L.A. Zoo Vision Plan Expansion Threatens Wildlife in Griffith Park

L.A. Zoo Vision Plan Expansion Threatens Wildlife in Griffith Park

By Aida Ashouri

A hundred years ago, a sign was erected in Hollywood to advertise a new housing development. “Hollywoodland” lay before then-empty hills that had just begun to be graded for housing development in what we now know as the Hollywood Hills. Since then, over 95% of the wildlands in Los Angeles have been destroyed – any remaining wildlands can now be considered as valuable as gold.

Griffith Park, one of the last remaining bastions of open space where native wildlife can thrive, is one of these remaining spaces. The Park has been home to more than 200 bird species and 70 nesting bird species. Native plant species of grave conservation concern also call the Park their home, including the Humboldt Lily and Catalina Mariposa-Lily. The only Bigberry Manzanita left in the eastern Santa Monica Mountain occurs at the higher ridges in the Park, from Mt. Hollywood to Mt. Lee, as well as a small population of Parry’s Cholla, a locally-rare native cactus, found near the old Zoo site. Additionally, the Park is home to the Nevin’s Barberry, one of the rarest plants in the U.S.

Such a rich ecosystem is also fragile, and currently under threat. The Los Angeles Zoo seeks to expand its grounds greatly. Within its gated confines in Griffith Park, the Zoo has a “Vision Plan” to create a multi-entertainment venue, add exhibits, add a large visitor center on the ridgeline above the Zoo, and blast the ridgeline to create an artificial canyon to make a rock wall, among other edifices. There was sparse public outreach regarding the plan, but much public outcry. There were at least 300 public comments on the council file against the expansion. Nevertheless, the City Council passed the Environment Impact Report (EIR), greenlighting the Vision Plan.

Although the Zoo lies in a net-zero air quality plan for public works, the Vision Plan would contribute an exponential rise in carbon emissions as its focus is mainly to increase visitors through vehicular traffic into the Park. There are motions on the table to investigate improving public transportation within the Park, but there’s no requirement that these be established in order to allow for the Vision Plan to proceed. In addition, although Los Angeles already has a problem with high ozone levels, the Environmental Impact Report (EIR) acknowledges that the Zoo Plan would generate emissions of NOX, an O3 precursor, in excess of the regional mass daily threshold.

In addition to the construction, the Zoo plans to have nightly events that bring light, noise, and traffic to the Park. The EIR acknowledges that “[i]ndirect impacts on special-status wildlife species could also occur due to increased noise and light. These species could abandon habitats within and adjacent to areas of proposed development and move into adjacent areas in the vicinity (e.g., Griffith Park), increasing competition for available resources in those areas. This could result in indirect impacts to and the loss of additional special-status wildlife species outside of the project site, including sensitive species that may not be able to survive with increased competition.” Alarmingly, the EIR acknowledges that species may go extinct in the Park because this Plan has “the potential to result in the loss of individuals, or the reduction of existing habitat, of a state or federal listed endangered, threatened, rare, protected, or candidate species, or a Species of Special Concern.”

Even though there is a plan to destroy a hillside to create an artificial canyon, there is no analysis as to the impact of that loss on erosion, flooding, pollution, or impact on water flows within the Park. Rather, the analysis is that the water flow impact would be “minor” and that the Plan would “not increase the potential for soils to be subject to wind or water erosion.” There’s no analysis of how the new concrete and nonpermeable land affect water flows and groundwater in Griffith Park. The EIR acknowledges that the destruction of the hillside will “potentially result in loss of sensitive natural communities, species, and protected trees.” Lastly, there is little in the Plan that makes it sustainable. For example, there are no plans to reuse the dirt excavated, thus resulting in at least 3,000 diesel trucks that would be required to move the dirt out of the Park.

On its face, this Plan would be destructive to Griffith Park, and thus its wildlife The EIR itself blatantly states that species could go extinct and be under increased stress due to this plan, yet the Council passed it anyway. The Zoo leadership has admitted that the motivation for this expansion is to increase revenue and capture tourist as a result of the Olympics. But at what cost?

