Groundbreaking at L.A. State Historic Park, March 15, 2014 | Photo: Sam Garcia/The City Project

Los Angeles State Historic Park: Historic Groundbreaking for Parks, Planning, and People

Senator Kevin DeLeon spoke eloquently at the groundbreaking for Los Angeles State Historic Park on March 15, 2014: "This park is not here because of the vision of politicians, or some design or plan. This park is here because of the struggle and agitation by the community. The community stopped the industrial warehouses to create the park in the most park poor city in the nation [...] Deservedly, their action is renowned as one of the most significant environmental justice victories in Los Angeles, and is the catalyst for the revitalization of the Los Angeles River."

We celebrate the groundbreaking for the permanent facilities at the Los Angeles State Historic Park. The Park reflects a seminal moment in the history and greening of Los Angeles in three ways: parks, planning, and people. The victory inspired the green justice movement to create and save green space in underserved communities. Agencies and stakeholders are now working on community planning for healthy green land use and equitable development. The Park will improve L.A. and the lives of people for generations to come.

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Andrew Cuomo, who was then Secretary of the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, withheld federal funding for a proposed warehouse project at the Cornfield, unless there was full environmental review that considered the park alternative and the impact on people who are of color or low income. Secretary Cuomo cited Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, and the President's Order 12898 on environmental justice and health, which protect equal access to public resources including parks. HUD acted in response to an administrative complaint filed by diverse allies. The site could have been warehouses. Instead, it's a park.

We also celebrate heroes who stood on the mountain but did not see the Park finished: Juanita Tate from Concerned Citizens of South Central Los Angeles, Chinatown activist and San Gabriel Mayor Chi Mui, Ranger Ron Schafer, and Solano Canyon activist Alicia Brown.

Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell at L.A. State Historic Park with Anahuak Youths Sports Association and The City Project, March 10, 2014 | Photo courtesy Paco Serrano/Anahuak

Parks. The Park is the first in a string of victories for the green justice movement. Diverse allies have created or saved the Park; Rio de Los Angeles State Park; Baldwin Hills Park, the largest urban park designed in the U.S. in a century, in the heart of historic African American L.A.; Ascot Hills Park; the sacred Native American site of Panhe and San Onofre State Beach; and other great parks. Since 2001, State Parks, in partnership with local communities, has invested over $150 million, opened three state parks in urban Los Angeles, and preserved over one hundred acres of open space in the most park-poor city in the nation.

Chi Mui, Chinatown activist and Mayor of San GabrielPlanning. Public agencies and stakeholders are using planning by and for the community for healthy green land use and equitable development to ensure compliance with equal justice laws and principles. The National Park Service (NPS), for example, highlights unfair disparities in park access for people who are of color or low-income. These disparities disproportionately hurt human health. Park agencies need to promote equal access to parks and active living for all. NPS has published a strategic action plan, and a science plan, for Healthy Parks, Healthy People U.S. NPS and Congresswoman Judy Chu support a new national recreation area in the San Gabriel Mountains, in part to promote environmental justice and health. The Army Corps of Engineers proposes greening the Los Angeles River, in part to promote environmental justice and health. We encourage State Parks and the Parks Forward Commission join these initiatives.

People. These parks and plans are transforming Los Angeles and making the future brighter for generations of people to come. Parks are fun, promote human health and academics, and provide positive alternatives for at risk youth. Dayana Molina, for example, was a 13 year old member of the Anahuak Youth Sports Association when she stood at the site of the Park to celebrate the purchase of the land by the state. Now Dayana is a dreamer, and an organizer for healthy green land use, dreamer status for young immigrants, and affordable health care. She writes: "When I was thirteen I didn't know I was organizing for two state parks to be built, I just knew they took me to meetings and things got done because of it. Now that I am all grown up, I know that I fell in love with grassroots organizing at that age. I saw firsthand the power the masses have to implement change. All the organizing I do today is important to me because I help my community and that is really rewarding. The biggest reason though is because I feel it gives me a voice and purpose in a country where I technically don't count."

Juanita Tate, Concerned Citizen of South Central Los Angeles | Photo Courtesy Mark WilliamsFittingly, final construction for the Park begins in 2014. The Park is recognized as one of the milestones in the Environmental Justice Movement. 2014 marks the 20th anniversary of the Environmental Justice Order, the 50th anniversary of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the 50th anniversary of the War on Poverty, and the 60th anniversary of the U.S. Supreme Court decisions in Brown v Board of Education and Hernandez v Texas (which held that equal justice protects people based on race, color, or national origin).

L.A. State Historic Park marks the space where major racial and ethnic groups first arrived here. This includes the Tongva or Gabrieleños, Spanish soldiers and missionaries, diverse Pobladores who settled Pueblo, Chinese in Old Chinatown, the Japanese in Little Tokyo, and African Americans settled in Bronzeville. The Park reflects the past, present, and future of the most diverse city in the nation.

Alicia Brown | Photo Courtesy Sean Woods California State ParksWe celebrate working with public officials on parks and planning. It is also important to commemorate that access to justice through the courts was necessary to create and protect L.A. State Historic Park, Rio de Los Angeles State Park, and the Baldwin Hills Park and overlook.

While some residents have expressed concerns about the design and use of the Park, this is a time to celebrate the long awaited groundbreaking. Design and usage can be resolved with the community later.

We look forward to working with the community and with the Department, Parks Forward, the National Park Service, the Army Corps of Engineers, local park agencies, and public schools to carry on the work for healthy green land use, equitable development, and planning by and for the community.

About the Author

I am a civil rights attorney. Fighting for the simple joys of playing in the park and school field for children of color and low income children is the hardest work I have ever done.
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