[expandsub1 title="December 20, 2008 - Jim Light Rejoins Board and Steps Up as President as SBPC"]
-----Original Message-----
From: Bill Brand [mailto:bbrand@earthlink.net]
Sent: Saturday, December 20, 2008 8:15 AM
To: SBPC
Subject: SBPC Update - New President

Happy Holidays Everyone,

Here is a photo of myself and Jim Light inside the AES Power Plant about a week ago. We were here as part of a tour given by AES for ourselves, the State Coastal Conservancy, and the consultants they have hired to conduct feasibility studies on the potential for purchasing and restoring some or all of this property for public use. As you can see, it was a beautiful day and quite a view from the platforms high over King Harbor.

A few days later, myself and the State's land acquisition consultant met with the plant manager, Buck Hunt, and the President of AES Southland, Eric Pendergraft. It was a very productive meeting in that we better understood each others goals, and we assured AES that we would be led by their actions, but were studying the option of purchasing all or part of the land they felt was in excess of their needs, now or in the future.

We also assured them this was not a Redondo Beach project, but a State project that would continue to leverage support at all levels of government, and within the regional community.

We developed a better understanding of each others goals, priorities and possibilities for the future. Everything is on the table. Everything! Including a potential partnership with Southern California Edison which owns the land under the power lines that stretch all the way to the 405 freeway. With the phasing-out of once-through cooling, the need for AES to be sited on the coast goes away.

Jim Light was a founding Director of the SBPC and has been very active in the community for many years. He is now back with us and in fact, was elected to replace me as President just last week. I have resigned my post to run for City Council in Redondo Beach this coming March.

I'm very excited that Jim has rejoined our team. As I've said many times since I read the book, "He's the smartest guy in the room." and shares the vision of a public project here, not a private one. He's also in this for the long haul like the rest of us, and I hope you are too!

If you want to contribute to a local charity that needs your support, give a Christmas gift to future generations and make your tax-deductible gift payable to the:
South Bay Parkland Conservancy
1719 Via El Prado #408
Redondo Beach, CA 90277

Or visit our website below and use PayPal. We have no paid staff and count on your donations to keep us going.

Happy Holidays from all of us at the South Bay Parkland Conservancy!

www.southbayparks.org

p.s.
Below is our year-end letter, which makes this already too long email even longer, but summarizes most of our activities of the past year. If you haven't received one, send me your address and I'll get one out to you right away.

___________________________________________________________________________________

Dear SBPC Member,

2008 has been a good year for the South Bay Parkland Conservancy!

Most importantly, Measure DD was approved overwhelmingly by 58.5% of the voters in Redondo Beach. This measure, which the SBPC endorsed and our President wrote an editorial supporting that appeared in the Daily Breeze, requires a public vote before a major change in allowable land use becomes effective. This protects the AES power plant site from being rezoned without public approval by this City Council, or any future City Council, for anything other than a park or its industrial uses.

Many of you remember the Heart of the City zoning that called for 2,998 condos on this site. It took 2 referendums to simply call for a public vote. Now a vote will always be required thanks to DD.

State Assembly Bill 31 also passed and was signed by Governor Schwarzenegger in September. This law deems much of the South Bay a 'critically underserved community' qualifying us for $400 million in funding for community parks. We spent many hours educating our local State representatives; Assemblymember Ted Lieu and State Senator Jenny Oropeza. They get it about our need for parks and have been willing to help.

The SBPC was also a signer and contributor to comments for important input to State Water Resources Control Board policy that addresses once-through-cooling processes that harm our coastal waters. This process uses the ocean to cool 19 power plants on the coast of California. Three of the power plants are located within 5 miles of each other in the South Bay. We are closely watching the final ruling by the Board on when this practice will be phased out. We believe the sooner the better. It appears the date will be in 2013 or 2015. Whichever it is, this ruling will in all likelihood sunset the operations of the Redondo Beach power plant for good.

As usual, we published the Blue Heron, sponsored booths at many community events like the Riviera Village Festival and Hermosa Arts Festival. We also attended important policy meetings and events in Sacramento, like the annual convention of the California Council of Land Trusts. All dealt with parks, open space, and coastal restorations, as well as the once-through-cooling debates.

In 2009 we plan to do all of the same and more. The State Coastal Conservancy will be completing their first feasibility studies on the AES Redondo site to create the South Bay Waterfront Park. We will continue to comment and watchdog the Water Board as they release their final ruling on the fate of once-through-cooling. And Redondo Beach will have an important election for 3 councilmembers and a Mayor. So all you Redondo residents be sure and get out and vote.

And of course our President, Bill Brand, continues to publish his monthly updates via email. If you don't get these, be sure to email him at bbrand@earthlink.net.

