Transit to Parks Summit Reflection

On November 14th and 15th, 2022, Climate Resolve’s Natalie Hernandez and Lia Cohen had the opportunity to attend the Transit to Parks Summit at the Earvin “Magic” Johnson Recreation Area in Willowbrook. Inspired by the Countywide Parks Needs Assessment and the Transit to Parks Strategic Plan, this two-day summit aimed to advance community-supported projects to improve transit access to parks, especially for communities in most need of such access, by bringing together elected officials, municipal transit agencies, park agencies, and community-based organizations. Workshops and session topics included lively conversations on equity and barriers to park access, transit planning, funding, cost estimating, and grant writing assistance, among other things.

For the Climate Resolve team, the Summit was a valuable chance to collaborate in real time with our partners on possible transit access solutions for South LA residents to better access the Baldwin Hills Parklands, building on recommendations from our recently published Community Resilience and Access Plan.  

The Summit featured both speaker presentations and dedicated time for regional group discussions, where attendees were placed into breakout groups based on their region in Los Angeles County. Climate Resolve was placed in the Westside group for our work on behalf of Baldwin Hills, and we were placed in a project team with representatives from LA County Parks, Metro, CalTrans, LADOT, the city of Santa Monica, and others (despite the project’s South LA focus, Metro’s maps included the Parklands in the Westside group). Throughout the Summit, the teams were instructed to take their learnings from their work in the field and from Summit speakers and apply them to a project chosen by each group, with each team either forming a new project or workshopping an existing project brought forth by a team member.  Knowing this ahead of time, Climate Resolve brought copies of the transportation section of our Plan, presented our work to the team, and ultimately our group’s project focused on expanding the Link shuttle to the east and south sides of the Baldwin Hills Parklands while also improving existing service and signage.  

Throughout the two days together, our project team was able to learn about our efforts in Baldwin Hills, map out potential solutions using a tool created for this Summit by Metro and Fehr and Peers, workshop solutions and funding strategies with the different agencies represented, project the costs of expanding the Link shuttle, and increase project visibility by presenting to all of the Summit attendees at the end of the Summit. We also connected with a LA County Department of Public Works representative, John Huang, who attended the Summit and helps run the Link Shuttle program, hoping to get his insight on how realistic Link improvements are. The greatest challenge for our project was the multi-jurisdictional nature of the areas in and around the Parklands, which has made it hard to know how and with what agency to proceed on next steps regarding transit access improvements. Having key players in the room from different agencies was a necessary first step, but many steps remain in terms of coordinating efforts to actually implement these recommendations across jurisdictions. Moving forward, the Climate Resolve team is actively working to find funding to coordinate these efforts. 

One of the most poignant and important takeaways from the Summit came during an Equity Panel: the topic was on access to open space, and Veronica Padilla-Campos, Executive Director of Pacoima Beautiful, shared two stories from her experience trying to bring community members from Pacoima to the beach with her organization. 

In the first instance, she chartered a bus to Point Mugu State Park, called ahead to make sure she knew the bus parking rate and brought the correct amount of cash, and set out to the beach, offering a day-trip that for many community members was their first time going to the beach. When they arrived, the parking attendants told them that it was actually more money than they had initially said, and thus they couldn’t park in the lot. When Veronica objected and said that was the price they had been told, they said that was wrong, and Pacoima Beautiful could call the Sheriff’s Department if they had further issues or questions about the change in rate. The parking attendants wouldn’t let the bus drive into the parking lot to allow members to unload their things, nor did Pacoima Beautiful want to have the community members exit dangerously onto the PCH. Therefore, Pacoima Beautiful unloaded in a shopping center parking lot within walking distance to the beach, but still had to cross PCH with members carrying their items, which was not ideal.  

In a second instance, Pacoima Beautiful had organized another beach trip, this time to a beach in Malibu that bordered some private homes. When the bus arrived, they were approached by homeowners who saw this large group of community members that didn’t look like them and rudely asked if they were there to clean up the beach. While in both instances they still got to go to the beach and the Pacoima Beautiful staff did the best they could to shield the situation from the community members, these were clear messages that they were not welcome. 

Overall, the Summit was a success. The event was well run and fun to attend, the venue – offered by LA County Parks, was great, and the food was delicious and locally catered. It was great seeing so many partners in one room – we had friends and advocates from Promesa Boyle Heights, Nature for All, Pacoima Beautiful, the Baldwin Hills Conservancy and many other partners, as well as other agency/ government staff. More than anything, the Summit was a stark reminder of why we need a large investment of funds, creativity, collaboration and resources to improve transit to parks – and it’s not just because we’re lacking a couple bus lanes and lines. For far too long, marginalized communities have deliberately been pushed out of areas with access to parks and open spaces, and in the instances where they have tried to increase access to these spaces, either by improving transit to parks in other communities or building more parks in their own, they have been met with resistance and racism. It’s a promising sign that Metro and other large agencies are dedicating time and money to improving transit access to parks, but there is still a long way to go. At Climate Resolve, we hope to take these learnings to heart and continue to push for access to the Baldwin Hills Parklands for the communities that need it most. 

**Here is a link to Metro’s new Transit to Parks website, as well as a copy of our group’s presentation.

Climate Resolve

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