Aida Ashouri is an attorney with Legal Aid Foundation of LA and community advocate interested in diversity & inclusion, transportation, public health & safety, and environmental affairs

Citizens for Los Angeles Wildlife (CLAW) Fights to Protect Local Wildlife and Wildlands

Citizens for Los Angeles Wildlife (CLAW) Fights to Protect Local Wildlife and Wildlands

By Tony Tucci

Ten years ago, Citizens for Los Angeles Wildlife, or CLAW, was born from a group of grassroots Laurel Canyonites, who organized to remind Los Angeles City Planning that the wild ones that walk among us should not be cut off and displaced by development. After successfully filing a lawsuit to protect a wildlife corridor and overhearing a City Zoning Administrator say, “put up a sign and tell the animals where to go,” CLAW was formed and fired-up to change the discretion and opinions of bureaucrats and policymakers in order to protect the wildlife, wildlife habitat, and wildlife corridors of greater Los Angeles.

In 2014, CLAW initiatives immediately gained traction. One became a motion to ban rat poison, which resulted in Recreation and Parks abandoning the use of Second Generation Anticoagulant Rodenticides (SGARs) in 16,000 acres of City parkland. Another major initiative became a motion to direct City Planning to write a Wildlife Ordinance that was immediately signed by five City Councilmembers (more on this later).

As years went on, more CLAW initiatives ensued and became wins. Partnerships with other like-minded organizations helped pass AB 1788, a bill that placed a moratorium on SGARs throughout California. Another partnership called “Let’s Buy a Mountain” successfully preserved 17 acres of open space in Laurel Canyon. In 2017, just near the close of escrow and establishment of the preserve, CLAW’s Nature Cam wildlife photography was launched with the discovery of Leo, the uncollared mountain lion. (Please visit CLAW’s website for photos and videos.)

Leo the mountain lion has a home range that spans the Eastern Santa Monica Mountains between the 405 and 101 Freeways, a range that includes parkland twice that of Griffith Park, where P-22 once roamed. Like P-22, Leo is equally corralled by freeways. But unequally, his home range is highly fractured by hillside neighborhoods, including Bel Air, Beverly Hills, Benedict Canyon, and the Hollywood Hills. Uncollared and not studied, Leo has been elusively and peacefully coexisting with humans for at least eight years.

As Leo has become our mascot, protecting our local environment is gaining traction. LA City’s Biodiversity Expert Council has determined the Eastern Santa Monica Mountains is a hotspot of critical ecological value. California’s Department of Fish and Wildlife has given Southern California mountain lions interim status as a threatened species. A pilot district has been established for the aforementioned Wildlife Ordinance with the exact same boundaries as Leo’s home range.

Now, almost 10 years since CLAW’s initiative was presented, the City Council’s Planning and Land Use Management Committee unanimously voted to support the Ordinance and move it to a full vote by City Council. We are thrilled. We cannot preserve wildlife habitat with conservation alone; we need these regulations. The Ordinance reduces the land disturbance and mass of future projects so that animals can continue to move freely. In the most environmentally sensitive areas, the Ordinance will create site-plan review requiring future developments to chip in and leave space for animals to pass.

However, the Ordinance is not yet a done deal. While over 30 environmental and community organizations (including thanks Sierra Club) embrace the Ordinance along with many residents in the pilot district, and communities of modest means clamor for its expansion into their neighborhoods; unfortunately, by indoctrinating the real estate industry, the rich and privileged (primarily in Bel Air) have waged a deafening roar of misinformation and controversy against the Ordinance. Worried about their ability to flip houses and maximize return on investment, they have fear-mongered some residents into believing that their property values will go down. And they continue to spread their lies.

The Sierra Club continues to advocate with CLAW and fight the noise. If you are a resident of Los Angeles, please contact the office of your City Councilmember and let them know you support the Wildlife Ordinance.