In late 2008 we also received a letter from Mayor Gin soliciting our help in 'greening' the right of way land underneath the power lines at Herondo and PCH. This should prove to be a very high profile success for us given that 80,000 cars a day pass by here. One of our Directors has taken a lead role in bringing all the entities like Southern California Edison together to make this happen. So stay tuned for breaking news as this project unfolds.

All this important progress and the efforts we make could not be possible without your generous support. We can't thank you enough! It has been four years since we incorporated and your financial and moral support kept our vision alive. One day you will see the fruits of your support in the form of a beautiful waterfront park for the entire South Bay to enjoy!

In these difficult financial times, we hope that you have the financial resources to continue to help us with our work. These types of projects take years to complete and have to sustain themselves through good economic times and bad. So please consider an annual tax-deductible donation or membership that will see us through 2009. We have no paid staff and continue to rely solely on your support for the financial resources we need.

Thanks very much in advance for your support and consideration.

All the best for 2009 and Happy Holidays!

Your Directors at the South Bay Parkland Conservancy

Bill Brand Steve Carey

Jillaine Force Charlie Szymanski

Mimi Andersen Irene Kurata

Jim Vaught Dave Wiggins

Florence Swiger Wendy Weber

[/expandsub1]

[expandsub1 title="November 30, 2008 - Measure DD Wins - Provides for Public Vote for Some Rezoning Efforts"]

-----Original Message-----
From: Bill Brand [mailto:bbrand@earthlink.net]
Sent: Sunday, November 30, 2008 9:11 PM
To: bbrand@earthlink.net
Subject: SBPC NOV08Update - DD Wins!

Greetings Everyone,

By now most of you know that measure DD passed by an overwhelming majority on November 4th, 58.5 to 41.5%. This citizen-led initiative calls for a public vote if there is a major change in allowable land use anywhere in Redondo Beach, which includes the AES power plant site. The other measure, EE, barely passed but will be superceded by DD because of its own wording that ultimately gives the power to the initiative that wins more votes.

So what does this mean for our park vision? If this City Council, or any future City Council, rezones this property for anything other than industrial uses or a park, it will have to be approved by the public. FINALLY, the residents have a binding safety valve, not just an advisory vote, against any redevelopment plan that does not have community support.

As we look to the future of this site, the only outcome that makes any sense both financially and politically, is a park.

Politically because the public already voted for a park here and would never approve a large enough private development plan to justify the financial risk for investors. And soon, the State Water Board is going to outlaw the practice of once-through-cooling that is going to force this old power plant to retire in about 6 years.

And, it makes sense financially because only a large public project could shoulder the financial demands without the profit motive that would require too much development. Plus, a large waterfront park here would upgrade the entire business climate in the area, and raise both the commercial and residential property values. How much more successful would the hotels and restaurants be in this area if there was a 65-acre park here instead of a power plant?

Higher property values, more sales tax revenue and higher lease rates increases City revenues. Study after study has been published on the financial and health benefits to areas with ample park space.

To top it off, once the power plant is retired, the power lines that stretch out to the 405 freeway come down, opening up hundreds of acres of land for a new greenbelt to the coast. If there is a bigger greening opportunity in the South Bay, I don't know about it.

Our State and Federal Governments are talking about large public works projects to stimulate our staggering economy, why not build a waterfront park in Redondo Beach on an old industrial site to provide good jobs, upgrade a blighted area, and improve the quality of life for generations to come. Makes perfect sense to me.

Happy belated Thanksgiving,

Bill Brand
President

South Bay Parkland Conservancy

1719 Via El Prado #408

Redondo Beach, CA 90277

310-809-4405

www.southbayparks.org

[/expandsub1]
 
[expandsub1 title="October 19, 2008 - Measure DD Would Help Advance Park Plan"]

-----Original Message-----
From: Bill Brand [mailto:bbrand@earthlink.net]
Sent: Sunday, October 19, 2008 10:48 AM
To: SBPC Board
Subject: SBPC Update - YES on DD - NO on EE

Hello everyone,

As many of you know, there are two initiatives on the ballot only for Redondo Beach residents this November 4th. One will protect the AES power plant from being rezoned without a vote of the public - Measure DD, and one that will not - Measure EE.

Here is an editorial I wrote that was published in the Daily Breeze on Friday.

http://www.dailybreeze.com/editorial/ci_10739063

RB measure would advance park plan
By Bill Brand
Article Launched: 10/16/2008 05:36:48 PM PDT

The goal to purchase the AES power plant in Redondo Beach and restore it to a public park is alive and well. The vision that was approved in the 2005 advisory vote is slowly moving forward despite our economic woes, and despite the continued opposition from those that would still like to see a development plan here.

Redondo residents can help the park effort succeed on Nov. 4 by voting "Yes" on Measure DD and "No" on Measure EE. The South Bay Parkland Conservancy's board recently voted to support DD and oppose EE for one simple reason: Measure DD would call for a citywide vote if the AES power plant is rezoned. (This site is currently zoned for industrial uses.)

