What is the need for recreational assets like regional parks, beaches and trails in a county with over ten million residents? What are the potential opportunities to expand existing parklands and acquire additional land for recreation and conservation purposes? What are the unique park and recreation needs of rural areas and how do we best address them? The Los Angeles County Department of Parks and Recreation (DPR) is starting a community engagement and outreach process to help answer these questions and more. As a focused update to the 2016 Los Angeles Countywide Parks Needs Assessment, this effort is called the Regional and Rural Edition. Specifically, it will apply an equity lens to comprehensively identify, analyze, map and document:
- The need for regional facilities, including regional parks, beaches and lakes, trails, and natural areas and open spaces; and
- The park needs of rural communities which are primarily located in the Antelope Valley, Santa Clarita Valley and Santa Monica Mountains.
DPR is developing the Regional and Rural Edition in response to a motion by the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors, which called for the development of a needs assessment to address regional recreation, beaches, rural areas and open space. It is also timely to study and evaluate regional and rural park and recreation needs at this moment because outdoor public spaces, such as beaches, local and regional parks, natural areas, and trails, have all become more popular during the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic as people seek opportunities for recreation and respite.
“Unprecedented numbers of visitors to our regional parks and trails highlight the need for individuals and families to have access to parks and open space, especially during the COVID-19 pandemic,“ said Norma E. García-Gonzalez, Director of DPR. “Now more than ever, we need to ensure that the future of our parks reflects the needs and interests of our diverse, growing population.”
Engagement and Outreach During COVID-19
Designed to be extensive and inclusive, the community engagement and outreach process is being launched this month in partnership with other county departments, community-based organizations and other groups. Due to COVID-19-related health restrictions on in-person meetings and group gatherings, the process will consist primarily of online engagement and physically distanced activities, including the following:
- Project website updates
- Surveys/polls using tools like Maptionnaire
- Social media, including platforms such as Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter
- Stakeholder interviews
- Phone calls
- Focus groups
When it is safe to do so, we plan to have in-person meetings and workshops to keep communities engaged and informed. We are also committed to a multicultural and multilingual approach to outreach because Los Angeles County is diverse in every way possible, including its geography, the languages spoken, and the race/ethnic makeup of its population.
“Parks are a matter of public health, social equity and serve a vital role in supporting resilient communities throughout Los Angeles County,” said Director García-Gonzalez. “We are excited to embark on this community outreach process that will enable us to better understand and document regional and rural park and recreation needs directly from the public. We encourage all Los Angeles County residents to participate and get involved. Their input will help inform planning and funding allocation for regional parks, open space, and trails.”
While we have not been able to conduct in-person meetings, the pandemic has not stopped us from engaging with the communities we serve. On the contrary, DPR has been proactively reaching out to and communicating with the public, especially to seek input on various proposed park projects. We have hosted a number of online meetings using tools like Zoom and Microsoft Teams, and have had fruitful dialogues with our constituents, as exemplified in this article, which summarizes one of the public meetings held for the design of a proposed park in the community of Littlerock in the Antelope Valley. The public engagement and outreach process for the Regional and Rural Edition will build upon the conversations we have had and the relationships we have developed with community members over the years.
Technical Advisory Committee and Background Research
DPR has also convened a Technical Advisory Committee (TAC) to help inform and guide the process of data collection and analysis, development of metrics, community engagement and outreach, and other key aspects of the project. The TAC includes representatives from a broad range of agencies and organizations with expertise in beaches, parks, public health, regional planning, transportation, open space and conservation, sustainability, and geographic information systems (GIS), including:
- Cal Poly Pomona
- L.A. County Department of Beaches and Harbors
- L.A. County Department of Parks and Recreation
- L.A. County Department of Public Health
- L.A. County Department of Regional Planning
- L.A. Metro
- National Recreation and Park Association
- Prevention Institute
- Southern California Association of Governments (SCAG)
- The Nature Conservancy
- The Wilderness Society
- UCLA Institute of the Environment and Sustainability
The Regional and Rural Edition is also being informed by various plans, reports and studies, including a few prepared by the above agencies and organizations. Examples include:
- L.A. Metro’s Transit to Parks Strategic Plan
- Prevention Institute’s research on Park Equity, Life Expectancy, and Power Building
- L.A. County Department of Public Health’s Parks and Public Health report
- SCAG’s Connect SoCal Environmental Justice Technical Report
- UCLA’s report on California State Parks and Youth Health
- UCLA’s Report for the National Park Service on Results of the 2018 Visitor Survey and Visitor Count in the Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area
2016 Countywide Parks Needs Assessment
DPR is the lead agency charged with updates and implementation of the Countywide Parks Needs Assessment. The 2016 Parks Needs Assessment involved a 14-month process that included data collection and analysis, engagement with stakeholders and community members in cities and unincorporated areas, prioritization and cost estimation of prioritized park projects, and the determination of park need in each study area based on a suite of metrics. The Parks Needs Assessment directly informed the development of Measure A, a countywide funding measure for parks approved by nearly 75 percent of L.A. County voters in November 2016 and generated more than $90 million annually.
This is an exciting project and we are eager to connect with L.A. County residents through the community engagement and outreach process. Per direction from the board of supervisors and the Grants Administration Manual for Measure A, the results of the Regional and Rural Edition will help to inform project planning and the competitive grant process. The Regional and Rural Edition will also provide valuable data and analyses to guide future park and recreation planning efforts by DPR, cities and other stakeholders.
For more information about the Regional and Rural Edition and the 2016 Parks Needs Assessment, please visit https://lacountyparkneeds.org/.
Clement Lau, AICP, DPPD, is a Departmental Facilities Planner with the Los Angeles County Department of Parks and Recreation.