Environment, Parks, Libraries

Thanksgiving and a Sense of Home


Happy Thanksgiving! As we gather with loved ones for another season of cherished family traditions, I hope we’ll all reflect on our many blessings.

Recently, my staff and I teamed up with A Sense of Home to help Ashley, a homeless former foster youth, and her four children – including twin babies – move into their first-ever apartment.

It was a joy to fill empty spaces with lovingly donated furniture and thoughtfully selected decorations, giving this deserving family a sense of home that they had never experienced before. As she watched her children squeal with delight at the sight of their new room, Ashley was moved to tears.

We all have a chance to make a difference in someone’s life, and my hope is that you will be inspired to join with me in paying it forward.

With hope,

$6M Set Aside for Prospective Florence Library

Acting on a motion by Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas, the Board of Supervisors (Board) set aside $5.7 million for a prospective new library in Florence Firestone. They also called for securing additional funding for the project, including from the state of California, and directed Los Angeles County (County) departments to redouble efforts to identify an appropriate location.

“Literacy matters, and I am committed to finding a new and improved long-term library with enhanced features, including modern technology, a robust book collection, as well as welcoming spaces to meet the needs of the Florence Firestone community,” Supervisor Ridley-Thomas said.

He added he is collaborating with Assemblymember Reginald Jones-Sawyer to seek state funding to build the new library.

County Librarian Skye Patrick told the Board, “The Los Angeles County Public Library and County CEO have been working with the Supervisor to find a home for this library. We have committed to this library and so has the Supervisor.”

Several members of the public testified in support of the motion, including Dominique Medina, President of Florence Firestone Community Leaders. “I would like to thank Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas for improving the communities within Florence Firestone,” he said.

Support also came from Edwin Hernandez, Executive Director and CEO of the Florence-Firestone/Walnut Park Chamber of Commerce, which represents more than 1,500 local businesses. In a letter to the Board, he wrote, “The business community fully supports [Supervisor Ridley-Thomas’ motion]… and we have no doubt that the funds being requested to secure a permanent library location will be another successful and productive project for the Florence-Firestone Community.”

Supervisor Ridley-Thomas has long demonstrated his commitment to Florence Firestone residents. He has overseen over $106 million in investment capital and social programs for the community, including affordable housing projects, an improved senior center and constituent service center, streetscape upgrades, park renovations, art programming, and workforce and economic development opportunities.

The original Florence Library, previously located at 1610 East Florence Avenue, was first built in 1970. At 5,000 square feet, it was one of the smaller facilities within the County Public Library system and long overdue for renovation or replacement.

In 2016, a proposal was considered to rebuild the Library at its original location along with affordable housing. This, however, proved financially unfeasible. The Board moved forward with the project’s affordable housing component and added a workforce development center. Construction is now under way.

The Board then considered a new location for the Library at the Florence-Firestone Constituent Service Center, only half a mile away but with twice as much available space. However, the plan was withdrawn after some community members expressed concerns.

While the County continues to look for an alternate site, an “Express” Florence Library has been established at nearby Roosevelt Park. In addition, the community has access to four other libraries within approximately two miles from the original location of the Florence Library.

Julian Zamora, the County’s community library manager at the Florence Express Library, said a full-service library with the same staffing levels remains available at the Express location. He added it offers enhanced programs, including STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) programs for kids, and painting, yoga, and many more programs for adults in the adjacent community room. Meanwhile, a new partnership with the County’s Parks and Recreation Department has resulted in an after-school program where kids can participate in story time and crafts projects. Additional amenities at the Express location include laptops, Wi-Fi service, printing capabilities, and access to the large community room.

More Magic on Its Way to Willowbrook’s Magic Johnson Park

Renderings courtesy of AHBE

Acting on a motion by Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas, the Board of Supervisors voted to move forward with the next phase of a master plan that will offer additional new amenities to Magic Johnson Park, a 126-acre park that is on the verge of becoming a community oasis in Willowbrook.

