Measure A Levels the Playing Field for Park-Poor Neighborhoods

Today, March 5, 2019, the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors will be voting on the spending plan details of the Safe, Clean Neighborhood Parks and Beaches Protection Measure of 2016. Also known as Measure A, the initiative received 75% voter approval to allocate over $90 million annually to parks and open space improvement projects across the County for many years to come.

Measure A presents a historic opportunity to address the disparities highlighted in the 2016 Los Angeles County Parks Needs Assessment. A key feature of the measure is its focus on an equitable distribution of resources, where some funding categories can be awarded to projects based on the study area’s level of need. This means the 72 red and orange areas mapped out in the county-wide assessment stand a chance of becoming green someday.

One of these study areas is the Historic South Central Los Angeles neighborhood. Last year, National Health Foundation’s Community Health Liaisons (CHL) – a cohort of students from local high schools in Historic South Central Los Angeles – conducted their own assessments of all 14 parks within their neighborhood. Half of the parks scored a failing grade on their assessments, and not one received an ‘A.’ This represents a stark contrast to the parks in Santa Monica (which were also assessed by CHLs as a comparison), where the majority of the parks scored an ‘A’ or ‘B’ grade.

“I don’t want to drive to another community to use better parks. I want my community to have parks that I am proud to visit,” said CHL Naomi Humphrey.

L.A. County leaders have addressed the disparity by encouraging Angelenos without neighborhood parks to visit the mountains and beaches instead. Their focus has not been park-poor areas. With Measure A comes an opportunity to tackle this gap at the root cause by clearly prioritizing projects that improve park conditions in high-need areas and not simply projects that claim to serve people who are from high-need areas.

While improving a community’s built environment to support healthy behaviors is important, it is sometimes inevitable that new developments lead to unintended negative consequences, such as the gentrification of a neighborhood and subsequent displacement of the very residents these new parks were meant to serve. Here lies another opportunity for the Board of Supervisors to approve ground-breaking legislation, should it choose to vote in favor of adopting a displacement avoidance policy, as well as robust community engagement requirements for Measure A-funded projects.

Measure A is monumental because it can serve as an example of how one policy can affect multiple overlapping issues. Just as we know the social determinants of health (food access, the built environment, housing, education, etc.) all influence one another, the solutions to address them must attempt to be as intersectional as possible in order to effect lasting impact.