A growing number of leaders at all levels of government in the U.S. and abroad have made commitments to achieve “30×30,” the goal of conserving 30 percent of lands and coastal waters by the year 2030 to fight climate change, advance conservation, and protect biodiversity. Aligning with and expanding on these efforts, the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors unanimously adopted the 2022 Parks Needs Assessment Plus (PNA+) Final Report as the county’s 30×30 plan on December 6, 2022.
Parks Needs Assessment Plus (PNA+)
Los Angeles County Department of Parks and Recreation (DPR), the PNA+ focuses on environmental conservation and restoration, regional recreation, and rural recreation. It builds upon and supplements the 2016 Parks Needs Assessment (PNA) which directly informed the development of Measure A, a countywide funding measure that was approved by nearly 75% of voters in November 2016 and includes dedicated funding for Very High and High park need areas. Like the 2016 PNA, the PNA+ involved extensive data collection and analyses, mapping using geographic information system (GIS), coordination with park and trail managing agencies, and public outreach and engagement in partnership with community-based organizations (CBOs).
The PNA+ focuses on the most vulnerable residents living in park-poor, tree-poor communities across Los Angeles County. Vulnerable areas are identified and mapped using data from the Healthy Places Index (HPI), including indicators that address four dimensions: 1) social barriers like poverty and unemployment; 2) transportation barriers like limited access to public transit or automobile; 3) health vulnerability like reduced life expectancy at birth; and 4) environmental vulnerability like high number of excessive heat days and limited tree canopy or lack of “shade equity”. Many of the most vulnerable areas identified in the PNA+ are also the Very High and High park need areas in the PNA. The PNA+ additionally identifies numerous rural communities in the Antelope Valley and Santa Clarita Valley as areas with high population vulnerability.
Conservation and Restoration
DPR was involved in the process for developing California’s Pathways to 30×30 Strategy by participating on the Conservation of Lands Advisory Panel and providing formal comments on the draft strategy. The final Pathways to 30×30 Strategy addresses some of DPR’s concerns, but still primarily focuses on conservation of natural lands. To advance park equity and environmental justice, DPR maintains that a 30×30 plan for urban counties like L.A. County must better address the needs of vulnerable populations by prioritizing environmental conservation and restoration efforts in underserved communities.
The PNA+ identifies priority areas for conservation and restoration which form the basis for the 30×30 strategy for L.A. County. This strategy reimagines conservation through an equity lens to include both traditional efforts that involve the protection of natural lands and the restoration of degraded lands, especially in lower-income communities of color where vulnerable populations and environmental burdens are concentrated. People of color account for 84% of the population living in priority areas for restoration, i.e. those areas with highest environmental burdens.
Priority areas for environmental conservation are those that offer the most environmental benefits as measured by species diversity, significant habitat, habitat connectivity, proximity to a waterbody, and habitat type. Examples of these areas include portions of the Antelope Valley, Puente-Chino Hills Wildlife Corridor, San Gabriel Mountains, Santa Monica Mountains, and Santa Clarita Valley which are not currently owned and managed by public agencies and conservancies.
Priority areas for environmental restoration are those that have the most environmental burdens with respect to groundwater threat, hazardous waste, poor air and water quality, and pollution burden. Examples include oil fields, brownfields, landfills, and other degraded lands which may be converted to parks and open space in the future.
Importance of Restoring Degraded Lands in Los Angeles County
While there is certainly a need to conserve additional natural lands, the restoration of degraded lands is also of great importance and a matter of environmental justice in Los Angeles County where numerous underserved communities are plagued with environmental burdens. In L.A. County, many of the most environmentally burdened communities are also the most park poor per the 2016 PNA and the most climate-vulnerable per the County Climate Vulnerability Assessment. In locations where environmental burdens are concentrated and impactful land uses are defunct, multiple benefits can be derived from restoration projects like new parks that address residual pollution and unhealthy conditions, restore natural systems, and provide enhanced recreational opportunities for communities that lack access to parks and open spaces.
