L.A. Now

Magic Johnson Park in Willowbrook slated to get an equestrian center

Los Angeles County supervisors voted Tuesday to approve an ambitious plan to renovate a county-run park in the community of Willowbrook, near Compton and South Los Angeles.

But residents of the area were sharply divided over one piece of the plan — a new planned horse stable and equestrian center.

The county plans to renovate the Earvin "Magic" Johnson Park, a 104-acre recreational space on the site of a former oil storage facility, over 18 years at an estimated cost of $135 million.

As well as an equestrian center, the plan includes a new community event center, aquatic center, skate park, sculpture garden and dog park.

Neighboring Compton, despite its inner-city reputation, has a strong equestrian community. Staffers, volunteers and alumni of organizations like the nonprofit Compton Junior Posse, which introduces local children to horsemanship, spoke in favor of the park plan.

Tre Hosley, 22, a Compton Junior Posse alum who went to college on a rodeo scholarship and is now a professional rodeo athlete, said other kids should have the same opportunity.

"Kids in this area that haven't been able to see things of this sort are being blindfolded to way more opportunities that could have been presented to us," he said. "I've started shoeing horses, and kids could become vets and things of this sort, but without ever having been exposed to an environment of such, we would never have the ideas."

But some residents of the area around the park objected, saying the introduction of horses will lead to objectionable smells and health and safety issues.

"I love horses, but I don't want them next door to me," said neighbor Juanita Thompson. She said she is worried about flies and the smell of horse manure around the stable. "I don't want to wake up to that."

Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas, who represents the area, said he is confident that concerns about the equestrian facility can be addressed. He noted that the first phase of the park plan, slated to begin in 2018, does not include the equestrian center.

Environmental cleanup of the former oil site is still underway by ExxonMobil. Officials said new facilities won't be developed until each portion of the site is deemed by the Regional Water Quality Control Board and the California Department of Toxic Substances Control to be remediated and suitable for use.

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