Voting "Yes" on DD and "No" on EE is critical. You need to look no further than to who is funding the two campaigns for and against DD. The California Association of Realtors, the MCL Marina Corp. and AES power company (based in Arlington, Va.) have contributed more than $65,000 to the "No" on DD campaign under the guise of "Save Redondo." Only two residents contributed more than $99 in their latest filing - for a grand total of $200.

Every contribution to the "Yes" on DD campaign, run by Building a Better Redondo, is from local residents. This campaign has only spent one-tenth of the budget of Save Redondo, which is funded mostly by out-of-town groups with their own economic interests.

Measure EE would not require a vote if the AES site is rezoned, and if EE gets over 50 percent of the votes cast, and more votes than DD, then the AES site can be rezoned without your vote, which is why we oppose EE.

Even though the public voted overwhelmingly for the park vision in a citywide election in 2005, despite the heavily biased ballot language, it is not a done deal. The vote was strictly advisory. It has no real power.

This means any City Council can ignore it and rezone the AES site for development. The Planning Commission and the City Council in 2002 voted unanimously to rezone this land for 2,998 condos over the objections of hundreds of residents, and called it "The Heart of the City." It took three years, two referendums and an advisory vote to stop that particular plan, and many of those who supported it are still city officials in positions of power.

Measure DD would amend the city charter to call for a public vote on large rezonings, not small ones, eliminating the risk of this, or any future City Council, from rezoning this site without your approval.

Passage of Measure DD is important and will help, but is by no means a guarantee that our park vision will be realized. Political will and funding are the real challenges, and both come and go and come back again as time marches on.

On the funding side, the Statewide Park Development and Community Revitalization Act of 2008, or Assembly Bill 31, was recently signed into law by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger. This bill reserves $400 million from Proposition 84 for new parks in densely populated, "critically underserved areas" of California. What is a "critically underserved community"? It's a city with fewer than 3 acres of parkland per thousand residents.

Guess what? Redondo Beach is a critically underserved community - with only 2.45 acres per thousand residents, including the beaches. So here is one very large pool of money that will be available to help with the purchase and restoration of this site for a park.

The AES power plant, formerly owned by Edison International, is 40 years old, inefficient and rarely operates. It uses a process called once-though cooling that is permitted to withdraw 932 million gallons of seawater every day, killing millions of fish larvae and microorganisms that are the biological building blocks of a healthy marine environment. And it's noisy, waking up residents blocks away in the middle of the night. Not to mention the nitrous oxides and carbon monoxide that it emits in this densely populated area.

This is a fantastic opportunity to restore a blighted piece of our coast to open space, greatly upgrade the business climate in a depressed area, and provide badly needed recreational and educational needs in the most densely populated area on the California coast. Please help us with our cause by joining the South Bay Parkland Conservancy and, if you are a resident of Redondo Beach, by voting "Yes" on DD and "No" on Measure EE.

Bill Brand is president of the South Bay Parkland Conservancy. To learn more about the conservancy, visit the Web site www.southbayparks.org.

[/expandsub1]
 
[expandsub1 title="October 19, 2008 - Bill Brand's Editorial in the Daily Breeze (web-page)"]
RB measure would advance park plan

By Bill Brand
Published by The Daily Breeze: 10/16/2008 05:36:48 PM PDT

The goal to purchase the AES power plant in Redondo Beach and restore it to a public park is alive and well. The vision that was approved in the 2005 advisory vote is slowly moving forward despite our economic woes, and despite the continued opposition from those that would still like to see a development plan here.

Redondo residents can help the park effort succeed on Nov. 4 by voting "Yes" on Measure DD and "No" on Measure EE. The South Bay Parkland Conservancy's board recently voted to support DD and oppose EE for one simple reason: Measure DD would call for a citywide vote if the AES power plant is rezoned. (This site is currently zoned for industrial uses.)

Voting "Yes" on DD and "No" on EE is critical. You need to look no further than to who is funding the two campaigns for and against DD. The California Association of Realtors, the MCL Marina Corp. and AES power company (based in Arlington, Va.) have contributed more than $65,000 to the "No" on DD campaign under the guise of "Save Redondo." Only two residents contributed more than $99 in their latest filing - for a grand total of $200.

Every contribution to the "Yes" on DD campaign, run by Building a Better Redondo, is from local residents. This campaign has only spent one-tenth of the budget of Save Redondo, which is funded mostly by out-of-town groups with their own economic interests.

Measure EE would not require a vote if the AES site is rezoned, and if EE gets over 50 percent of the votes cast, and more votes than DD, then the AES site can be rezoned without your vote, which is why we oppose EE.

Even though the public voted overwhelmingly for the park vision in a citywide election in 2005, despite the heavily biased ballot language, it is not a done deal. The vote was strictly advisory. It has no real power.