Tony Tucci is currently CLAW’s Chairperson, overseeing their efforts in Conservation, Education and Advocacy. In addition to Co-founding CLAW ten years ago, he has an additional 15 years under his belt as a community organizer and vice-president of Laurel Canyon Association, a past delegate to the Hillside Federation, a past member of the Citizen Oversight Committee for Mountains Recreation and Conservation Authority, and a past board member of the Bel Air Beverly Crest Neighborhood Council. https://www.clawonline.org/who-we-are#board

Bear Divide is for the Birds

Bear Divide is for the Birds

By Barbara Hensleigh

At 5 am one day in April, I head out with my friend Jen to a place I have never been before, though I have lived and hiked in and around L.A. for over 30 years: Bear Divide in the San Gabriel Mountains. After spending the night in L.A., migratory birds – thousands of them, coming from two different flight paths – converge here heading north. They fly low to the ground and up over a crest in the mountains and are identified and counted as they fly. Some are caught in stationary nets, banded, and then released by researchers. The birds are bright blue, red, and yellow; some are multi- colored––among them are Lazuli Buntings, Wilson Warbers, Swainson’s Thrush and Western Tanagers. I saw the birds and the amazing team identifying, banding, researching them. They are genuinely impassioned about saving these birds. I even got to release a newly banded bird (pro tip: you don’t throw it up in the air and hope it flies). The Western Tanagers are the feistiest. They squawk and flap their wings in protest of their undignified treatment by humans.

Bear Divide, where these birds fly north, is a special place that’s worth saving and with our help it will be. The Sierra Club is part of a coalition working to expand the San Gabriel National Monument to include Bear Divide. Roberto Morales, Acting Associate Director at the Sierra Club, a number of volunteers, and the Nature for All Coalition are working closely with our elected officials in Washington and Los Angeles. Of the expansion, Morales says: “From access to nature to providing refuge for many sensitive species, the San Gabriel Mountains and the Angeles National Forest have incalculable value to the Greater Los Angeles area. Right now, climate change and proposed development are putting some of these nearby natural places at risk.”  US Representative Judy Chu (28th District) has introduced a bill in Congress to expand the Monument to include Bear Divide as part of an additional 100,000 protected acres. Senator Alex Padilla has introduced a similar bill in the Senate. With our support, the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors just passed a resolution in support of the expansion and Morales is now working with the L.A. City Council on a similar resolution. Building support through our activism and membership is what the Sierra Club is all about, but even if Congress doesn’t act, all is not lost. President Biden can add to the Monument by following President Obama’s lead in 2014, when he used the Antiquities Act to establish it. The proposed expansion also falls under that Act.

The birds of Bear Divide aren’t the only animals that will be protected through the expansion. Nelson’s Bighorn Sheep will gain an additional 14,000 acres for their use. And then there are the bears, mountain lions and more obscure creatures, such as the chestnut snail (found only in the San Gabriels), the California newt (its gills disappear when it becomes terrestrial), and the endangered mountain yellow-legged frog.

What can you do to support the expansion and keep Bear Divide for the birds? Take two minutes to sign this petition today.

Barbara Hensleigh is the volunteer Chair of the Central Regional Group of the Angeles Chapter of the Sierra Club

2023 Central Group Banquet Awardees

2023 Central Group Banquet Awardees

This past May, we were excited to celebrate three of our amazing Central Group activists and volunteers at the 2023 Angeles Chapter Awards Banquet!

Innovation in Outings Award: White Cane Hike Team  (Will McWhinney accepting)

Will holds award given to him and Hearts for Sight founders and ICO volutneerWill McWhinney, our indefatigable Outings Chair, helped jump-start hikes for the blind and visually impaired. Since 2019, in collaboration with an organization dedicated to providing access to nature for the blind and visually impaired and with the support of Inspiring Connections Outdoors (another Sierra Club group), the White Cane Team led almost 40 hikes monthly, sometimes with up to 50 people, for around 235 visually impaired and blind Angelenos and guides. Last year, with Will’s experience as an instructor for wilderness hiking and camping, the group added camping trips to their list of activities.  

