Conservancy to Create Park in Urban Area


The Santa Monica Mountains Conservancy, which has devoted most of its attention to assembling a huge mountain park, made a move Monday to show that it is also concerned with life in the city.

Moving from land acquisition efforts in the big mountain range that runs through the heart of Los Angeles County, the conservancy held a groundbreaking for a nature park southeast of downtown Los Angeles.

The park, on two parcels of land next to Walnut Park Elementary School, will not be a typical city park.

It will contain examples of the Southern California natural environment, such as oak groves, sycamore trees and native grasses.


“This is going to be more than a park,” said Ken Urbina, principal of the school. “It is going to be a nature park surrounded by beautiful groves of trees, a butterfly garden and an amphitheater.”

The four-acre park will contain a jogging path, a flower garden, a soccer field surrounded by trees, and playground equipment in earth tones instead of bright hues.

The conservancy will design and build the $450,000 park, using county bond money for construction. A state agency, the conservancy was formed in 1980 to help the National Park Service acquire parkland for the Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area and in the hills and mountains encircling the San Fernando Valley.

Developing inner-city parks is a major departure from the conservancy’s original mission.


Since 1980, the conservancy has acquired 30,000 acres that might have been developed for residences and business. It is poised to buy an additional 7,000 acres soon.

But almost all of that land is in and around the Santa Monica Mountains, an area not readily accessible to those too poor to own cars.

Because of that, the conservancy has been criticized for benefiting communities that are more affluent and more white.

“One of our principal concerns was that people thought the money was being spent for the mountains and were saying, ‘Gee, this is just for rich people on the Westside,’ ” said Joseph T. Edmiston, executive director of the conservancy. “We are trying to address that issue now.”


Walnut Park Elementary, built in 1992 for 1,300 students, tried for four years to get a park built on extra land around its campus. But the county Department of Parks and Recreation shelved the plan a few years ago, Urbina said.

Hearing this, county Supervisor Gloria Molina contacted the conservancy, which has been eager to develop inner-city parks now that county and city bond money has become available.

The conservancy has built a handful of tiny parks along the Los Angeles River and its tributary, the Rio Hondo, in Los Angeles County. But Walnut Nature Park is the first park built for the inner city, away from a river or mountains.

“We want people to be more aware of nature and feel an affinity to it so when they come to the Santa Monica Mountains and see an oak tree, they don’t say, ‘Oh, how strange,’ ” Edmiston said. The urban parks will also serve as departure points for conservancy buses going to the mountains.


More parks are on the drawing board. The conservancy is working with Los Angeles Councilwoman Rita Walters to have an 8.5-acre park built at Compton and Slauson avenues in South-Central Los Angeles. Funding for the $3.5-million park will come from county funds and Proposition K, the Los Angeles city parks measure passed in 1996.