Dressed in neon yellow athletic shoes and shorts, a young Isabell Rodriguez explored the newly opened Pacoima Wash Natural Park on 8th street, which sits right in front of her home. Her father looks on with excitement in his eyes. "We had nowhere to go before," said Ernie Rodriguez, who went to the park's grand opening along with his wife and daughter last Saturday. He's looking forward to the time when his daughter can practice soccer on the park's passive grounds.
Residents of Northeast San Fernando Valley, the Rodriguezes were among the many who lacked access to green, open space despite being so close to the Angeles National Forest. According to Pacoima Beautiful, an environmental justice non-profit working in the area, the neighborhood suffers from this lack of space that prevents them from engaging in healthy, physical activities. One in four residents suffer from heart disease, and 17% of Pacoima residents are obese, including 29% of youth, putting them at the bottom quartile of Los Angeles County. The community lies at the nexus of freeways and industrial buildings.
The new 4.7-acre Pacoima Wash Natural Park is a welcome change from all the industrial soot and grime. Designed by BlueGreen Consulting, the elongated, passive park features a wildflower meadow, an arroyo with native plants, a bridge overlooking the new riparian habitat, a half-mile walking trail, shade arbors with oaks and California grapes for picnics, and free play areas.
Apart from that, the park will also serve the greater Los Angeles region by diverting stormwater and runoff from a 33-acre area, replenishing the San Fernando aquifer. "Pacoima Wash Natural Park is the model of how to bring nature into neighborhoods and clean and conserve water at the same time," said Joseph T. Edmiston, Executive Director of the Santa Monica Mountains Conservancy (SMMC), in a statement. "These parks will help solve our regional water problems and create badly needed parkland in urban areas."
A project seven or so years in the making, the park used to be a makeshift dump, slated to become an Extra Storage space. The grounds were a sorry sight, host to old fallen trees, horse droppings, even an old safe, according to Steve Veres, a Los Angeles Community College District board member and former councilmember of the City of San Fernando.
Funded by the Mountains Recreation and Conservation Authority (MRCA) with Proposition 50 funds and an Integrated Regional Watershed Management Plan grant from the California Department of Water Resources, this eyesore between two neighborhood streets was transformed with landscaped natural vegetation and hard-forged metal gates.
Most importantly, by grading the land, MRCA designers were able to divert runoff to two circular placitas -- roundabout plazas designed in the Spanish mission style -- which discreetly swirl the runoff, slowing the runoff down. A system of grates and filters then remove trash and other sediment from the water, diverting it to a landscaped stony creekbed that runs parallel to the actual Pacoima Wash. The system is designed to capture up to 371,000 gallons, filtering it through a system of sand, gravel and boulders, replenishing the San Fernando Groundwater Basin. Any excess water will flow into the actual Pacoima Wash.
The park is the first emerald in what Pacoima Beautiful Executive Director Veronica Padilla hopes will be a necklace of green, open spaces that will one day connect the communities of Sylmar, San Fernando, and Pacoima, to the rest of Los Angeles. Further down the road, another project is on the way. El Dorado Park is being developed by MRCA using $1,075,50 in state funds set aside for park poor areas. A three-mile bike path is also being proposed that would connect both parks.
Despite being so far north in the city of Los Angeles, the new Pacoima Wash Natural Park reminds communities how water links diverse communities who live both near and far from the riverbed. From its place by the mountains, the Pacoima Wash feeds into the Tujunga Wash, which then cascades onto the Los Angeles River, and eventually out into the ocean.