Water, parks, lawns

Water and waterways are in the news recently.

A recent journey by kayak down the LA River was designed to show the Army Corps of Engineers that the LA River is navigable, thereby qualifying it for protections greater than non-navigable waterways. The best photos I've seen are on the LAist blog, Part 1 Part 2 Part 3 The LA Daily News has some too.

The LA Times spouts off about desalination in the opinion pages back on April 10 and more recently in a July 28th opinion piece entitled Oceans of water.

Jessica Hall and Joe Linton, long time sustainable use advocates, have a new blog, L.A. Creek Freak, about waterways in Los Angeles. There's a permanent link over in the right hand column.

Meanwhile the LA Weekly is keeping up on the sad state of LA's parks which I have mentioned previously with a short article on the planned downtown Civic Park. Rolling Out L.A.'s Cement Carpet laments the lack of greenery in the "park" and points out that the long concrete-lined space, as-designed, is suited more for commercial ventures with opportunities for "programmable spaces" and "branding opportunities". Some experts believe that no amount of taxpayer money will make Civic Park work because it sits on a very difficult land site, and its true beneficiaries were never intended to be Angelenos but egotistical politicians and rich developers who needed it as a fig leaf for the massive Grand Avenue project.

Meanwhile back in my small town, an ordinance is being planned for review by the City Council on Aug 12th to address what they see as a growing problem. From an email I received, "If it passes, Code Enforcement will be able to cite people for yards with to much dirt, weeds or dead grass and plants. I saw the council talked about it on channel 22 this weekend; they talked about all the dried lawns in front of houses and the weeds and unkempt lawns. First time offenders will get a fix-it ticket, after that there will be fines, starting at 100 dollars up to 500 dollars. They want home owner to take care of their lawns, watering and weeding."

Of course I'm personally concerned given the summer dormant time for many of the native plants in my garden. Come by at the wrong time of year and the currently GLORIOUS buckwheat in full flower will have faded to rust brown - not a problem in my book, but of course it will be brown and look dead / unkempt to most city employees. Bien sur, I'll water my remaining turf lawn to stay on the good side of John Law, but I really don't like the implicit assumption that only a green lawn is a sign of good care-taking.

I guess my local city decided that with everybody's lawn greening up that it didn't need to spend $300k to purchase a long-vacant lot in an area of town that has needed more park space for years. This was covered in the Daily Breeze. Even though there's about $9 million in City reserves, it seems that the City is unwilling to touch it in the face of a declining revenue stream and potential layoffs, even for a park that might eventually pay them back.

How could it pay them back? Decreased costs of crime related to the attractive nuisance of the abandoned lot, increased property taxes from the improved value of local homes, no immediate cost of maintenance due to a maintenance grant that is already in place. See also From Lot to Spot.

Hawthorne group loses fight for park
By Sandy Mazza, Staff Writer
Article Launched: 07/23/2008 11:25:35 PM PDT

A Hawthorne community group lost its years-long battle to convert a blighted, vacant lot into a park this week when the City Council voted not to support the effort.

The group, From Lot to Spot, secured more than $300,000 for the city to buy the Caltrans-owned property, which abuts the Century (105) Freeway at 118th Street and Doty Avenue. Since the group could not legally purchase the property itself, its members wanted Hawthorne to buy it and allow the group to develop and maintain it with grant funds.

On Tuesday night, the plan failed to get three votes needed for passage, leaving the door open for a business owner and longtime campaign contributor of Mayor Larry Guidi and his allies to buy the lot.

Guidi and Councilwoman Ginny Lambert were against the plan, while Councilmen Gary Parsons and Danny Juarez supported it. Councilman Pablo Catano, who is recuperating from a stroke, was absent.

Guidi said he is skeptical that the groups - including the Santa Monica Mountains Conservancy and Los Angeles Conservation Corps - that promised to pay for the park and its maintenance would actually do so.

"Have all these organizations guarantee it and I'll personally bring the item back," Guidi said. "Have them write you a letter."

Viviana Franco, executive director of FLTS, said the group has an approaching deadline to buy the property, and that the council's decision effectively blocks its path to securing the funding.

"This lot has been vacant for 20 years," Franco said. "This property has created a blighted neighborhood."

Parsons and Juarez argued the open space area is needed in the densely built, park-poor city. "Our risk is zero," Parsons said. "Give them a chance to succeed. If they do, we get some green space. If they don't get the money, we won't support it."

Juarez suggested that the city conditionally support the park, as long as the money is donated, so FLTS can meet its approaching deadline to secure the property. Guidi and Lambert disagreed.

"We don't know what kind of a park you're going to put there," Guidi said. Franco said that the park would have been designed based on community input.

The 0.3-acre lot is owned by the California Department of Transportation, which had left the land vacant until Franco started asking questions in 2006.

Having grown up a few houses away from it, Franco wanted to know why the lot had been allowed to deteriorate into a trash dumping ground and a workplace for prostitutes.

Caltrans responded by putting the property up for sale.

Franco tried to convince Caltrans to sell or lease the lot to FLTS to build a park for a lowered price. Caltrans refused, saying state law forced the agency to sell it at market price.

In April, Hawthorne business owner Ali Awad placed a deposit on the $300,000 property at a Caltrans auction. Awad owns Repossess Auto Sales and is a longtime campaign contributor to Guidi and his allies.

After Awad put down the deposit, Franco took her fight to the California Transportation Commission, which approves the sale of Caltrans-owned land, in May. The commission granted a stay on the sale and gave FLTS 90 days to raise $300,000 to buy the property.

Awad told the Daily Breeze that he had no plans to develop the lot, and instead was interested in it as a tax deduction and investment. He was firmly against the group's effort to take it over.

"I bought it," he said when asked about the issue in June. "(Franco) gave wrong information to the (CTC). She said the city wants to buy it. If the city wants to buy it, I can't do nothing about it."

Guidi expressed Awad's position at the Tuesday meeting, saying that he believed Franco lied to the California Transportation Committee in May, claiming the city wanted to purchase the lot.

"The stay you won was based on you misrepresenting the city's position," Guidi told Franco.

Franco said that was not true: "I have the transcripts, and in no way did I say the city would pony up the money."

In a letter, Caltrans District Director Douglas Failing confirmed that Franco said she was working with governmental agencies to buy the property, rather than saying the city wanted to buy it.

Franco secured a $300,000 grant from the Santa Monica Mountains Conservancy and an agreement with the Los Angeles Conservation Corps to maintain it and employ local, at-risk youths. The park would have also been used as an educational space for high school students to do service learning projects, Franco said.

Despite the rejection, Franco said the group has another plan to turn the lot into a park, perhaps by working with Los Angeles County.

"It was up to the city last night, and their decision has tremendously put an obstacle in the way, but we are moving onward and upward," Franco said. "We feel it's an opportunity they're passing up."


  1. Did you catch this?

  2. I hadn't seen it before. Thanks.

    "Los Angeles County engineers Adam Walden, right, and Sterling Klippel expressed regret that the birds died but pointed out that their mission is to maintain a complex water system for millions of people countywide, not to protect ducklings.

    The carcasses of at least 50 ducklings and adults were found in the dried-up concrete basin, where flows are regulated to serve 2.4 million people, not wildlife."

    We seem to be mismanaging our way to oblivion.