Environment, Parks, Libraries

Making a Pitch for Water Quality

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Prompted by black water flowing from taps in Gardena early this year, the Board of Supervisors voted recently to seek changes in state law that would strengthen Los Angeles County’s authority and oversight of public utility agencies.

Currently, the California Environmental Protection Agency’s Water Resources Control Board (WRCB) Division of Drinking Water is solely responsible for ensuring the safety and quality of large water systems, such as the investor-owned Golden State Water Company (GSWC) that serves Gardena.

While large water systems are required to comply with the directives of the WRCB, they are not mandated to respond to the county’s requests for water testing, customer notification, or annual reports. The county can only sue them after an alleged violation has occurred.

“Several legislative and regulatory changes are needed for the county to address local water quality concerns more nimbly and aggressively,” said Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas. His motion, which won unanimous approval from the board, followed recommendations made by the county’s interim chief executive officer, counsel, and interim public health director.

Gardena residents complained of foul-smelling black water flowing from their faucets, showers and toilets in January. The WRCB requested the county Department of Public Health to investigate, which resulted in the discovery of sediment and microorganisms in GSWC’s water mains, the product of years of water treatment and infrequent flushing. The water did not have unsafe levels of E. Coli or coliform, but failed standards for odor and color. Over the last few months, GSWC has taken steps to address water quality concerns, including flushing its water mains more often.

In their report, the county’s interim chief executive officer, counsel, and interim public health director recommended that the WRCP retain full administrative, enforcement and oversight authority over water systems, but that local health officers also be empowered to respond to complaints and conduct investigations.

County to Conduct First-Ever Comprehensive Assessment of Parks and Rec Facilities

Roy Campanella Park in Compton, photo courtesy of Los Angeles County Department of Parks and Recreation.

Roy Campanella Park in Compton, photo courtesy of Los Angeles County Department of Parks and Recreation.

Hoping to get an aerial view of the green spaces in Los Angeles County, the Board of Supervisors recently approved an unprecedented analysis of all the parks, hiking trails, botanical gardens, wildlife sanctuaries and similar venues within its borders.

The first-ever Countywide Comprehensive Parks and Recreation Needs Assessment would help determine the most efficient way to operate and maintain existing assets. It would also identify the communities that remain underserved, and include an inventory of potential projects and their respective funding requirements.

“The final product will not only identify geographic areas with the highest need for parks and open space, but will identify, prioritize, and outline costs for specific park and/or open space projects,” Supervisors Mark Ridley-Thomas and Michael Antonovich said in a joint motion.

“This effort has never been done before and it is much needed,” Ridley-Thomas added. “Parks and recreational facilities can enhance and even transform neighborhoods. We must continue to bring green spaces to communities that need it, and enhance the parks and open spaces that we already have.

The analysis could position the county to better compete for public and private funding, as well as make the case for creating a revenue stream through a ballot measure in 2016.

Currently, the county relies on Proposition A, a parcel tax approved by voters in 1992, to generate $52 million annually for park construction and maintenance, beach cleanup, the acquisition and preservation open space, and other purposes. Proposition A, however, is set to expire this June.

The board sought an extension by putting Proposition P on the ballot last November, but it failed to muster the two-thirds majority required for passage. Among the criticisms of Proposition P was the lack of a “needs assessment” that would justify continuing to pay the parcel tax.

The Countywide Comprehensive Parks and Recreation Needs Assessment approved Tuesday is estimated to cost $3.5 million, and take about 16 months.

Calling for a Greener Los Angeles County

VX2015 PROGRAM_Page_01Hoping to make Los Angeles County a national leader in “green” innovation, Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas recently urged business, banking and environmental leaders from around the nation to bring novel solutions to reduce the carbon footprint and improve the region’s quality of life.

“There is no issue more inspiring, more challenging, more critical and more global than the emerging green economy,” he said recently at the 8th annual VerdeXchange Green Marketmakers Conference. “Businesses, environmentalists and other local leaders are stepping up to the plate with big ideas. And the threat of climate change is pushing government – at all levels – to respond and adapt to a new way of doing things.”

Ridley-Thomas pledged the County’s cooperation and dedication to creating public/private partnerships.

“The County of Los Angeles strives to be part of the solution, not part of the problem,” he said.

