who co-authored the motion with Supervisor Hilda Solis. “However, we must ensure that adequate protections continue at Inglewood Oil Field and that other fields in cities and unincorporated areas throughout the County are monitored and are safely operated.”

Additional information, such as a comprehensive peer-reviewed community health assessment, a study of the impacts of hydraulic fracking, as well as a multi-year long air quality monitoring study of the perimeter of the Inglewood Oil Field, has been completed and finds no significant health or environmental impacts that could be correlated with drilling activities. These documents and other required reports can be reviewed at http://planning.lacounty.gov/baldwinhills.

Setting the Record Straight on the Inglewood Oil Field

oil-fieldPrompted by the release of a state report on hydraulic fracking in California, Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas issued a letter to the California Council on Science and Technology noting his concern that the report may have not taken into consideration the extensive amount of environmental review and monitoring that has been done, and is required on an ongoing basis, to ensure that the Inglewood Oil Field, one of the largest urban oil fields in the nation, continues to operate in a manner that protects the health, safety and wellbeing of surrounding residents.

“I want to make it very clear to the residents of my district,” said the Supervisor. “There is no hydraulic fracking happening in the Inglewood Oil Field and there are currently no plans to do so.  The Inglewood Oil Field is unique precisely because of the extensive regulations, monitoring and continuing research that makes the public’s health and safety the first priority.”

One of the main concerns highlighted in the council’s report addresses ground water issues. At the Inglewood Oil Field, the ground water is monitored on a quarterly basis and no contamination has been identified. In fact, the majority of the wells are dry and it has been determined by experts that the wells underneath the field are not being tapped for water supply.

Additional information, such as a comprehensive peer-reviewed community health assessment, a study of the impacts of hydraulic fracking, as well as a multi-year long air quality monitoring study of the perimeter of the oil field, has been completed an finds no significant health or environmental impacts that could be correlated with drilling activities. These documents, and other required reports can be reviewed at http://planning.lacounty.gov/baldwinhills.