What is the percentage of land area in Los Angeles County dedicated to regional recreation and conservation? What is the acreage of parkland in the rural portions of the county? How many miles of regional trails are there and where are they located? Which areas of L.A. county should be prioritized for environmental conservation and restoration? How accessible are beaches on foot and by public transit?
The Los Angeles County Department of Parks and Recreation (DPR) has just released a comprehensive study that answers these questions and more. Called the Parks Needs Assessment Plus (PNA+), this report complements and offers new information not previously included in the 2016 Los Angeles Countywide Parks and Recreation Needs Assessment (PNA). Specifically, PNA+ contains data and analyses in support of expanding land conservation and restoration, transit to parks, and other strategies to meet regional and rural recreation needs, especially in the most vulnerable communities.
The 2016 PNA was a historic undertaking to engage all of Los Angeles County in a collaborative process to identify and quantify the magnitude of the need for parks in cities and unincorporated communities across Los Angeles County and determine the potential cost of meeting that need. Since its completion, the PNA has been invaluable in informing planning, decision-making, and resource allocation for parks and recreation.
The 2022 PNA+ offers data about access to regional parks, open space, trails, beaches and lakes, and local parks in rural areas, as well as mapping and analyses related to population vulnerability, environmental benefits, environmental burdens, and priority areas for land conservation, restoration, regional recreation, and rural recreation.
Community Engagement and Outreach
PNA+ involved extensive community engagement and outreach done in coordination with various community-based organizations in 2021. Thousands of Los Angeles County residents completed online and paper surveys and participated in workshops and other outreach events held as part of the process. The substantial input provided by the public informed and shaped the development of the report and its recommendations.
Summary of Key Findings
Here is a summary of the key findings in the 2022 PNA+ report:
1. Population Vulnerability
The report analyzes and identifies areas with high population vulnerability as measured by various indicators from the California Healthy Places Index (HPI) in four areas:
- Social Barriers such as concentrations of poverty, minority populations, elderly
- Health Vulnerability such as lower life expectancy, high level of pollution
- Transportation Barriers such as limited access to an automobile, limited access to public transit, higher number of pedestrian injuries
- Environmental Vulnerability such as limited access to parks, lower tree canopy coverage, more excessive heat days
Many of the most vulnerable areas are also the very high and high park need areas identified in the 2016 PNA. PNA+ additionally identifies portions of the Antelope Valley and Santa Clarita Valley as areas with high population vulnerability.
2. Environmental Conservation and Restoration
The report identifies priority areas for environmental conservation which are areas 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.
The report also calls out priority areas for environmental restoration. These are areas 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 (such as the Inglewood Oil Field in Baldwin Hills), brownfields, landfills (such as the Puente Hills Landfill), and other degraded lands which may be converted to parks and open space.
3. Regional Recreation
The regional sites inventory shows that Los Angeles County has about 1 million acres of regional recreation and conservation areas. These lands account for 38% of the County’s land area, but there are challenges associated with access to these areas given their location, distribution, and other factors such as the lack of public transit.
4. Rural Recreation
The rural sites inventory shows the rural areas of L.A. County are home to a significant amount of parkland, including 1,097 acres of local parks, 12,655 acres of regional recreation parks, and 635,512 acres of nature-based recreation areas. While rural areas are relatively rich in parkland, they are lacking in certain amenities desired by residents, such as water-based recreation facilities like swimming pools and splash pads, as well as shaded seating, play areas, and walking trails.
PNA+ identifies over 3,300 miles of regional trails across L.A. County, which translates to about 0.33 miles of regional trail per 1,000 residents. This total trail mileage is more than previously estimated and reveals how significant trails are as a recreational resource. Trails are distributed unevenly across the county and trail mileage varies widely by geography, ranging from just 0.03 per 1,000 residents in the Metro Study Area to 39.83 per 1,000 residents in Santa Catalina Island. There are opportunities to create new trails and fill gaps in trails in both “trail-rich” and “trail-poor” areas.
The ocean beaches that stretch along the 75-mile mainland coast of Los Angeles County are some of the most recognizable and popular destinations in the world. While these beaches provide unique recreational opportunities and serve a critical ecological role, they also face threats related to climate change and development, including sand erosion, sea level rise, and degraded water quality. Only about 100,000 L.A. County residents (1% of the total population) live within walking distance of an ocean beach access point. The majority of ocean beach access points (71%) are not served by public transit.
7. Regional and Rural Recreation Needs
Through the community engagement and outreach process for PNA+, L.A. County residents identified the following needs to enhance park access and experiences: more shade, expanded transportation options, improved signage, greater access to information about parks and programs, improved ADA accessibility, better maintenance, additional staffing, increased parking, more water-related amenities like hydration stations, and safety improvements.
8. Native and Tribal Access
As part of PNA+, DPR conducted focused outreach to engage Native Americans. Key needs identified by these stakeholders include having 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.
Based on the key findings, PNA+ offers various draft recommendations which are explained in detail in the report and organized by the following categories: funding priorities; park, trail, and open space provision; collaboration and coordination; access and information; community engagement; and capacity building. Some of the recommendations include:
- Advocate for legislation that increases federal and state funding to implement solutions to address the needs identified in the PNA+ Report.
- Incorporate findings from the PNA+ Report into Measure A grant-making process, including update of the Grants Administration Manual.
- Initiate new funding mechanisms to expand efforts to restore degraded lands for park use and address regional and rural park needs identified in the PNA+ Report.
- Update DPR’s parkland acquisition strategy based on findings of the PNA+ Report.
- Address climate resiliency through additional multi-benefit park projects.
- Expand public transit to parks, open space, trails, and beaches.
- Formalize partnerships with Native peoples to pursue opportunities for acknowledgement and stewardship of land.
The Parks Needs Assessment website has been updated to provide information about PNA+. DPR encourages the public and our partners in parks and recreation to visit the site to review the executive summary, full report, and various appendices.
More to Come
This article has offered an overview of PNA+ and a summary of its key findings and recommendations. I look forward to sharing more in the future, including interesting project details such as using cell phone location data to study park visitorship and gathering public input via various methods in the midst of a pandemic.
Special thanks to the many Los Angeles County residents for their input, community-based organizations for their support with outreach and engagement, the Regional Park and Open Space District for funding the study, and MIG for their work on the project.
Clement Lau, DPPD, FAICP, is a Departmental Facilities Planner with the Los Angeles County Department of Parks and Recreation.