Another Green Piece in South L.A.: First Phase of Wetlands Open

Phase 1, before the greening, of the Wetlands | Photo by Maria Lopez
This post is in support of Departures, KCET's oral history and interactive documentary project about Los Angeles neighborhoods, including the nearby Richland Farms and the L.A. River.

Seagulls followed an unseasonal spring rainstorm to a new South Los Angeles park that will replace a beaten worn asphalt and concrete city block.

The flock arrived in time for the ribbon cutting of the first acre of the South LA wetlands, located in a former MTA rail yard at Avalon and 54th streets. The ceremony, led by Ninth District councilmember Jan Perry, opens the first phase of the new habitat, with the remaining portion expected to open in December of 2011.

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"I can think of no better way to kick-off Earth Month than by opening this cutting-edge, environmentally-focused project," said the councilwoman.

"This project is a transformation of a historic rail yard into open green park space," added City of L.A. Engineer Gary Lee Moore of the manufactured wetlands.

Gary Lee Moore shows area children the full vision of the wetlands at the groundbreaking in 2010 | Photo by Ed Fuentes

After the speeches, students from nearby schools briefly scattered to explore the new paths lined with native trees, shrubs, and marsh plants. Signage identifying species allows the low-impact park to also be an outdoor lab for schools in an area of Los Angeles that lacks green space.

It has been a long wait for both birds and kids.

In 2006, Los Angeles City Council approved more than $8 million in bond money from Proposition O, then after negotiations with the MTA and ongoing meetings with community, $19 million dollars was assembled for acquisition of the site and development for the wetlands. When completed, it will support the capturing, cleaning, and recycling of storm water.

"We worked hard for 7 years to wrest control of the property from MTA. We (City of LA) paid for it. They didn't give it to us," says Perry after the ceremony. "It took a long time to assemble the public money."

Perry then recalls to a day, before she was elected office in 2001, she was touring the neighborhood with a local resident, the late Juanita Tate. "She hated this bus yard. She said it was a blight in the community," says the councilwoman. "She told me, 'If you ever get into a position where you can do something to change it, please, do that."

Taking blight to sights has since become an ongoing project in South L.A. represented by the Ninth District.

Phase 1, before the greening, of the Wetlands | Photo by Maria Lopez

The day before, Perry joined Heal The Bay and the neighborhood-at-large to dedicate a small median at McKinley Avenue and E. 87th Street converted to green space.

Pockets of South L.A. ecosystem refuge also include a green roof on the new field office at 43rd Street and Central. Opened in January 2010, the 9,000 square foot Neighborhood City Hall is topped by a community gathering space and garden, considered the first on a city owned building.

The Ninth District is also home to the 8 1/2 acre Augustus F. Hawkins Natural Park, a former Department of Water and Power pipe storage yard at Slauson Avenue and Compton Boulevard. It is the first wetland in dense urban space, a prototype for the South LA wetlands and has been a comfortable home to local species of trees, brush and avian since 2006.

Perry's staff is currently vying for funding to complete Phase II of the South LA wetlands proposed rail museum and community meeting space, expanding the park to its planned nine-acres.

"I have my eye on more," adds Perry. "It's just a matter of finding the money."

For now, birds will have to wait. Or they can gather at the South LA wetlands and watch young human wildlife explore their new natural habitat.

Photo by Maria Lopez

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