Opportunities for Environmental Restoration
- Landfills: The 1,365-acre Puente Hills Landfillclosed in 2013 after 56 years of receiving trash from homes and businesses in over 60 cities and unincorporated areas across L.A. County. The Master Plan proposes to transform 142 acres of the landfill into parkland, creating the first new regional park in the county in over 35 years. The proposed park will offer a variety of recreational and educational experiences and programming for residents living in the San Gabriel Valley and beyond. The additional parkland that will be created will help to offset the severe shortages for parkland regionally and the surrounding communities. To make the Puente Hills Regional Park a reality, the Board of Supervisors recently approved the allocation of an additional $28 million to the project, with total funding for the park now at almost $110 million. But additional funding is still needed to implement the full vision of the Master Plan and address community needs.
- Oil Fields: Oil fields represent another type of opportunity for restoration and the creation of parkland. For example, in recent years, DPR has been making substantial improvements, including adding much-needed amenities like a community center and outdoor play and exercise equipment, to the 126-acre Earvin “Magic” Johnson Recreation Area which lies on the site of an oil storage facility that was in operations until 1963. Also, the Inglewood Oil Field which underlies the Baldwin Hills area has the potential to be restored into additional parkland over time to provide equitable access to park-poor communities. Additionally, in January 2023, the Board of Supervisors unanimously approved the Oil Well Ordinance to prohibit all new oil and gas extraction wells and designate all existing oil and gas extraction activities as nonconforming uses. There are over 1,500 active or idle oil wells in the unincorporated areas of the county. While these wells are currently environmental liabilities, they represent opportunities to transform degraded lands into assets like parks which offer multiple community benefits.
Regional and Rural Recreation Needs
The PNA+ also identifies priority areas for regional and rural recreation based on population vulnerability, access to and availability of existing recreational facilities, and the amenities they offer. Los Angeles County has a total of about one million acres of parkland which account for 38% of the county’s total land area. There are, however, challenges associated with access to these areas due to their location, distribution and other factors such as the lack of public transit service. In particular, parklands account for less than 5% of lands in the most urban areas of the county. Also, while rural areas have significant acres of parkland, they are lacking in certain amenities needed for public recreation and climate resiliency, especially water-based recreation facilities such as swimming pools and splash pads, as well as shaded seating, play areas, and walking trails.
Development of the PNA+ involved extensive public engagement and outreach done with the latest tools, and support and assistance of over twenty CBO partners. To keep the public engaged and informed, DPR regularly updated the Parks Needs Assessment website, posted on social media (Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram) for the project, and collaborated with CBOs on outdoor outreach events and distribution of paper surveys. Thousands of residents completed surveys and participated in workshops and other events.
DPR also conducted focused outreach to Native American stakeholders using a tribal needs survey to collect input from native and indigenous peoples in L.A. County. Key needs identified by these stakeholders include having better access to and privacy for Native peoples to use, enjoy, and practice traditional ceremonies on ancestral lands, and raising awareness and educating the public about tribal stewardship and the indigenous histories of the region.
Next Steps and Recommendations
Based on its key findings, the PNA+ offers various recommendations and next steps which are detailed in the report and organized by six categories as shown in the diagram below:
With the Board of Supervisors’ adoption of the PNA+ Final Report, DPR is now working at the federal, state, and local levels to incorporate its findings and recommendations into programs, legislation, policies, and funding opportunities. Board adoption of the PNA+ is a critical first step to help L.A. County to secure funding and other resources to expand environmental conservation and restoration and address regional and rural recreation needs identified in the PNA+.
Special thanks to Los Angeles County residents for their input, CBOs for their partnership and support with outreach and engagement, the Regional Park and Open Space District for funding the study, and MIG for its work on the project.
Clement Lau, DPPD, FAICP (he/him), is a Departmental Facilities Planner with the Los Angeles County Department of Parks and Recreation.