This means any City Council can ignore it and rezone the AES site for development. The Planning Commission and the City Council in 2002 voted unanimously to rezone this land for 2,998 condos over the objections of hundreds of residents, and called it "The Heart of the City." It took three years, two referendums and an advisory vote to stop that particular plan, and many of those who supported it are still city officials in positions of power.

Measure DD would amend the city charter to call for a public vote on large rezonings, not small ones, eliminating the risk of this, or any future City Council, from rezoning this site without your approval.

Passage of Measure DD is important and will help, but is by no means a guarantee that our park vision will be realized. Political will and funding are the real challenges, and both come and go and come back again as time marches on.

On the funding side, the Statewide Park Development and Community Revitalization Act of 2008, or Assembly Bill 31, was recently signed into law by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger. This bill reserves $400 million from Proposition 84 for new parks in densely populated, "critically underserved areas" of California. What is a "critically underserved community"? It's a city with fewer than 3 acres of parkland per thousand residents.

Guess what? Redondo Beach is a critically underserved community - with only 2.45 acres per thousand residents, including the beaches. So here is one very large pool of money that will be available to help with the purchase and restoration of this site for a park.

The AES power plant, formerly owned by Edison International, is 40 years old, inefficient and rarely operates. It uses a process called once-though cooling that is permitted to withdraw 932 million gallons of seawater every day, killing millions of fish larvae and microorganisms that are the biological building blocks of a healthy marine environment. And it's noisy, waking up residents blocks away in the middle of the night. Not to mention the nitrous oxides and carbon monoxide that it emits in this densely populated area.

This is a fantastic opportunity to restore a blighted piece of our coast to open space, greatly upgrade the business climate in a depressed area, and provide badly needed recreational and educational needs in the most densely populated area on the California coast. Please help us with our cause by joining the South Bay Parkland Conservancy and, if you are a resident of Redondo Beach, by voting "Yes" on DD and "No" on Measure EE.

Bill Brand is president of the South Bay Parkland Conservancy. To learn more about the conservancy, visit the Web site www.southbayparks.org.

[/expandsub1]
 
[expandsub1 title="August 25, 2008 - Prop 84 monies ($2.5 Bil), Evolution of a Ballona Friendship"]

-----Original Message-----
From: Bill Brand [mailto:bbrand@earthlink.net]
Sent: Monday, August 25, 2008 5:10 PM
To: SBPC
Subject: SBPC Update - Ballona Wetlands Story

Hello everyone,

"By 2004, the state had taken ownership of 600 surrounding acres."

This is a great line taken from the article below that just appeared in the Daily Breeze. Most of us know about the struggle for the Playa Vista/Ballona wetlands land that lies about 10 miles north of us. This article traces the classic battle that ensued for almost 30 years between developers and the public for coastal land in southern California.

I hope it doesn't take us 30 years, but if it does, it does. The important thing is that we get this land for the public, in perpetuity, once the AES power company completes their economic interest here. The State of California bought 600 acres on the coast, and I remember the economic woes that came and went during that time span. So while there will be better budget years than the one we're in now, know that monies are being spent for projects like ours anyway. Proposition 84 monies ($2.5 Billion for projects like ours) are still being allocated. And we're only trying to get 50 acres for the public.
The evolution of a Ballona friendship
By Kristin S. Agostoni, Staff Writer
Article Launched: 08/23/2008 10:55:12 PM PDT

As Howard Hughes' health declined in the 1970s, a small group from Playa del Rey was anxiously eyeing his land holdings.

The airline mogul owned a runway, offices and airport hangars on hundreds of acres east of Lincoln Boulevard near the Westchester Bluffs, as well as the wetlands habitat west of Lincoln. Although in those days, not everyone wanted to call it that.

Playa del Rey resident Ruth Lansford said she knew that when Hughes died, it would be only a matter of time before developers made plans for the land.

That day came in April 1976, just as her nonprofit group was organizing. Soon after, she said a massive development proposal was on the table.

Lansford and the five others who joined her in the beginning couldn't have anticipated what followed: the uproar over the plan, the six-year lawsuit, and later, a settlement that would come under fire from fellow environmentalists.

Those struggles are part of the story of Friends of Ballona Wetlands - the first organization formed to battle the Playa Vista project and fight for a habitat now managed mostly by the state Department of Fish and Game.

The Friends celebrated its anniversary this summer with a moonlit dinner at the edge of the wetlands and a change-of-command ceremony of sorts.

After 30 years, 77-year-old Lansford has given up her board president seat to an engineer she met years ago while he was a contractor for Playa Vista. Jacob Lipa, president of the Psomas engineering firm, takes over as Lansford assumes the founder's post.

The new board vice president is Catherine Tyrrell, who served as Playa's coastal and environmental affairs director during construction of the freshwater marsh - a project that came from the Friends' controversial legal settlement.

"Both of those people had been very involved in the restoration. We have all that background knowledge. All of the history," Lansford said.