White Cane Hikes involve numerous volunteers from a variety of affiliations. The hikes require a 1:1 volunteer-to-VIP ratio, meticulous scouting, accommodations, and other unique challenges. The team’s enthusiasm and energy has resulted in growing participation. The collaboration is an example of people from diverse backgrounds coming together inclusively to benefit a community empowering themselves equitably, in the spirit of the Jemez Principles.

Congratulations, Will and the White Cane Team. You all deserved this award as a reflection of your amazing work.

Environmental Justice Award: Linda Cleveland

Linda holding her award with DyanaLinda is immersed in a seemingly endless list of environmental justice initiatives – right where she lives. She was part of the “40 Million Reasons to Go Electric” campaign, and helped coordinate a ride-and-drive event in Watts, working to bring awareness and support for electric vehicles to her community. Linda also recently helped organize the Wattskanda Renaissance Parade, uplifting community developments for a healthier Watts.

She also helped lead efforts on the South Los Angeles AB 617 Community Steering Committee and has advocated for increased funding and an expansion of the community boundaries. Linda is also involved in the Tree People Watershed Leadership Group, Watts Rising-Transformative Climate Communities advisory group, and various other community leadership roles. She eats, sleeps, and drinks her community’s well-being. 

Linda is both an activist with Sierra Club and helps lead Watts Clean Air and Energy Committee (WCAEC), a Sierra Club partner. 

Linda and her daughter, Jackie Badejo, were just honored in the South Coast AQMD’s 2022 Clean Air Awards, receiving the award for Leadership in Air Quality for their work promoting air quality and climate awareness for the Watts Community and for their work on the Community Steering Committee.  

Linda is being recognized today for her consistent and determined efforts toward social and environmental justice. We’re proud of you!  

Sierra Club Ambassador Award AND Innovation in Activism Awards: Mathieu Bonin 

Mathieu gets a thumbs from from DyanaDuring the pandemic, when acquiring a full roll of toilet paper might have been your only goal, Mathieu Bonin created a safe outdoor event that was both educational and good for the environment. He started Trash Talk Saturdays, where volunteers are invited to pick up trash at urban parks while learning about its history on a live conference call (listening in through ear buds). Volunteers thus can maintain social distance while experiencing nature and learning.

Mathieu’s first Trash Talk, at South Los Angeles Wetlands Park, was included in the L.A. Times’ “Wild” column. He and Sierra Club volunteers have now cleaned and learned about parks around the region, including South Park, Bosque del Rio Hondo, Sepulveda Basin Nature Reserve, Griffith Park, Elysian Park, Ascot Hills Park, Debs Park, Elyria Canyon Park, Hollenbeck Park, and Lincoln Park.  As Mathieu puts it, “My idea is that knowledge enhances our appreciation of most everything; it’s a cognitive approach.”

Trash Talk Saturdays are posted on MeetUp, and the public is welcome! We salute Mathieu for his innovation, and meticulous and interesting research exploring each park’s history and sociology, often pulling in politics, class, race and gender.  

Profiles in Activism

Profiles in Activism


Our newsletter this quarter is designed to introduce you to our volunteer Executive Committee and to perhaps get you excited about volunteering with us. We asked the seven members on the committee  to tell us why they became activists with the Sierra Club and then had them answer some questions we gave them. Meet our amazing and dedicated group!


Barbara with a big smile while hikingI have been volunteering since 2016 after a devastating election. I worked on the phaseout of oil drilling in the L.A. basin; eliminating single use plastic through ordinances; the Hollywood Redevelopment Plan; lobbying officials to, among other things, require affordable housing and charging stations in new buildings; and rebuilding the Central Group, to name a few.

What is my favorite eco-friendly restaurant?  I love Un Solo Sol, in East L.A., across from the Metro’s Mariachi Plaza stop. It’s vegan and unprocessed and the nopalitos are yummy. The owner, Carlos Ortiz, is an activist himself, a bonus. For ice cream, Pazzo Gelato on Sunset in Silver Lake is a favorite. IMHO it’s the best ice cream in town, and without the plastic spoons or containers.

