LONG BEACH, Calif. – Parks throughout Los Angeles County have relied on local, voter-approved funding for over 20 years, but those green spaces are currently in a financial rut.
Los Angeles County parks, including the 162 parks in Long Beach, are set to lose their only source of dedicated local funding in coming years. But the need for park spaces throughout the county is now greater than ever as the population grows and neighborhood density increases.
Proposition A, passed in 1992, provided $1.5 billion in funding for county parks but those funds dried up last year. Funding from another proposition passed in 1996 has $80 million left and will expire in 2019.
“In the past, local measures have provided an amazing number of projects,” said Jane Beesley, district administrator for the L.A. County Regional Park and Open Space District. “Our hope is … not just to maintain the success we’ve had but to be more successful.”
Beesley spoke at an April 22 press briefing for ethnic media in Los Angeles organized by New America Media. The briefing coincided with Earth Day.
A 2014 ballot measure, Proposition P, would have extended Proposition A by maintaining support for park maintenance and other projects, but it failed to pass.
In the run up to this year’s election cycle, city planners have been collecting feedback from county residents on what they want their parks to look like, hoping at the same time to drum up public support for a November ballot initiative aimed at increasing funding.
In its Comprehensive Parks & Recreation Needs Assessment, the L.A. County Department of Parks and Recreation divided L.A. County into 187 areas, with larger cities such as Long Beach further divided in order to measure the distance between parks. The study also looked at population density, park usage, amenities and park conditions.
Rita L. Robinson, project director for the Parks Needs Assessment, said it “lays a foundation we’ve never had before” to determine park space and its relation to community health and well-being.
Findings from the study were presented last Tuesday to the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors, which stated that $21.5 billion would be needed to maintain parks and implement public feedback.
Park space in North Long Beach is 0.9 acres per 1,000 residents, while South Long Beach has double that amount, with 2.2 acres per 1,000 residents, according to data from the county’s needs assessment website.
Meanwhile, East, West, and Central Long Beach have 1.2 acres, 1.6 acres, and 1.7 acres per 1,000 residents, respectively. The county average is 3.3 acres per 1,000.
And though South Long Beach has the most park space locally, it and other parts of the city are still considered high need given health disparities and other issues among residents.
Experts have pointed out the benefit of increased park space for reducing the growing emergency room visits for asthma, childhood obesity, as well as the number of deaths from diabetes impacting the county and parts of Long Beach.
According to the Long Beach Community Health Assessment, a lack of green space not only impacts air quality, but also makes access to recreational space problematic for younger residents in these areas.
Drake Park, off Interstate 710, has long been plagued by poverty and high crime. On a recent afternoon, a group of skateboarders practiced tricks under the gaze of security cameras installed in 2013 after residents raised concerns.
“It’s not that I don’t feel safe, it’s just not as safe as I would like it to be,” said 19-year-old Josue Martin, who skates at Drake Park everyday despite its reputation. He added that he would welcome park upkeep and improvements.
“I would like if the park could be cleaned up more often and improve the ground at the skate park,” he said. “My hope is that the park gets refurbished and I would love to have a ledge to skate on.”
The measure now being crafted would include a tax on developed land across the county. Some 55 percent of funds generated would then go directly to the Needs Assessment study areas in the form of direct grants, while 37 percent would go toward projects including regional trails and parks, beaches, museums, and youth employment.
“The idea is to meet the needs assessment,” said Beesley, “to benefit properties, increase parks, improve and refurbish the parks we have, [and] to have our communities be healthier and go green.”