But she acknowledges the irony - that her old title now belongs to a man who was part of the project her group took to court.

"The thing that's been interesting with Playa Vista - and I hated to see it when it began - is to see something grow from a development into a community. I think basically, I'm very optimistic" for the future of the group, she said.

Lansford wasn't as confident in 1978, the year the Friends became a nonprofit.

For one, the married mother of two sons, one in high school and the other in college, was new to community activism - a job that turned her household upside down. Her husband had encouraged her to lead the charge, but they never realized how distracting it would be.

A film and television writer, William Lansford worked from home. The phone rang constantly.

"I had been involved in a few things before that, small neighborhood things, so I was getting into that arena. Of course it wasn't until Playa Vista came up that I went headlong into the whole thing," she said.

Early on, the Friends invited biology professors into the group. Members led tours in the area with help from the National Audubon Society, which provided insurance coverage.

They needed to let people see that the space they wanted to preserve - a common dumping ground - was also a wetlands habitat.

"We had no money. We were just beginning. We had to try to figure out how to reach the public on this issue," Lansford said.

And then there was the size of the original Playa Vista, which spanned both sides of Lincoln between Westchester and Marina del Rey.

"It left only 72 acres undeveloped that they admitted was wetlands," Lansford said. "Because of all the years Ballona had been abused, it was a very difficult task to prove that was really wetlands."

After the California Coastal Commission approved Playa Vista in 1984 - albeit with a bit more habitat preserved - the Friends sued. Lansford said the group was lucky the Center for Law in the Public Interest took the case, relieving the group from covering legal fees.

The original landowner - Hughes' Summa Corp. - wouldn't budge, Lansford said, and the suit dragged on for six years. But by 1990, the Friends had a deal with new developer Maguire Thomas Partners that scrapped a housing complex planned on old horse stables behind Culver Boulevard in Playa del Rey, as well an extension of Falmouth Avenue.

Also abandoned was a development planned on what is now a freshwater marsh used to treat runoff - which is supported with money from Playa Vista homeowners' fees. The settlement preserved about 300 acres, including the marsh site. The group then was required to endorse Playa Vista's first phase. But Lansford said the pact didn't require the Friends to support the development's second phase - planned on land west of Lincoln, just south of Marina del Rey - "unless and until we determined it wouldn't have an adverse effect on the wetlands."

Given the project's original size and the political climate at the time, she was proud of that deal.

But by the mid-1990s, a host of other groups - many also using Ballona in their names - had formed a coalition called Citizens United to Save All of Ballona to stop Playa Vista. They were motivated by concerns that the Friends' settlement simply fell short.

Bruce Robertson, founder of Ballona Valley Preservation League, said he joined the cause about 1995 after learning more about the deal. He didn't like it.

"I think most of us had heard about the compromise and thought, `Oh, the wetlands are saved,"' he said. But the settlement didn't cover all of the property west of Lincoln, which was a point of contention.

Robertson and Marcia Hanscom of the Wetlands Action Network, with some other Ballona groups, invited dozens of others into the coalition - including the Sierra Club and the Surfrider Foundation, Robertson said.

They got a good deal of exposure, in large part because DreamWorks SKG had announced plans to build a studio on Playa Vista's eastern edge.

"We went and demonstrated at DreamWorks," Robertson recalled.

But he said he felt like he wasn't battling only the developer. At press events, he and Lansford were often on opposite sides of the aisle.

"Ruth Lansford, bless her heart, I'm sure she worked hard, but she was our main opponent," he said. "She did get it all started my position is, she worked hard and she came up short."

Lansford said she got angry when people belittled the settlement, which she was eager to defend. She contends the Friends, too, worked to save more land, but that she felt it was unrealistic for some people to think Playa Vista would give it up for free.

"It was a very difficult time for everybody," she said. "You make a deal. And at the time you realize that if you had followed the lawsuit through to the end, you could always lose."

Tyrrell, the Friends' vice president, said she met Lansford in the early 1990s while working on a Santa Monica Bay restoration project.

When Tyrrell was hired to work on the freshwater marsh, she was in close contact with the Friends.

"If you knew (Lansford) you couldn't fault her in any way," Tyrrell said. "She has excellent judgment."

Lipa described members as professionals who looked at how to solve issues.

"It's just really nice to see how it's all evolved," he said.

Today, Playa Vista is confined to Area D - a site defined by its tidy condo complexes and pocket parks, bordered by Lincoln and Jefferson boulevards, the bluffs and Centinela Avenue.

By 2004, the state had taken ownership of 600 surrounding acres.

Robertson and others say there are many people from various groups who deserve credit in the battle over Ballona.

Hanscom, who has also clashed with Lansford, was among the guests last month at the Friends' dinner, along with van de Hoek, who serves with her as co-director of Ballona Institute.

Despite their differences, Hanscom said they bought tickets because she wanted to recognize Lansford's role in the long fight.

