In order to build support for a new park tax-based measure (Measure A), LA County conducted a county-wide park needs assessment of 3,000 parks in 2015. The county engaged local communities in public meetings about the state of their community parks. This public engagement led to Measure A passing in 2016. The new tax-based parks measure is expected to bring in $94 million annually and specifically states the need to provide more funds to areas in high need. Measure A uses the needs assessment to guide park funding.
The Los Angeles County Regional Park and Open Space District (RPOSD) is a 4,000 square mile district in which the board of supervisors also act as the board of the RPOSD. It was created to tax and grant funds to all 88 cities, county departments, and local park agencies within Los Angeles County. RPOSD was created in 1992 and is a funding agency, not a parks operational entity. The annual budget averages $300 million; its administrative budget (operations of RPOSD) is roughly $6 million.
LA County’s Measure A (approved by 74.9% of the voters in November 2016) is a parcel tax that levies the tax based on square footage of development on each parcel, has no sunset date, and is estimated to bring in $94 million/year for park projects. The funds go back to the community for park projects in two ways: annual allocation grants and competitive grants. The annual allocations are formula-based, utilizing both volume of square footage of development as well as density of population. Areas that are highly dense in development and population receive the highest allocations. Competitive grant funds allow the all public and private park agencies within the county to compete for park project funding.
Historically, areas that are now dense in development and population have received less infrastructure investments and are now found to be in very high and high need for new parks, new park infrastructure, or refurbishment. This complex issue includes government policies and practices that affected all aspects of a community, including redlining of housing, transportation availability, park locations and developments, and placement of commercial area developments.
Measure A was placed on the ballot in 2016 because other local park funding sources were expiring in 2016 and in 2018. These funding sources had provided over $1.5 billion in park project funding over the previous 20+ years. After the first attempt at a local parks tax measure failed, the county listened to the voters to help identify park needs and potential cost. This led to the LA Countywide Park Needs Assessment in 2015, which completed its report in the late spring of 2016 at a cost of $3.5 million, funded by county general funds.
With the needs assessment, the county engaged the local communities in public meetings about the parks in the study areas in which they lived. This brought additional awareness about the status of parks in everyone’s neighborhoods throughout the county. This also brought awareness to the park funding issue, park locations, and volume, along with the environmental justice issues that are evident from the environmental scans provided for each study area. The environmental scans looked at air and land pollution/quality data (where the data sets are available), health & safety data (diabetes, heart health, obesity), along with places where pedestrian/auto accidents were more frequent (unsafe access and street crossings), and crime statistics. Each study area community had different concerns, depending on the current issues confronting them daily.
Driving Force Behind Equitable Funding:
LA County Government
Site Selection Criteria
Measure A has a specific expenditure plan within its resolution. The legislation clearly states the need to provide more funds to areas in high need for parks while allowing for funding for other areas of the county. Measure A calls for technical assistance that goes beyond grant writing and application support. This will include community engagement funds and support, design and development funds and consultants, along with assistance with application writing and document development.
Measure A uses the results of the analysis of the 3,000 parks within the county from the LA Countywide Park Needs Assessment to send funds back to the areas of high and very high park need. There were five factors identified in the Needs Assessment:
- The amount of parkland in each study area/1,000 people
- Park access: how many people live within ½ mile of each park in each study area
- The amount parkland is available to residents in the area around each park
- Where are parks needed
- Amenities available and condition of those amenities
How to Keep the Program Running
In early 2017, RPOSD engaged with an appointed steering committee of 46 members to develop the policies and practices of implementing Measure A. The steering committee was made up of appointees that came from the arenas of parks, health, equity, community-based advocates for healthy environments, open space & wildlife corridors, various cities, council of governments, consumer issues, and affordable housing.
The steering committee completed its work after 16 monthly, three-hour meetings in June 2018. Its proceeding report on the implementation of Measure A included details on community engagement, along with a technical assistance program that includes web-based funding opportunity information, RPOSD staff application, grant support, consultant support, and design and planning funding. The ultimate goal is to lower barriers for allocating funds to the areas of highest need for parks and to increase and improve parks in areas where resources are in short supply. This includes city/government agencies, non-profit park developers, and affordable housing developments. These parks don’t just need funding, but they also need to be conceptualized, planned, and developed with an engaged community who will ultimately have access to an enhanced parks system.