Who is my hero and why? James Baldwin is my hero. He steadfastly spoke truth to power in a way that could not be ignored or diminished. Watch his debate with William F. Buckley, on YouTube, for one example. And he wrote well to boot!


I joined the Sierra Club about 6 years ago, after becoming frustrated by the lack of progress and the worsening state of our environment. It became clear to me that working with elected officials was the most effective way to drive swift change. Although I had never been interested in politics before, I recognized the potential for impactful change working via an organization like Sierra Club.

Since then, I have been actively involved with the Club in numerous ways. I am Vice Chair of the Central Group Executive Committee, serve as the regional representative for the Angeles Political Committee, and co-chair the Angeles Chapter Banquet Committee.

What is your best camping pro-tip? We just took our 3-year-old camping, and the best advice given to us that we now pass onto other families is to bring a portable kiddie potty!

What advice can you give to someone who wants to be an environmental activist?  Activism is a very broad word, and can come in many forms! To get started, do something that you love for an organization that aligns with your values, and leverage your existing skill sets to get you started. There’s always a need for things like social media content, tabling/talking to people, or putting on events. No one’s expecting someone to know how to lobby a politician right out of the gate!


I’ve focused on living a sustainable lifestyle in my personal life for a while, but I joined Sierra Club after realizing that we need more systemic change in order to impact climate change, pollution, and environmental racism. I’ve now been a Central Group member for four years, and in that time have joined the Executive Committee and currently serve as the Central Group treasurer and secretary. I work a lot on various legislative projects and also on endorsement committees.

What is your favorite hike in Los Angeles? I’ve only done it once, but the hike to the summit of Mt. Baldy tops the list of my hikes in the Los Angeles area. It was grueling, but definitely worth it.

What is the matter you have worked on in the SC you are most proud of? I’m proud of having worked on Sierra Club’s endorsement committees during the last Los Angeles election. It was the first time I had participated, and I enjoyed the process of researching candidates’ environmental records, and hearing firsthand from them about their environmental priorities and goals.


Hi, I’ve been a member of the Sierra Club since 2019. I started because I was concerned about the negative health impacts of the oil fields in my neighborhood and wanted to turn my concern into action that would benefit my community. My environmental passion is based on equity work and helping to uplift the voices of historically underrepresented groups.

What is your favorite hike in Los Angeles? My favorite hike in L.A. is the Baldwin Hills Scenic Overlook, but I also love walking down residential streets and checking out all of the different gardens.

What is your favorite native plant? At the moment, I’m fond of the crimson pitcher sage, but since I’m very new to gardening this is likely to change. Basically, I like anything that’s low maintenance, low water, smells good and is beautiful.

What advice can you give to someone who wants to be an environmental activist? My advice to someone wanting to be an environmental activist is to pick your passion and stick with it. Start by learning as much as you can on your issue and then find others who also share your passion. Set goals and then work consistently to achieve them. Be prepared for the long game, because even small victories are often difficult to achieve.


Amanda having fun the roots of a giant treeI’m volunteering for the Sierra Club because I’m passionate about having a healthy world for all. I’ve been with the Central Group for seven years now and have been working on parks and green space issues in the city of Los Angeles.

What is Your Most Interesting Adventure? Hmmm… it’s hard to pick my most interesting adventure, but it was probably solo hiking in the mountains of Trinidad, Cuba, where I came across a bunch of wild boars and farmers who were astonished at how a white American female found her way to their trails.

What is Your Favorite Podcast? I have two favorite podcasts: “On Being” with Krista Tippett and “Your Undivided Attention” put out by the Center for Humane Technology. I highly recommend anyone concerned with the state of the world to listen to both.


I’ve always been passionate about the environment, but I was driven to join the Sierra Club six years ago when it was made evident to me that the current systems in place are unsustainable for both humans and the planet. While the necessary changes won’t happen overnight, I believe a lasting impact can be achieved through the collective and focused energy of people working together.

During my time with the Central Group, I’ve served on the Executive Committee, helped on a variety of campaigns such as Oil and Plastic Pollution, and planned a Zero Waste Fair.