Bill Brand
President

South Bay Parkland Conservancy

1719 Via El Prado #408

Redondo Beach, CA 90277

310-809-4405

www.southbayparks.org

[/expandsub1]
 
[expandsub1 title="July 20, 2008 - Vista Hermosa Park in Downtown Los Angeles Opens"]

-----Original Message-----
From: Bill Brand [mailto:bbrand@earthlink.net]
Sent: Sunday, July 20, 2008 9:20 AM
To: SBPC
Subject: SBPC Update - New Park Opens in Downtown

Greetings everyone,

Look what I found on the front page of the Sunday LA Times today! There are so many quotes and issues in this article below I don't know which to point out first? Just read it, and know that Redondo Beach only has 2.45 acres of parkland per thousand residents (typical for the entire South Bay) - including the beaches. Did I mention the calculation for parkland in Redondo Beach includes the beaches? That's an important point to remember when this article gets to the part about how, "Nationwide, the average park space per 1,000 residents is six to 10 acres." Which is wrong by the way. According to the Trust for Public Land, the national average for park space is 16.2 acres per thousand residents.
Vista Hermosa Park opens downtown
The land once slated for the Belmont Learning Center features trails, playgrounds and education programs. It's downtown L.A.'s first new public park since 1895.
By Teresa Watanabe
Los Angeles Times Staff Writer

Email Picture
Genaro Molina / Los Angeles Times
'BEAUTIFUL VIEW': A young soccer player runs to the highest point of the park. Officials battled for a decade over what to do with the land, until two concilmen developed the park plan and enlisted top local politicians to help them break the stalemate.

July 20, 2008

In downtown Los Angeles on Saturday there were sights and smells and sounds of a milestone event the concrete urban core had not hosted in more than a century.

Fresh bark. Tinkling water cascading down a rocky slope. California sycamores and coast live oaks, an expansive meadow of velvety green grass and squealing children everywhere -- in soccer fields and on slides, clambering atop playground snakes and turtles.

After a decade of political battles over what to do with land once slated for the Belmont Learning Center, a new park has bloomed on top of old oil fields, an earthquake fault and what had become a weed-infested, dusty lot.

Vista Hermosa Park -- whose name, Spanish for "beautiful view," reflects its backdrop of the downtown skyline -- was formally opened Saturday by the Santa Monica Mountains Conservancy as downtown's first new public park since 1895, giving residents of a city with far less green space than other major urban centers a chance to breathe, relax and play.

The park also represents a triumph for the low-income, largely immigrant community that had pushed for a larger share of public resources, said Councilman Ed Reyes, who represents the area.

"This is very symbolic of how a community can persevere and actually be counted, not just be displaced and thrown away," Reyes said.

A slate of the city's political elite helped pushed the project through and showed up for speeches Saturday.

They included Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, County Supervisor Gloria Molina, state Sen. Gil Cedillo, Assemblyman Kevin de Leon, Councilman Jose Huizar, Los Angeles Unified School District Superintendent David L. Brewer III and Los Angeles Board of Education President Monica Garcia.

In his remarks, De Leon said the park would help assuage what one environmentalist called the city's "nature deficit disorder."

Only 33% of Los Angeles residents live within a quarter-mile of a park, compared with 97% for Boston and 91% for New York, he said.

Nationwide, the average park space per 1,000 residents is six to 10 acres; in Los Angeles it is 3.4 acres, he said.

"This is a fundamental problem of access and equity," De Leon said. "This is a civil rights issue. When a child can't run freely and play safely in a park, it speaks to our fundamental values."

The park, he said, "sends a message that regardless of who you are, regardless of where your parents came from, regardless of the color of your skin, regardless of your legal status, you deserve access to nature."

Brewer linked the lack of city parks to youth violence and drug use and urged families to embrace Vista Hermosa as their own by using it often and keeping it safe and clean.

"This is an alternative to the streets," he said. "I want to see this park full of children."

Families that flocked to the park's opening said they would do just that.

Rosie Escobar, a Guatemala native with twin daughters, said her family had already plotted out how they planned to use it.

The girls would bring their homework there to study a bit, eat a picnic lunch and play, then kick back and maybe read, she said.

Escobar said she had lived in a nearby apartment for 12 years without green space for her daughters to play.

Several of her neighbors kept their children inside for safety and didn't have cars to drive to parks farther away, she said.

"We think this park will transform everything here," Escobar said. "It's the best thing that's ever happened in the neighborhood."

The park, on school district land at 1st and Toluca streets, features 10.5 acres of trails, meadows, a waterfall and streams, picnic grounds, art elements, a children's play area, a soccer field and an outdoor amphitheater.

It also features "green technologies" such as permeable parking lots to allow water to return to the natural aquifer below or an underground 20,000-gallon cistern that will recycle the water for irrigation.

