Parks Managers Work to Create New Open Spaces in SoCal

Parks managers are battling a population boom to create open spaces, both large and small, in Southern California. As this year draws to a close, people in poor neighborhoods are still looking for room to stretch out. KPCC's Molly Peterson reports on some new public lands that opened to them this year.

Molly Peterson: Almost 600 acres near Calabasas, much of it chaparral and oak woodland, opened up this year after conservation groups sought access for 30 years. They've prized King Gillette Ranch as the hole in the Santa Monica Mountains doughnut, home to diverse plant and wildlife, near where five Malibu Creek tributaries meet.

From Chumash Indian days, people have been here too. In the last century they've included a movie mogul, Catholic priests, even a spiritual cult. In the 1920s, Golden-era architect Wallace Neff built a sprawling Andalusian-style house, with stucco archways and a tiled fountain.

Margie Steigerwald: When you see this from afar, it looks like a little village instead of one big mansion.

Peterson: Margie Steigerwald works for the National Park Service. It'll help the state and the local Mountains Recreation and Conservation Authority manage the lands. Steigerwald says the agencies are learning to value the area's cultural history, especially the story of King Gillette, who could afford the house Neff built because he invented the safety razor users could throw away.

Steigerwald: He's credited with being the inventor of the disposable culture that we now have, and we hope that this place, (laughs) Gillette Ranch, we want this to be a place where children come to learn about environmental education, to learn how not to be part of the disposable culture.

Peterson: Since July, Steigerwald says, about 50 people a week have visited the park for picnics, birding, and hikes. A two-mile loop gives visitors a 360-degree view from the crags to the sea.

Steigerwald: In some ways, what's really nice now is you can come here during the week, and kind of have it to yourself.

Peterson: The coming year's plans for King Gillette Ranch include public meetings to develop a management plan, and environmental education for city kids. Other projects focused on those city kids' neighborhoods, like the 57-acre Rio de Los Angeles Park at Taylor Yards, run by California State Parks. And the city of Los Angeles squeezed more than 70 acres of open space into nine park-poor areas, including Marson Pocket Park in Panorama City.

Tsilah Berman: It was an asphalt driveway basically. There was nothing here before. And, you know at the end of this street you have all these homes and people, and it was not used at all.

Peterson: The L.A. Neighborhood Land Trust's Tsilah Berman says the slip of land at the end of Marson Street was city-owned surplus, so there were no land acquisition costs. The money and effort's gone into activities like Aztec dancing, and martial arts, to attract people to the park.

Berman: What's been really successful here is a walking club. About 25 or so residents come each time, and they walk in their neighborhood, and they get measured and stuff, and there's all sorts of incentives for them. People of all ages come out for that.

Peterson: Packed into the pocket park are other perks the neighbors lobbied for: checkers tables, barbecue grills, a climbing rock, and a play structure. Berman says local people take turns as caretakers.

Twelve-year old Daniela says that this time last year, she and her friends just played in the street.

Daniela: ... Or in that alley, but there's a lot of nails, and our balls get popped most of the time. And when we have our cars, our remote controlled cars, we can't really play with them. 'Cause then the cars go scheew! And they squash them.

Peterson: L.A. city parks managers are under pressure to create more parks like Panorama City's Marson. The city requires real estate developers to pay green space fees, but it hasn't been spending much of that money. That could change this coming spring, when Recreation and Parks managers are scheduled to deliver a new survey of the areas that need parks most.