What is your best camping pro-tip? When I was a student with the WTC (Sierra Club’s Wilderness Travel Course), we went camping in the snow for a couple nights. There I learned that a Nalgene filled with boiling water inside of your sleeping bag is an effective way to help you keep warm at night!

What is your most interesting adventure? In 2019, my wife and I hiked a 40-mile portion of the Kumano Kodo in Japan, which is a series of pilgrimage routes through the mountains and countryside of Japan. We saw beautiful landscapes, met wonderful local people, and experienced a completely different side of Japan.


Mathieu at the beachI have been volunteering for the Sierra club since 2019. At that time I was shocked by the environmental policies made by a previous administration, how it was destructive for the ecosystems and for minorities. Morally I felt the need to act, at my modest level, for more environmental protections and more environmental justice. What led me to the environmental questions was a friendship with a biology and geology teacher who taught me ecology and natural history while I was studying environmental philosophy. We have been taking our students to Joshua Tree and the Salton Sea for ecological and philosophical field trips. It all started here for me; I am now interested in the question of urban parks and what aspects they allow us to reflect. I would like to be both literate in human and natural history to understand and protect our natural and human ecosystems.

How long have you been with Central Group and what have you been working on? I have been in the Sierra club for four years. I helped create Trash Talk Saturdays, which consists in cleaning a park while listening to a talk I make about the history and aspects of an urban park – I have been working on 18 parks now! It is an incredible experience. I also participated in the fundraising event “CityWalk,” doing some research for the team, and I have been following some campaigns such as “Stop the Gondola” at the State Historic Park. I like tabling and meeting future new volunteers!

What is your favorite hike in Los Angeles? It’s not a hike per se, but I am commuting every day with my bike and I enjoy the L.A. river from Frogtown to Burbank. Every day is different, contemplating the birds and the flow. The seasons remind me that L.A. is within a wider natural system, and the L.A. river is a part of that.

What is your favorite book or podcast and why? I recommend Cyclettes by Tree Abraham. It allows you to experience poetry, personal writing and philosophy in the same book. This book helped me to understand the relationship I built this year with my bike and my biking. If, like me, you are interested in the relationship between landscape and science, A Natural History Guide to the Pacific Coast and North Central Baja California and Adjacent Islands by Dennis L. Bostic is a good example. Finally, about urban parks I would recommend the excellent podcast “Open Space Radio” by the National Recreation and Park Association.

Interview with Stephanie Landregan, FASLA, the Architect of Parks

Interview with Stephanie Landregan, FASLA, the Architect of Parks

By Barbara Hensleigh

In 1930, Los Angeles lost out on the preservation of open space when the Olmstead brothers’ proposal for a chain of connected parks was rejected by business leaders; industrialization and development were more important…or so they thought. But now we know:  studies have shown that open space reduces stress, contributes to our well-being, and more. Some of our city leaders understand the importance of open space, and not solely for recreation. Enter stage right, the incredible oasis in South Los Angeles, the Augustus F. Hawkins Natural Park, named after the first African-American west of the Mississippi to be elected to Congress. Although hiking paths, indigenous plants and wildlife abound, it did not happen because our early leaders preserved the native space.  It happened because the community came together and transformed an old industrial pipe storage yard, owned by the DWP, into a place of contemplative tranquility. Who designed this jewel? It was Stephanie Landregan, the current Director for the Landscape Architecture Program and the Horticulture & Gardening Program at UCLA Extension. Here is our interview with her.

Q.  Tell us a bit about yourself.

A.  I have a degree in three-dimensional art from the University of Kentucky. I initially designed dinosaurs for museums. I was one of the first females in Texas who was licensed as a brake mechanic. I came to Los Angeles with the intention of working in Hollywood on set design but, after enrolling in Art Center, I became interested in landscape architecture. I completed the extension certificate at UCLA in landscape architecture (the course I currently direct). Ultimately, I devoted my efforts to public works projects, because of their legacy. I was only about four years out of school when I landed the work to design the Hawkins Park.    