The $15-million park, funded by public and private sources, will be operated by the Mountains Recreation and Conservation Authority, a local government agency that partners the Santa Monica Mountains Conservancy, the Conejo Recreation and Park District and the Rancho Simi Recreation and Park District.

Naturalists will offer environmental education programs, including hands-on lessons about animals and scientific phenomena, monthly visits to the Santa Monica mountains, a junior ranger program and a weekly family campfire and singalong complete with marshmallow roasts.

The park will also serve as an outdoor learning laboratory for students at the adjacent Edward R. Roybal Learning Center, a high school scheduled to open this fall.

On Saturday, naturalists transfixed several young children with lessons about bird beaks. The children vied to pick up dead worms and grasshoppers with chopsticks -- imitating bird beaks -- and played guessing games about what kind of bird ate what food.

Reyes and Huizar said the park site's troubled history began in the mid-1990s, when plans to build a high school there were put on hold after the discovery of underground toxic gases and an earthquake fault. Officials battled over whether to sell the land to private developers or keep their promise to develop it for public use.

In 2003, Reyes and Huizar, who was then a school board member, began promoting a plan to scale back the high school to about 30% of its original size and use the rest for a park, after cleaning up the toxins. They enlisted the support of top political officials to break the decade-long stalemate.

"We made what was a terrible situation into one of the most beautiful things in downtown Los Angeles," Reyes said.

Armando Gonzalez and his 10-year-old daughter, Pamela, agreed.

Gonzalez, a laundry room supervisor, said the park offered him a place to take his daughter away from TV and video games to smell fresh air and run through the grass. "This is healthy for everyone," he said. "It's going to change our lives."

For Pamela, it already had.

"I can play on the slide and play on the rocks and get on the snake and practice balancing," she said. "I can touch the water and wade through the waterfall.

"It's inspiring, because we didn't really have anyplace to play before," she said. "Now we do."

teresa.watanabe@latimes.com

Bill Brand
President

South Bay Parkland Conservancy

1719 Via El Prado #408

Redondo Beach, CA 90277

310-809-4405

www.southbayparks.org

[/expandsub1]
 
[expandsub1 title="July 9, 2008 - Sierra Club's South Bay Open Space Task Force, Redondo/AES Tax Fight Settled"]

-----Original Message-----
From: Bill Brand [mailto:bbrand@earthlink.net]
Sent: Wednesday, July 09, 2008 9:50 PM
To: SBPC
Subject: SBPC Update - July 2008 - Sierra Club Support

Greetings everyone,

About six months after we figured out we really had something here with converting this old power plant to a park, Dave Wiggins, one of our founding Directors and a long time member of the Sierra Club, suggested we take our pitch to the Sierra Club.

So we drove up to Palos Verdes to meet Barry Holchin and the rest of the Conservation Committee of the PV/South Bay Group of the Sierra Club. A mouthful I know, but if we couldn't convince this group our vision was viable, we might be crazier than we thought.

Anyway, after some strange looks, "Who the hell are these guys?" we all warmed to each other. I became a member, and they loved hearing that Redondo Beach had a vision that didn't involve condos for the AES site. They invited us to speak to the Angeles Chapter of the Sierra Club, the largest chapter in the country, and they preceded to award us our first grant (about $4,500) to hold a public event we called the Heart Park Roundtable. Three years later they formed the South Bay Open Space Task Force to focus on this project and the restoration of the PV Landfill. I'm Co-Chairperson along with Joan Davidson, and you can read all about us in the attached brochure which the Sierra Club funded.

It's important for everyone to know we have the full backing of the Sierra Club. This is no small feet, and they have spoken with their pocket books, their moral support and their continued enthusiasm. Many thanks are due to Barry Holchin, Al Sattler, Dina Friedman, Lori Kessler, Dean Francois, Barbara Sattler, Hersh Kelley and others I've forgotten who have supported us through this epic journey.

So check out the latest brochure which I've attached. And if you didn't receive a printed copy send me your address and I'll get one out to you right away. It will be a collectors piece when this park opens.

On another note, welcome to all who signed-up at the Riviera Village Festival. We had a great time showcasing the Seaside Lagoon design by Katherine Spitz Associates, and connecting with all the new faces. It was also encouraging to hear the kudos from several residents who have been reading our Updates. Some even came to claim their free t-shirt for reading the June SBPC Update.

I'll have another update out soon on the recent settlement between the City of Redondo Beach and AES over past taxes. Until then, the article is below for your reading pleasure.....

Have a good summer!

Bill Brand
President

South Bay Parkland Conservancy

1719 Via El Prado #408

Redondo Beach, CA 90277

310-809-4405

www.southbayparks.org

Power plant tax fight settled
REDONDO: Council OKs deal that returns half of disputed fees to AES.
By Kristin S. Agostoni, Staff Writer
Article Launched: 07/01/2008 10:46:56 PM PDT

The city of Redondo Beach has settled its high-stakes tax fight with the AES power plant and a partner energy company, putting an end to three years of litigation and mounting legal costs.

