Monday, October 27, 2008

Legg Laps

Biking Whittier Narrows
My son started riding on Daddy's bike when he was about 15-months-old. We knew he'd love it, because he's gaga over anything with wheels (that includes vacuum cleaners). Parks that used to be a car-ride away are now accessible by bike. Most of the time we just coast around the neighborhood. But a couple weeks ago we bought a bike rack, and we've begun to branch out. We recently enjoyed a Sunday afternoon pedaling around Legg Lake. Never heard of it? It's a supersized pond packed with waterfowl, both domestic and wild. It's a great spot for families. Flat trails rim the lake. There are ample picnic benches, even on crowded weekends. You can also rent bikes here, as well as pedal boats. Many families literally camp out. They bring tents, hammocks, barbeques, etc. My son enjoyed watching goose feathers drift in the wind. If your child even pedals a little, toss that trike in the car, too. She can ride with you--and on her own. Also pack a picnic blanket. Several ice cream/snack carts frequent the area.

This is a heavily used urban park, so don't expect it to be pristine. But Legg Lake is a nice place to relax and check out how other families have fun. Plus, just when I'd given up on spotting interesting birds, a pair of kingfishers zigzagged in front of me! Bring your binoculars.
Legg Lake
Whittier Narrows Recreation Area
Montebello/Pico Rivera

From the 10 or 60 Freeways, travel south on
Rosemead Blvd. Just south of the 60, look for the Legg Lake sign on your left. If this parking lot is full, continue north to another lot. Or get back on Rosemead, turn left on Durfee and park there. 

Whittier Narrows in the News
A controversy is boiling over a proposed, new discovery center. Currently, there's a very modest center. The San Gabriel River Discovery Center would educate the public--especially kids--about water resources and nature through interactive exhibits, and an artificial wetland. The $30-million project is backed by the Rivers and Mountains Conservancy, water agencies, a local parks group called Amigos
de los Rios, and several local politicians. They say it would educate as many as 24,000 students a year, especially low-income kids. National Audubon Society board member Adan Ortega supports the project: "Nature centers are growing in their importance around the country as science-class resources in underprivileged communities. In many communities a visit to the nature center may be the only activity related to a science unit. As we ponder sustainability, we can't afford to skimp on the resources we make available for kids and families for learning the essential tools of our warmer world."

A group called Friends of the Whittier Narrows Natural Area opposes the project. They say it's too big, and would destroy rare habitat, including some a little bird called the least Bell's vireo needs. The group says the Discovery Center "would largely replace outdoor nature education with indoor oriented activity....Acres of habitat for endangered species would disappear under the football-field-long building." The project would also include a 150-space parking lot. This conflict mirrors the ongoing tension between some traditional (often white) environmentalists and a new breed of urban/Latino environmentalists. Here are two stories I reported for

A battalion of environmental groups in Los Angeles are active on everything from parks to pollution. But for decades, the membership of these groups has been overwhelming white. That’s starting to change. And Latinos here are forming their own environmental groups. It’s put the Los Angeles area at the forefront of a burgeoning Latino Environmental movement. KPCC’s Ilsa Setziol has the story.

(street sound and an ice cream truck)
SETZIOL: Late on a recent afternoon, an ice cream truck noses through a neighborhood of small homes. Winter winds have chased away the smog from much of southern California. But in the City of Commerce, the air still has the sickly-sweet smell and metallic taste of pollution. Sylvia Betancourt peers into the Union Pacific railyard.

BETANCOURT: This right now is a dirty smoking locomotive. In fact it’s the kind you want to report

SETZIOL: Betancourt heads East Yard Communities for Environmental Justice.

BETANCOURT: That’s the kind of locomotive that will sit idling behind homes right in our neighborhood, and the only thing that separates that locomotive from these homes is a brick wall.

SETZIOL: Sylvia Betancourt is a UCLA graduate. She grew up here. And she still lives a block from this railyard. She suffers from occasional bouts of asthma.

BETANCOURT: As I was growing up, I always had this sense that there was something absolutely wrong with living near industry, but I couldn’t quite articulate what the problem was. And as I was growing up I was seeing a lot of people diagnosed with cancer. And as I saw them pass away, I felt there had to be something more than just a coincidence to all these deaths. 

SETZIOL: Betancourt is concerned about more than just this railyard, officially called an Intermodal Facility. There are also the diesel-spewing trucks that creep up the 710 freeway from the ports. They make thousands of trips a day to this yard and the nearby Burlington Northern Santa Fe facility. The trucks drop off cargo containers, for transfer to inland trains. Researchers say diesel pollution is the state’s worst toxic air pollutant—responsible for 70% of the cancer risk that can be attributed to pollution. Much of the burden falls on neighborhoods such as Betancourt’s.

BETANCOURT: It makes me feel marginalized, because I think there isn’t a recognition that there is a cost. There is a cost being paid by these communities that are on the fence line, and I feel angry.

SETZIOL: Some of Betancourt’s neighbors founded Eastyard Communities for Environmental Justice five years ago to try to clean up the area. The group has fought the expansion of the 710 Freeway, pushed for rules that limit the time locomotives can idle in a neighborhood, and advocated for cleaner ports and trucks.

In Wilmington, the Coalition for A Safe Environment is active on greening the ports. For more than a decade, Communities for A Better Environment has taken civic leaders on so-called Toxic Tours of industrial sites in Southeast LA. Roger Rivera says Latinos in Houston, New York, Chicago and other cities also realize they’ve been disproportionately saddled with pollution, and robbed of environmental benefits such as parks.