Tracking and Accountability
The measure calls for regular evaluation of the grant programs, along with fiscal reporting and reporting on where park improvements have been made with Measure A funds annually. RPOSD staff track, publish, and communicate this information to the board, cities, park agencies, and the communities throughout the county.
The legislation creating RPOSD and Measure A call for RPOSD to fund the accountability reporting with funds from Measure A. There are a series of reports, annual audits, and policies developed with the steering committee that ensure that this is done and that corrections are made if RPSOD is diverging from the intentions of Measure A.
The steering committee developed a set of metrics to utilize in tracking, accountability, and with studies from the grant. The funds for this are within the operations funds for RPOSD in Measure A.
Conditions in LA County to Make Initiative Possible
From 2012 through 2016, the health arena (many philanthropic foundations, non-profits, as well as the county and various city agencies) were multi-dimensional in their efforts to provide health understanding and improvements to communities of color and economic disadvantage. This broad view, solutions, and inclusion of other agencies efforts that affect health, created a space where communities began to see how multidimensional their health is, how having safe streets to walk on, parks to play in, access to healthy food, as well as access to medical facilities is critical to healthy, high-quality lives, communities, and neighborhoods.
At this same time (2014), the term limits for the board of supervisors’ started to take effect. In the past. the supervisors held office for 25-40 years. Now the elected official would be able to hold office for a total of 12 years/three terms. This change has led to a board of four women and one man, the majority of whom are understand the need to see issues not in silos, but with multi-faceted causes and solutions. They began to call for a multi-department response and to bring in the philanthropic foundations for specific initiatives.
The private funds invested in the communities by a variety of foundations through non-profits on various initiatives around health, healthy communities, and transportation have shifted the discussion so that equity is at the forefront of discussion when government funding and policies are being discussed. The county’s outreach for the Park Needs Assessment, the RPOSD on park funding, the advocacy for Measure A, along with our ongoing community engagement around implementation of Measure A keeps this discussion robust.
In the fall of 2016 through the spring of 2017, the county of LA voters supported taxes for parks (Measure A as well as a 2 or 3 smaller city park funding measures), expansion of the metro system, as well as funds to provide services and housing for the homeless. There seems to be a public interest in improving communities equitably, taking into account the history of the lack of investment in some communities.
Key Ingredients that Make Equitable Park Funding a Success
The LA County experience showed that data about where parks are and are not, how many people live around these parks, and who do not have walkable access, was key to a productive discussion. Previously, equity had not been defined nor discussed in anything but political rhetoric that led to frustration and no action.
Also key was the county communicating to and with communities and community members, utilizing the small and large non-profits who are active in the communities to have robust discussions. From a government perspective, it is important to be clear about what can and cannot be achieved/purchased/invested in and what the constraints are. It is important to ensure that this is accomplished with cultural and language sensitivities that are specific to each community.
Obstacles to Implementing Equitable Park Funding
The greatest obstacle is meeting people where they are. This takes an understanding of the history of the community, what is happening socially, economically, and from a safety perspective.
As an example: There was and, in some places, still is a stereotypical view of specific communities, like East LA and Central LA. Many folks from outside see these communities as very much alike, Latinx, lower to middle class working families. When you look closely, you will find that East LA is made up of mostly Latinx from Mexico (in many cases living in East LA for several generations). This community is greatly affected by new development that is pushing families out of this community with the cost of housing increasing, and local, affordable stores disappearing. In South LA, Latinx families from Central and South America who have lived there for several generations coexist with newer residents.
The approach to each community is different in both these areas. If the public agency approaches a local non-profit and discusses opportunities and the why to engage the community, what the agency is trying to achieve, the steps forward will be more productive for the community. The outcomes for the public agency will also be more reflective of the community needs and desires.
The first park grants from Measure A will go out in January 2019. Promotion of the program will be through social media, newsletter, emails to a stakeholder list, website announcements, as well as an annual report.
Can this model be replicated?
To reference this material, please cite Equitable Parks: Case Studies + Recommendations, City Parks Alliance, 2020.
Equitable Park Funding Research & Strategies
This case study is one of seven, compiled as part of City Parks Alliance’s national initiative to research, curate, and disseminate innovative strategies and models for funding parks and green infrastructure in low-income communities.