The five City Council members - only one of whom held office when the battle began in late 2004 - accepted the deal unanimously Tuesday after a closed-door meeting.

It came without comment from the council or Mayor Mike Gin, who immediately launched into the regular agenda.

The settlement papers now hold signatures from a collection of attorneys, including those representing the city, AES, its partner, Williams Power Co., as well as Bear Energy, which last spring bought certain power rights from Williams.

Under the terms of the deal, Redondo Beach will return $56.7 million in utility-users' taxes that has been in a reserve account for more than a year, plus half the roughly $2.6 million in interest it accrued since last spring.

Redondo will get to keep the other half, plus a $374,000 tax payment made in 1998. Also, a collection of lawsuits tied to the tax dispute will be abandoned.

But with the more than $2 million in legal fees that the beach city has poured into the battle, the city ends up about $336,000 in the red.

Perhaps an even bigger blow is the fact that the city has agreed not to collect utility-users' taxes from AES or Williams going forward - at least under the current statutes.

Still, City Attorney Mike Webb said he believes elected officials made the best decision they could, considering the ongoing costs of litigation.

"I think this is as good as you can get under the circumstances," Webb said. "I think that the mayor and the council faced a challenge in that, do you argue the principle to the point where you (create) difficult hardships for the city?"

The move Tuesday ends a dispute that began Dec. 8, 2004.

Early that morning, the former council decided to bill the power plant for unpaid utility-users' taxes as far back as 1998, the year AES bought the facility from Southern California Edison.

As a public utility, Edison was exempt from paying Redondo's 4.75 percent tax on utility usage under the city's tax code. But the 2004 council didn't believe AES fit that definition, despite an earlier deal that for two years left the plant's new owner off the hook just as Edison was.

So in early 2005, Redondo Beach sought $56.7 million from both AES and Williams Power. (Williams operates under a tolling agreement with AES and provides gas that the plant converts to electricity. The company then sells it to consumers.)

AES and Williams twice appealed the bill, first to City Treasurer Ernie O'Dell and later to an independent hearing officer. In the final ruling, the mediator found Williams responsible for the bill, but not AES.

Before Williams could challenge that decision in Los Angeles Superior Court, a judge ruled the company first had to pay the $56.7 million. It was placed in a liquid account that initially earned about 5 percent interest, later dropping to about 2.5 percent, O'Dell said.

In March, Judge Dzintra Janavs ruled in favor of the companies in a pair of decisions stemming from the hearing officer's ruling.

The city subsequently appealed Janavs' decision - a move that Webb said wouldn't cost a substantial amount of money. But considering the risk of losing that appeal - and that the companies were arguing that state law would force the city to return the $56.7 million, plus 7 percent interest - the loss could have been far greater, Webb said.

Elected in 2005, Webb said he started negotiations that June, shortly after he won office.

An after-hours call to Elwood Lui, an attorney for Williams Power Co., was not immediately returned.

Reached Tuesday night, Rick Richmond, who represents AES, said the company is pleased to have brought the case to a "peaceful resolution."

The deal drops a handful of related lawsuits, including one case in which AES sued Redondo Beach for breach of contract. The power plant's attorneys alleged the city violated a deal both sides made in the late 1990 s over whether AES owed utility-users' taxes.

In the so-called memorandum of understanding, the city agreed to "suspend" the tax dispute, and AES said it would make improvements to its property.

The deal, which called for the demolition of old smoke stacks and a master plan for the land, cost the company nearly $20 million, according to estimates in court papers.

kristin.agostoni@dailybreeze.com

[/expandsub1]
 
[expandsub1 title="June 22, 2008 - Many Thanks To All Who Assisted With The Riviera Village Fair"]

-----Original Message-----
From: Bill Brand [mailto:bbrand@earthlink.net]
Sent: Sunday, June 22, 2008 12:44 PM
Subject: More Photos

"MANY THANKS! to those of you that visited our booth at The Riviera Village Festival on June 21st and 22nd. It was a 'scorcher' by South Bay standards, but we got great feedback for the upcoming design of the new and improved Seaside Lagoon, and everyone was impressed with our latest rendering by Paul Schlichting.

Check out the link below to the latest Sierra Club funded brochure that profiles our park vision for the AES site. They were hot off the presses for the RVF and many of you will be receiving one in the mail. The Sierra Club has been a huge supporter of ours over the years and they have recently formed a task force called the South Bay Open Space Task Force, to assist with two great projects in the South Bay. One being our park plan, and the other project being the clean-up and restoration of the PV Landfill. If you would like a copy of this brochure, simply email your address to our President, Bill Brand, at bbrand@earthlink.net and he'll see that you get one."
[/expandsub1]

 
[expandsub1 title="Add Email"]
Enter Email Content
[/expandsub1]