Environment, Parks, Libraries

Supervisors Support Urban Farming to Reduce Blight

Urban Ag
Paving the way for tender greens, edible flowers and fruit orchards to replace blighted, empty lots in Los Angeles County, the Board of Supervisors voted to implement a program that will help property owners and community leaders lease vacant properties for agricultural use.

The motion to establish the program, authored by Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas, calls for the local establishment of the California Urban Agriculture Incentive Zones Act, which will allow property owners throughout Los Angeles County to receive reduced tax assessments on their land if they lease it out for agricultural use.

For the past year, cities and counties throughout California have used the legislation to spur the creation of community gardens and small-scale farms in plots of land that lay empty and barren. With lower property taxes on plots of three acres or less, owners can lease them out to community gardeners dedicated to growing food for at least five years.

“This program would create a win-win. It will increase the amount of healthy fruits and vegetables available within our food deserts as well as reduce eyesores created by vacant, oftentimes blighted lots,” said Supervisor Ridley-Thomas.

The City of Los Angeles has already taken steps to set up the program, but an official Urban Agricultural Incentive Zone can’t be established in Los Angeles without Board of Supervisors approval.
The board is expecting an assessment of the number of eligible vacant properties in Los Angeles County, a recommended budget and a schedule for potential implementation by early January.

Athens Toddler Park Now Open

Calling all children who want to get their hands dirty: the Athens Toddler Park is now open. Funded by First 5 LA and built in partnership with LA County Parks and Recreation, the Los Angeles Neighborhood Land Trust and the Los Angeles Conservation Corps, the Athens tot lot was designed especially for children ages 2 to 5.

The new Toddler Park goes hand in glove with the Tiny Tot University—a pre-K program at Athens Park for children ages 3 to 5 to develop extensive math, science and English skills. But now with the Toddler Park, young children have a spot specially dedicated to their needs and abilities; they can play musical instruments, climb on nature-inspired balance beams, play with colorful panels for tactile sensory development and romp in a butterfly garden help promote unstructured play time.

The tot park is a part of Athens Park, which features two large baseball diamonds, a gymnasium, swimming pool, large community room and a computer lab. In addition to 20 acres urban park land, Athens Park provides year-round recreational programs including After School and Summer Day Camps, youth sports such as basketball, baseball, tackle football, cheerleading, summer lunch, and After School snack program.

The Athens Toddler Park is yet another bright spot in the local park landscape. Last September, the West Athens Victory Garden, opened on a once-empty lot that was once a blight in the West Athens neighborhood. The garden features 30 raised garden beds, which residents applied for, it boasts fruit trees, a play structure for children, a walking path along the entire perimeter and a rainwater cistern, that will catch as much as 1700 gallons of water annually—enough to provide water for most of the fruit trees that have been planted in the garden.

“Parks bring an essential quality to any community,” said Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas, who has made it a priority to improve and create parks throughout the Second District. “Children, especially, need to have a safe, clean place to run around and be children. I am grateful for this unique public-private partnership that is demonstrating it is possible to green our communities and improve lives.”

EV Charging Stations Available to Residents


County residents can now take advantage of new electric vehicle charging stations at various county facilities.

Electric vehicle owners near the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s station in Lynwood or the Department of Health Services in Downey for example, can charge their vehicles for up to four hours, free of charge, during the initial year of the program.

“This is an exciting asset for our county residents to enjoy,” said Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas. “It is one more step we are taking toward making our county more environmentally friendly.”

By making charging stations more plentiful, the county is addressing one of the stumbling blocks some consumers say they face when they determine if they will buy an electric vehicle. Currently, there are over 20 electric vehicle charging stations at facilities across the county, with additional stations planned for installation in the coming months. Parking rates and restrictions may apply at certain facilities.

For an interactive Google Map of all current EV charging stations in LA County, please visit: bit.ly/evchargers

LA County Moves Forward with Green Improvement Program

Green House Family

Los Angeles County homeowners in 38 cities interested in making their homes greener now can apply for a financing program through which certain energy improvement costs are paid through property tax bills.

For example, qualified homeowners who want to install solar panels or a more efficient heating and air conditioning system will be able to take out loans for their purchase, and repayments will be made over time through tax assessments.

Studies suggest that homes with such improvements tend to sell at higher prices.

Currently, the main program providing energy efficiency upgrades in California, based in West Riverside County, is called HERO. In addition, a statewide conglomerate called CaliforniaFIRST plans to start offering PACE programs in 170 cities across the state this summer.

The Board of Supervisors approved moving forward with establishing the HERO Program in 38 cities including Carson, Gardena, Inglewood, Lawndale and Hawthorne. The Board also expect recommendations by the end of summer on how to roll-out a Countywide PACE program.

“This program is good for property owners, it’s good for the economy and it’s good for the environment,” said Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas, who sponsored the motion. “It is good news that Los Angeles County is moving forward with it.”

Statewide, nearly 13,000 residential assessments have been established and more than $260-million in residential improvements have been completed. In addition, the program has spurred 6,000 jobs.

In San Diego County for example, residential and commercial property owners from Carlsbad to Escondido to the county’s unincorporated areas have agreed to offer this incentive to improve environmental standards and encourage residents to reduce water usage and increase solar energy use.

Interested Los Angeles County residents can check with their city councils to see if they are eligible.

Environmental Committee Ramped Up

Gardena resident Mark Henderson

Gardena resident Mark Henderson would like to help his city begin cleaning up the 72 contaminated land sites that exist within its boundaries.

Barbara Holland, with the Labor/Community Strategy Center in Los Angeles, is passionate about cleaning up air pollution and creating more mass transit options for Angelenos.

Both Holland and Henderson attended the first Empowerment Congress Environmental Committee’s recent meeting to join forces with other residents and organizations committed to environmental causes and looking to spur change.

“I would like to know how I can help my city deal with this issue,” said Henderson, referring to the industrially polluted sites that dot Gardena. “I am looking for strategies and resources.”

“I want to know how we can push back on our carbon footprint,” added Holland.

Indeed, the Empowerment Congress, established 22 years ago by then-Councilman Mark Ridley-Thomas, is an organization that helps connect community groups and individuals with their local elected officials so that changes can occur.

From air pollution to soil contamination to sustainable living, environmental issues are of big concern to Los Angeles County residents. The EC’s Environmental Committee members hope to harness their collective ideas and energy to support plans for more edible gardens and trees planted in vacant lots, to push for more public transportation, to address the issue of lead poisoning as well as recruit young people into an environmental justice movement.

Thelmy Perez of the L.A. Human Right to Housing Collective

“I love this notion of putting our minds together and working on policy solutions for a cleaner L.A.,” said Thelmy Perez, of the L.A. Human Right to Housing Collective, an organization that seeks to increase affordable housing units in Los Angeles.

Scott Chan, chair of the environmental committee, hopes to see residents use the Environmental Committee and the Environmental Service Center at the Second District office in Expo Park as a place to receive information, network and create action plans.

“I am a big fan of “educate, engage and empower,” which is the motto of the Empowerment Congress,” said Chan, who is also program director for the Asian and Pacific Islander Obesity Prevention Alliance. “My hope is that this is used as a space for the community so that we follow that model. I want us to do good work around environmental issues in the Second District.”