RIVERA: The emerging Latino environmental movement has its roots in the Latino civil rights movement. I see it as a natural progression from my community’s fight for a wide variety of civil rights in every area. In fact, we consider the environment to be the next civil rights issue and battle of the next decade.

SETZIOL: Rivera is president of the National Hispanic Environmental Council. He says Los Angeles at the center of that battle.

RIVERA: The wealth of Latino environmental action and accomplishment in California, especially LA, have been tremendous and is serving as a beacon to many Latinos in other parts of the country.

(sound of rail yard bell)
SETZIOL: In Commerce, Sylvia Betancourt turns from the Union Pacific yard to watch trucks chuffing down Atlantic Blvd. She says many of the houses along the road were here before the railyards and the freeway. Some people recall that part of the railyard was once a Japanese garden.

BETANCOURT: I think they’re very much aware that you wouldn’t find this kind of problem in Rancho Palos Verdes. You wouldn’t find this problem in Beverly Hills. Because that community wouldn’t stand for it. And so community members in neighborhoods like ours are saying, We’re not going to stand for it either.

SETZIOL: Latino community groups aren’t just rallying against environmental problems, they’re pushing for environmental benefits, and shaping the green movement in California. We’ll look at that, when our story continues, tomorrow.

In Commerce, Ilsa Setziol, 89.3, KPCC.

Many planners and environmentalists say Los Angeles is “park poor.” The city lags behind national guidelines for park acreage per capita. The shortage is worst in low income neighborhoods. It’s spurred many Latinos to advocate for parks and gardens…drawing them into the bustling Los Angeles environmental movement. KPCC’s Ilsa Setziol reports in the second part of our story on Latinos and the environment

SETZIOL: On the playground at 24th Street School, 10-year-old Anthony Hernandez kneels next to a slender mango tree. 

HERNANDEZ: And right here is a good place to calm down when you’re frustrated and all that, and you can come right here and chill with your friends, and just calm down right here in this beautiful sun and garden.

SETZIOL: Hernandez eagerly point out strawberry plants, basil, lettuce …and ladybugs and bees and butterflies.

HERNANDEZ: There’s one bee right there trying to get his food, his drink.

SETZIOL: A year ago, students, teachers and parents in this West Adams section of LA cut a big hole in the school’s asphalt and planted this willow-shaded garden. It was the brainchild of Emily Green, a garden writer who lives near the school.  To help make it happen, she turned to Adan Ortega. Ortega is active prominent environmental groups, including the National Audubon Society. It was a project he couldn’t refuse.

ORTEGA: I attended Mariana elementary school in East LA, where we had nothing but blacktop. It made for plenty of bruised and scrapped knees. It’s difficult to recreate in places like this. And schools like this--schools like I went to--are right next to freeways. And so air quality has been an issue, and I’m asthmatic. 

SETZIOL: Adan Ortega says, if the Trust for Public Land can come up with the money,  24th Street School will eventually start another garden, a teaching kitchen, and new trees to block out some of the noise and pollution from the 10 Freeway. Ortega says this kind of environmental issue  resonates with Latinos.

ORTEGA: We want to interrelate with the open space through a garden that produces agricultural bounty, or a garden you can actually play in. Whereas to the traditional environmental community, open space means wildlife, habitat, and hiking trails. This is not to say that we don’t value those things.  

SETZIOL: But as Latinos become more vocal about their ideas, they’re crossing swords with members of traditional environmental groups. There’s been a lot of tension over new parks near the LA River. 

Latinos rallied to block development on land that is now Los Angeles State Historic Park. Some felt betrayed when the state declined to build soccer fields on the site. Ultimately, park officials added fields to another park, Rio de Los Angeles State Park, or Taylor Yard as it’s known. Activist Irma Munoz says some white environmentalists want only habitat and hiking trails along the river.

MUNOZ: I’ve been in meetings--city-held meetings--where people have gotten up and said, "We do not want active recreation any more, they’ve got their Taylor yard" And it’s because a lot of them don’t have little kids any more.

SETZIOL: Old-line environmental groups in LA have hired more Latinos in recent years, but their membership remains largely white. Audubon Society board member Adan Ortega: 

ORTEGA: A lot of what happens with traditional groups like the ones I belong to is we become very concerned with convincing people that we’re right, rather than engaging them and improving the quality of life, and letting people draw their own conclusions.

MUNOZ: They’ve got to change they way they're doing business; they have to change the way they analyze their priorities.

SETZIOL: Irma Munoz.

MUNOZ: before they had, I guess the luxury of making those decisions for everyone, but people aren’t allowing it anymore.
SETZIOL: To help Latinos set their own environmental agendas, Munoz founded Mujeres de la Tierra, Women of the Earth. She helps Latinas start autonomous chapters to work on family-oriented environmental issues.

MUNOZ: Because if you address the critical issues of children, you improve the neighborhood and eventually the community overall gets improved.

SETZIOL: So far, there are 7 Mujeres chapters in the LA area, including El Monte, Pasadena, and El Sereno. Munoz says some traditional environmental groups ARE helping her organization. And Latino community groups are finding formidable allies in the state’s Latino elected officials. Roger Rivera of the National Hispanic Environmental Council:
RIVERA: I think the green groups are waking up to the fact, that in order to pass environmental legislation in California, it’s going to require a real substantive partnership with the Latino community.

SETZIOL: Rivera says from park and water bonds to the state’s landmark greenhouse gas bill, Latino voters and politicians are shaping the future of California’s environment. 

In West Adams, Ilsa Setziol, 89.3, KPCC

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