It’s an open secret that Los Angeles is one of this nation’s most park-poor major cities and that’s a crying shame! Los Angeles has just 7.5 acres of open space per 1,000 residents, well below the 10 acres per 1,000 recommended by the National Recreation and Parks Association. Low-income and communities of color have even less access with just 1.6 and 1.7 acres of open space, respectively, in predominantly Latino and African-American neighborhoods.

With the current economic crisis impacting every level of government, it’s not surprising that few, if any, of our political leaders are focusing on the need to provide parks, playgrounds and community gardens for our most needy citizens. But with one in five Los Angeles County children obese and just two of every five youngsters getting the recommended level of physical activity, we need to start paying attention. These high rates of obesity and lack of physical activity are literally killing Los Angeles County residents.

The county ranks 46th among the state’s 58 counties in deaths caused by diabetes and 48th in deaths caused by heart disease. In a densely populated urban center like Los Angeles, it’s difficult to locate sites on which to develop open space, but it’s not impossible. The Los Angeles Neighborhood Land Trust was created seven years ago to do just that and through our efforts and those of our partners, we’ve created or revitalized seven pocket parks and community gardens in Central and South Los Angeles, and in the San Fernando Valley, with several more on the drawing board.

As with many important public initiatives these days, the creation and sustainability of these parks and gardens requires money. The city of Los Angeles has a treasure trove in Quimby fees, which, based on a City Controller’s 2008 audit, contained more than $129 million, all of which is earmarked for park development. Ironically, little if any of this largesse is being spent!

Legal restriction

Quimby fees were authorized by the California Legislature in 1975. The objective was to require developers of multifamily residential projects (condominiums and apartments) to offset the impact of dense development on the communities in which these projects were built by providing at least 3.5 acres of open space per 1,000 residents. Developers were given the option of setting aside land, donating conservation easements or paying an in-lieu fee for park improvements. Unfortunately, the law also stipulates that none of the revenue can be utilized for the operation and maintenance of park facilities. Each city or county adopted its own set of regulations to implement the Quimby requirements.

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