“More magic is on its way to Willowbrook’s Magic Johnson Park,” said Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas.  “Our next phase of improvements will focus on outdoor amenities that create inviting gathering space for a host of activities…ranging from a dog park to a place for a community concert. At Magic Johnson Park, our goal is to make sure there is an amenity for everyone. ”

In addition to a dog park, the $7 million being invested in the second phase of improvements will predominantly be used to transform the former Ujima Village housing site, 16 acres of land adjacent to the Park, which has sat vacant since the housing development was demolished in 2013. The investment will be used to incorporate the land into the park with the construction of open green spaces that can be used for concerts and other programming. There will also be new walking paths, landscaping and seating areas.

The LA County Department of Parks and Recreation developed the 2019 Revised Master Plan, which amends the original Master Plan adopted in 2016 by incorporating the dog park, adding two recreational fields, and expanding the size of a future nature lab into the Master Plan. The 2019 Master Plan also shifts a proposed future cultural complex to the western side of the park, as an alternative to the previously proposed equestrian center.

(left to right) Earvin “Magic” Johnson, Supervisor Ridley-Thomas, and CBS’ Jim Hill at Magic Johnson Park Renovation Groundbreaking. Photo by Martin Zamora / Board of Supervisors

“For almost 25 years, the Magic Johnson Park has been used for daily exercise, family outings, and celebrations,” said Johnson, after whom the park was named in 1994 following his retirement from the NBA. “I’m excited about this significant investment by Los Angeles County which provides a safe, scenic space for Willowbrook residents and increases the community’s engagement with the park.”

The initial improvements at the park, which are slated for completion in Fall 2020, include a 20,000-square foot state-of-the-art community events center for holding weddings, conferences and other large gatherings; an outdoor wedding pavilion; a splash pad and children’s play areas; improved walking paths with security lighting; and acres upon acres of new landscaping that will give the park an entirely fresh look.

The lake that is currently the centerpiece of the park will be getting an innovative feature that will help address both water conservation and water quality goals. It will divert storm runoff from surrounding neighborhoods and the nearby Compton Creek, clean it and then use it to fill the lower lake and irrigate 30 acres of the park, creating a wetland experience for park goers.

County Parks and Recreation Director John Wicker ensured that there was a comprehensive and community-driven process to prioritize new amenities for Magic Johnson Park. “We are grateful to Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas and partners that are committed to developing and investing in this new, state-of-the-art and LEED Gold facility,” he said. “As a collective, we will build a park for the Willowbrook community to be active and participate in the year-round programs, as well as come together to make memories that will last a lifetime.”

The Magic Johnson Park renovation is only the latest of many investments that have transformed the community of Willowbrook. Over the last several years, Supervisor Ridley-Thomas has championed a building boom that included the Martin Luther King Medical Campus, Willowbrook Library and Senior Center, AC Bilbrew Library, the development of hundreds of units of affordable housing, and upgrades to Metro’s Rosa Parks Station.

LA County Ends Legacy of Brown Water at Sativa

Audit Prompts Investigation of Previous Management

Clean water flows after improvements are made to Sativa’s water system. Photo courtesy of LA County Public Works

Just ten months after taking over the troubled Sativa Water District, Los Angeles County announced dramatic improvements have been made to the once-neglected water system, ensuring 6,800 customers in Willowbrook and Compton that they can reliably expect clean and clear water when they turn on their taps.

At the same time, the County released an audit that indicates hundreds of thousands of dollars – if not more – in potentially questionable spending by Sativa’s previous management. The matter has been referred to law enforcement.

Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas announces Los Angeles County Public Works has assumed management of the Sativa Water District as customers celebrate on November 1, 2018. Photo by Martin Zamora/Board of Supervisors

“When the County stepped in to operate Sativa after years of neglect by its previous management, we promised to create a transparent and accountable process to deliver clean and clear water to its customers,” Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas said. “Today, we have made good on that commitment, and we intend to help ensure that the water system is sustainable in the long-term.”

Supervisor Ridley-Thomas spearheaded the unprecedented effort to have Los Angeles County Public Works temporarily assume control of Sativa and stabilize its aging water system until a permanent administrator can be installed, a process that could take 18 to 24 months.

“This isn’t just about clean water – this is about justice,” added Board Chair Janice Hahn. “This community was forced to deal with dirty tap water in their homes for years. As we work to repair this water system and bring clean water to this community, we are also handing over the results of our audit to the proper authorities so anyone responsible for a crime can be held accountable.”

