The Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors voted unanimously Tuesday to allocate at least 30 percent of parks funding generated by a parcel tax approved in 2016 to communities deemed to be high-need.
The board approved a set of policies for funding projects under Measure A, the Safe, Clean Neighborhood Parks and Beaches Measure of 2016, as amended by Supervisor Hilda Solis.
Solis said she wanted to be sure that funding was fair and called for an increase in the allocation to needy neighborhoods to a minimum of 30 percent.
“Dedicating only 24 percent of Measure A’s funding to the 45 percent of the county’s neighborhoods that have been identified as both high-need and park-poor is insufficient to reverse historic inequities in low-income communities of color throughout L.A. County,” Solis said.
The parcel tax generates about $92 million annually. Based on the board approval, the Regional Planning and Open Space District can start to fund non-competitive grants, which make up about two-thirds of total dollars. The balance of spending is on hold pending litigation.
Arguments about how to spend dollars on parks dates back at least five years, to when the then-board floated a parcel tax as Measure P. Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas had pressed for more dollars to be allocated to underserved areas and other one-time advocates turned against the measure, which ultimately fell short of the two-thirds majority votes needed for passage, with 62.8 percent in favor.
“The board is finally putting into action the desire of voters to dramatically expand our open space footprint across the region, especially in communities that need parks the most,” Ridley-Thomas said Tuesday.
“We started out on a rocky road,” Solis conceded.
Supervisor Sheila Kuehl emphasized that her district includes communities with residents at all income levels, vowing to help them all, but added that some areas not typically considered park-poor need attention in the wake of the devastating Woolsey Fire.
Though residents of Topanga and other communities in the Santa Monica Mountains were once considered low-need because their backyards were forested, “what we have now is ashes and mud,” Kuehl said. “So when we do an assessment … I hope that we will also remember that these stewards of the mountains are also suffering.”
Public health authorities said parks have broad implications for obesity rates, mental health and clean air.
“We consider parks to be essential for public health,” said Department of Public Health Director Barbara Ferrer. “Regular physical activity is one of the most important public health strategies for preventing obesity.”
Studies show that children and adults are more physically active if they live close to a park, hiking or biking trail or a playground, Ferrer said.
One environmental advocate warned that the devil is in the details.
“Implementation is the hard part,” said Jon Christensen, an assistant adjunct professor at the UCLA Institute of the Environment and Sustainability.
A 2014 study by the institute concluded that funding programs require clear criteria to ensure that money reaches park-poor communities.
Solis’ amendment, unanimously passed, called for the Department of Parks and Recreation to be the lead agency in managing the needs assessment and also requested quarterly updates from the Regional Parks and Open Space District, the funding agency.
“Measure A passed because we know that every community, every neighborhood and every family, regardless of income level or where they live, is entitled to an easily accessible and well-maintained park,” Solis said. “This is about leveling the playing field, and ensuring that every county resident matters.”
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