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Many reasons not to go back to "The Garden," but diesel pollution isn't one of them

Air pollution for a park here isn't that different from the places the city prefers.
Air pollution for a park here isn't that different from the places the city prefers.
Courtesy the film The Garden

Putting a park where farmers tilled soil in South Central's Horowitz/Lancer property might be problematic for any number of reasons, but air quality isn't one of them.

Alice Walton over at The City Maven has a good write up of what happened yesterday at City Hall. Which was: protests, shouting, and a continued, profound sense of betrayal. Also, a vote to approve manufacturing at the site, and job creation.

The dispute has continued over the fate of what some know as "The Garden" (it was the subject of an Academy-Award nominated documentary). With the exception of the celebrities who've come in on the side of the farmers (Darryl Hannah, still; historically, Willie Nelson, etc.), yesterday's city council meeting saw two largely Latino and vaguely disempowered groups pitted against one another. The hardcore South Central Farmers (some of the farmers now just farm elsewhere, shy of the politics) collected signatures and massed support for the idea of turning 2.6 acres of land (out of the Horowitz-owned original 14) into a park; the film advocated on their behalf. On the other side at city council were Latina seamstresses, Horowitz and Councilwoman/Mayoral Candidate Jan Perry. They argued that making the whole industrial complex into the long planned clothing factories would mean jobs. 600 of them. 30 percent local. 

The council voted 12-0 for the guy who owns the land to get to use it the way he wants, which is to say, 14 acres of industrial. Not much of a surprise when you consider that it's a job driver in a city crushed by unemployment. 

I was surprised to see air quality issues as an argument AGAINST the park, though. Which means I wasn't tracking this closely: Perry has been advancing the argument that the impact of diesel emissions on sensitive people makes a park a bad idea in the Alameda Corridor. Late last month, the Budget and Finance committee backed the idea of a swap, using Perry's reasoning.

Instead of making Horowitz use the 2.6 acres for a park, city leaders will get money from him for a park fund of $3.6 million. Of that $3.6 million, $2.7 million would be spent on new playground and exercise equipment, building renovations and a basketball court all located within in the Pueblo Del Rio housing project. The remaining funds would be used for new play equipment and sports programs at the Fred Roberts and Ross Snyder parks. The blue dots are the places that will now get money after the council vote. The green square is the former farm site that belongs to the developer. 

View South Central Farmers Parkland Options in a larger map

I get that these South Central Farmers are really stubborn. The city, with the LA Community Garden Council, and the DWP, founded a new 7-acre garden a ways back, with 190 plots in it. Plenty of people moved there. Other opportunities for urban gardening exist on appropriate land. 

But this argument that diesel emissions is a good reason not to fund the original promise is a fig leaf. That becomes clear as you look at the relative locations of the parks getting settlement money and the Horowitz/Lancer property. I guess that bothers me because we talk about a dearth of parks all around Southern California, and diesel particulate emissions are all throughout the region too. I'm not saying that we should have kids play in traffic. But if a shorthand "don't put a park next to diesel pollution" took hold it might stymie park progress in some of the neighborhoods that say they're most in need of parks for health and recreational reasons. 

I asked NRDC's David Pettit about the difference between Fred Roberts and the Horowitz/Lancer property; "there won't be any significant air quality differences between these two sites." I've also got a call in to Andrea Hricko, a Professor of Preventative Medicine at the Keck School of Public Health at USC. She has written extensively on health impacts of air pollution (and delays in implementing pollution controls) on children. 

What do you think? And, this one's 'specially for Frank Stoltze: do you think any of this sticks to Jan Perry as she runs for mayor?