Q.  How did turning an industrial site into a nature park in South L.A. happen?

A.  Councilwoman Rita Waters was interested in making it a park. The Santa Monica Mountains Conservancy was buying up land in on the westside to keep it from being developed. Joe Edmiston, from the SMMC, was at a council meeting trying to get additional funds to purchase more land.  Waters said, “I keep voting for money for rich people, what are you going to do for SCLA?” Joe went on a tour of the site with Rita and said, “I’ll do it.”

At the site, there was an old pipe used to vent sewer, thirty feet high, and four water wells that required mitigation. There was some toxic soil, although the site wasn’t nearly as badly contaminated as what is the Vista Hermosa Park, which I also worked on.  

We worked with architects, the largest minority owned firm (Jenkins, Gales and Martinez) in L.A., to design a craftsman ranchero on the site. We saved some of the trees, including a large black walnut. Huntington Gardens donated cactus. We designed the first permeable parking lot at a park in Los Angeles. Building and Safety wanted it paved over, but we won that battle. 

Q. I was told that you arranged to have dirt taken from landslides in the Malibu area along PCH to be used to create a contoured landscape in the park? Is that true? Did you have to move mountains (pun intended) to get multiple agencies on board?

A It was easy to get the Malibu dirt; they wanted to get rid of it and we knew exactly where to put it. We found the contractor who was removing the mudslide dirt and asked if we could have the 23 truckloads, or more. We made hills with the dirt and graded the flat landscape into rolling hills.  

Q.  The evolution of the Hawkins Park was somewhat unique in that the community was heavily involved in the development of the park. How did you involve them?

A. We knew the value of “public process.” It’s not a one-off. We knew that, after we created the park, we were going to leave it to the community as its caretaker.  If you don’t engage the people who will be the caretakers, then you aren’t a good planner. So, there was a small house across the street from the site that we used for community involvement. We would have good food and conversation there.  It was an open construction site that the community could drop in and see the progress, like their house. We hired 50 people from the community to help build the site. We had grandmothers with hardhats planting and putting in the irrigation systems. We held an event at Art Share LA where the community came and created decorative tiles, which are placed in and around the park, at a ceremony for the occasion.  

When the governor came to the opening and christened the park, we honored the community members who participated. We also hired neighborhood kids as “junior rangers.”  

Q. There is inequality in park access, especially in Los Angeles. It has been shown that park design can be made with implicit assumptions (e.g., a sports field for people of color or Europocentric leisure parks in white neighborhoods).  As a landscape architect, how do you feel your work should contribute to reduce inequalities in design and access?

A. It should. For example, there was already a park three blocks away from the Hawkins site, but it was proprietary – it was a sports facility, not all could use it.  The community wanted a place for respite. Unfortunately, we all too frequently heard comments from those on the outside, such as “Why are we spending money on this? They are just going to ruin it.” Joe Edmiston, who was instrumental in forming the park, said we only do one kind of park, the right kind of park. So, the same expensive features in Malibu were integrated into this Augustus Hawkins Park. There were stone pillars, wrought iron, a beautiful ranch style information center, etc. If you give someone a jewel, they will treasure it.  

Q. From Olmsted to now, parks conception has changed a lot. We are not in the romantic conception of park, we are not either in the idea of park should be made only for outdoors activities and sports. From the knowledge you developed, and from your point of view, why are parks important in a more sustainable and a more equitable city? 

A. The pandemic exposed the reality of open space as a destination for us to recover. The pastoral effect is so important for the human spirit. There is recreation and then there is re-creation. Our parks should be sacred spaces. Providing open space is the highest gift you can give to a community.  

Q. What are you doing these days? 

Our extension program is hoping to work with CalTrout on the Rindge Dam project in Malibu Creek. There is money available to remove the dam, the largest obstacle to the return of salmon there. We look for projects that take 11 weeks, because that is the length of our quarter sessions.  I chose projects near and dear to my heart. I’m an educator so I can help inspire younger people to continue the work I do; that is, becoming the next stewards of the earth.