Local Hero: Robert García

Robert Garcia

"Fighting for the simple joys of playing in parks and schools for children of color and low-income children is the hardest work I have ever done."

In the past few years, the urban park movement in Los Angeles has transformed uninviting landscapes in park poor, income poor neighborhoods into some of the state's most attractive vistas.

At the forefront of this movement is civil rights attorney Robert García, Founding Director and Counsel of The City Project.

The City Project is a nonprofit legal and policy advocacy team based in Los Angeles that works for equal justice, democracy and livability for all. Mr. García started The City Project in 2000 so that children from poor neighborhoods could have a place to play and be physically active in parks and schools. Its role has expanded since then, focusing on four major areas: equal access to parks and recreation; quality education including physical education, and joint use of schools as centers of their communities; alleviating health disparities from the lack of places and policies for physical activity and healthy eating in underserved communities; and local green jobs. Mr. García has influenced equal access to more than $41 billion to serve park poor, income poor communities and communities of color.

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Mr. García and The City Project, working with community allies, have played a pivotal role in the development of the Los Angeles State Historic Park at the Cornfield on the edge of Chinatown, where they helped prevent 32 acres of warehouses from being built on the land, and Rio de Los Angeles State Park at Taylor Yard, which is part of the greening of the Los Angeles River. Instead of the land being used to repair railroad cars, the community now enjoys hiking trails, wetlands, sports fields, and a children's playground there.

Baldwin Hills and South Los Angeles are areas where Mr. García and The City Project have diligently fought with the community to preserve and protect the people and place. The City Project helped save the Baldwin Hills Park from being used as the site for a power plant, stopped a garbage dump from being built there, and helped residents and others win a $2 billion court settlement versus the City of Los Angeles to eradicate offensive sewer odors and repair the sewer system citywide. The City Project and others successfully sought access to justice through the courts to establish tougher regulations on the oil fields in Baldwin Hills.

Mr. García worked with members of the Acjachemen Nation, Juaneno Tribe, to prevent a toll road from being built alongside their sacred site of Panhe in San Onofre State Beach. He continues to fight to keep public lands open for all in Malibu and the Santa Monica Mountains. The City Project is working with diverse allies to create a new national recreation area in the San Gabriel Mountains and watershed.

As chairman of the Citizens' School Board Oversight Committee from 2000 to 2005, Mr. García supervised the investment of more than $14 billion to build and modernize public schools as centers of their communities, and signed the official ballot arguments for local bond measures. The City Project successfully fought for the Miguel Contreras Learning Complex's Olympic sized-pool to be open to the public as a best practice example for the joint use of schools, pools and parks. The City Project continues to work with the Los Angeles Unified School District and other school districts to enforce physical education requirements.

Mr. García previously served as an Assistant United States Attorney for the Southern District of New York under John Martin and Rudolph W. Giuliani, where he prosecuted organized crime, public corruption and international narcotics trafficking cases; worked with Johnnie Cochran and other top attorneys to release the late Black Panther leader, Geronimo Ji Jaga Pratt, who was falsely imprisoned for 27 years; and was a defense attorney to Death Row inmates in Georgia, Florida and Mississippi. Mr. García was Western Regional Counsel of the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, Inc., and taught at Stanford Law School, his alma mater, and UCLA Law School.

Mr. García has lectured at New York City's 150th anniversary of Central Park, the Second National People of Color Environmental Leadership Summit, public interest law conferences in Dublin, Ireland, and at conferences at the Institute of Medicine and prestigious universities, such as Stanford, Harvard, Howard, UCLA and USC. He is a published author of policy reports, articles, chapters, and a book, and a columnist for KCET Departures at www.greenjustice.org. He has been featured on PBS, KCET and National Public Radio.

Some of his most recent accolades include the President's Award from the American Public Health Association in 2010. He was named one of the most influential Latinos in the United States in 2008 by Hispanic Business Magazine. Mr. García immigrated to the United States from Guatemala when he was four years old and later graduated from Stanford University and Stanford Law School, where he served on the Board of Editors of the Stanford Law Review. Stanford Law School cited Mr. García as a "civil rights giant" and Stanford Magazine called him "an inspiration."

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