Public Works used cutting-edge technology to thoroughly flush Sativa’s water system, built new pipes to improve water circulation, and established connections to emergency water sources to ensure customers get clean and clear water.

With a deep cleaning project now completed, Public Works is preparing to transition Sativa to a permanent administrator, and has released a solicitation for proposals.

Public Works Director Mark Pestrella meets with Sativa customers. Photo courtesy of LA County Public Works

“Sativa was a water system in crisis when the County took it over in November 2018,” said Public Works Director Mark Pestrella. “Working with the community, we invested considerable resources and technology into upgrading the system and providing Sativa customers with the safe, clean, reliable and sustainable water service they deserve.”

“Work was done as promised, and there’s no brown water,” Sativa customer Elizabeth Hicks said.  “LA County completed the work with integrity and stepped up. Our community is receiving improved water quality, and the customer service for all the residents has improved a lot. I am very proud of Public Works. They have the necessary resources to deliver for the communities of Willowbrook and Compton. There were too many conflicts  and not enough resources before but, since Public Works stepped in, they changed everything.”

Immediately after taking over as interim administrator, Public Works discovered Sativa’s bank accounts were essentially empty and bills totaling at least $30,000 were unpaid. An independent auditor was brought on board to perform a financial audit of Sativa’s financial statements for the fiscal year ending June 30, 2018.

The audit found that under Sativa’s previous management:

  • approximately $1 million of loan funds intended to finance the acquisition and construction of a well appeared to have been used for other District purposes;
  • expenditures exceeded revenues by approximately $700,000;
  • as much as $385,000 in cash disbursement transactions could not be substantiated by supporting documents;
  • an additional $92,000 in debit card charges could not be substantiated by supporting documents; and
  • an additional $84,000 in cash disbursement transactions appear to be “non-legitimate” and “could possibly involve improper and/or unlawful actions.”

While the audit was ongoing, Public Works began the first phase of sorely needed repairs, maintenance and upgrades to Sativa’s infrastructure, which consists of two aging wells, one with high levels of manganese that gave the water supply a brown hue, and narrow pipes rife with sediment.

Public Works Principal Engineer Russ Bryden supervises a crew upgrading Sativa’s water system. Photo courtesy of LA County Public Works

Over the summer, Public Works reestablished an emergency water connection with the City of Compton and created a temporary water connection to the neighboring water system operated by Liberty Utilities. Both will serve as alternate water sources for Sativa customers.

Public Works also employed a state-of-the-art filtration system to clean out the old pipes and added new pipes in strategic locations to improve water circulation.

Much of the work was done overnight to minimize service disruptions and limit potential brown water spikes that might be triggered by flushing. Sativa customers were provided with bottled water for drinking, cooking and hygiene in the event of service disruptions.

The next phases include completely rebuilding Sativa’s two aging wells and creating a treatment system to remove the manganese. Work is expected to be completed by the end of 2020.

Public Works regularly engaged Sativa customers to give them advance notice about infrastructure improvements, explain the process, and build trust. Public Works also sought their input about what the incoming permanent administrator should prioritize. The next community meeting is planned for September 14th at Sativa Headquarters.

 

Statement on the Passing of Toni Morrison

Toni Morrison in 2008. She was the first African-American woman to win the Nobel in Literature. Damon Winter/The New York Times

“Today we lost a literary giant, cultural icon, and hero to so many. Toni Morrison, whose literary career started by carving out a little time in the evenings to write after her two sons went to sleep, refused to be defined by establishment. And in life and in prose this worldview shone incandescently bright.  She wrote her books from a vital, underrepresented perspective that placed African Americans – particularly women – at the heart of her writing at a time when they were largely relegated to the margins both in literature and in life. She was the right voice during a difficult time that amplified our collective desires; that understood the way language could operate as an uplifting force; that as she wrote in Beloved said “you are your best thing”; and that claimed a space for us all whether we thought we needed it or not. I will greatly miss Ms. Morrison and send my condolences to the Morrison family, but I know today as we mourn her loss, in so many ways in so many hearts and minds and spirits her ethos will continue to live on.”