The Supervisor has been working with the nationwide Emerald Cities organization to develop a model workforce training program that will create a pipeline for local contractors to bid on large-scale municipal retrofit projects. In addition, he has championed the large scale adoption of Property Assessed Clean Energy (PACE) Programs so that residents and businesses will have other means for financing energy efficient improvements on their properties. He also continues to advocate for more resources to expand the County’s local transit system

A “green” economy, he noted, brings a triple bottom line including, greening communities, inspiration of a new generation of environmental stewards and making sure those green dollars stay local.

“Nothing will reduce our carbon footprint more than getting people out of their cars,” he said. “We know that what is good for the environment is good for business.”

Helen Keller Park Gets New Community Center

photo 4 photo 2Mike Ealey, Helen Keller Park Supervisor, remembers throwing his first pitch at the West Athens neighborhood park in 1966. And this week, Ealey got a chance to inaugurate a brand new community center that will ensure Helen Keller Park will continue to serve as an anchor for the community.

“Today is a blessed day,” he said to the crowd of several dozen people gathered for the ribbon cutting ceremony. The new Helen Keller Community Park Community Building is a 4,000 foot LEED Gold certified facility featuring a new computer lab, arts-and-crafts room, outdoor patio, reception area, full kitchen and new parking lot.

photo 1“It takes a village to make all of this happen,” noted Los Angeles County Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas, who helped fund the nearly $7 million investment in the center. “Today is a good day at Helen Keller Park.”

Proving that it takes a village to make something great, the British Academy of Film and Television Arts Los Angeles Chapter and Warner Bros. Entertainment donated $10,000 for a screening room that features a 5×9-foot screen, projector, and surround sound equipment. It will be one of the featured attractions as programming for the park begins in January. There will be movie nights, job training and an after school program and teen club just to name a few of the activities.

Nigel Daly, chairman of BAFTA, who was recently invited into the Order of the British Empire for his contribution to film, said he was honored to be welcomed into the community and told the crowd that he was “One proud Brit.” BAFTA has partnered with the county for nine years on programs teaching children Shakespeare and other arts related programs.

And more is to come at Helen Keller. Just over a year ago, it was discovered that the park was contaminated by construction waste and it was closed. And so, clean up crews have been hired to clean the top layer of soil from the entire park and replace it by the fall of 2015 with drought tolerant plants and a carpet of green grass.

“Our hope is that Helen Keller Community Center will quickly become a hub of activity in this wonderful community,” said Russ Guiney, director of LA County Parks and Recreation. “This is a place where people of all ages can feel welcome.”

It’s yours! Cutting the ribbon on Helen Keller Community Center! @mridleythomas

A video posted by Los Angeles County Parks & Rec (@lacountyparks) on

New Website Features 367 Miles of Trails

Los Angeles County Department of Parks and Recreation has launched a new website showcasing 367 miles of trails throughout the county. A one-stop resource for hikers, mountain bikers and equestrians, trails.lacounty.gov can help with trail conditions, directions, elevation, weather and air quality.

“Nature nurtures,” said Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas. “And the new site aims to make the county’s vast natural assets more accessible and user-friendly.”

Among the features on trails.lacounty.gov is a comprehensive list of trails that includes such vital information as trail length, elevation gain and permitted uses; a locator with the ability to search by city name, ZIP code or trail name (the mobile version will allow searches by current location); interactive digital maps enabling users to view the steepness or surface type on trails; and downloadable and printable QuickGuides that include trail maps, descriptions, directions, photos and elevation profiles.

“Whatever their recreational preference, trail users are among the most passionate and informed outdoor enthusiasts,” said Department of Parks and Recreation Director Russ Guiney. “The evidence is clear: Recreation in nature brings a number of wellness benefits to those who enjoy it. This website is part of our mission to encourage that type of recreation — and increase the level of participation.”

Among the trails profiled on the new site is the Second District’s planned Park to Playa Trail, which will create a network of trails that will seamlessly connect Kenneth Hahn Park to the bike trails at Playa del Rey. The project will eventually connect approximately 13 miles from Baldwin Hills along Ballona Creek to the Ballona Wetlands and the beach bicycle path. There will be entrances to the Park to Playa Trail along the Ballona Creek Bike Path, in Culver City Park, at Baldwin Hills Scenic Overlook, at Kenneth Hahn State Recreation Area, and at Norman O. Houston Park. A quick guide to the Park to Playa Trail is featured here.

“Outdoor recreation helps keep our communities healthy,” the Supervisor said. “And this is simply another step to help foster healthy habits.”

A mobile version of the site is expected before the new year, with a mobile app expected in 2015.