P-22 final

“You can go to the mountains and the beach in one afternoon” goes the classic Angeleno humble-brag. I first heard it on the East Coast, where my friends and I plotted for days just to escape the NYC subway system. In Los Angeles, from the beaches of Santa Monica to the trails of the San Gabriel Mountains, public funding is the foundation of the parks and open spaces that serve millions of visitors each year. And while the value of a park is clear—they represents the ideals of freedom, democracy, and the public good—the politics of park funding and park building are labyrinthine. In this country, public parks are supported by democratic ideals; consequently, they’re riddled with the complexities of the democratic process.

While this year’s presidential election antics may be more appropriate for an LA blockbuster, let’s look beyond the proverbial aisle and take our politics outside. A parks funding measure last ratified in the decade of saxophone-wielding president is back on the ballot this November. The simple math is that presidential election years generally yield the highest voter turnout. So, coming to a ballot near you (if you vote in Los Angeles County) is a Parcel Tax of three to five cents per square foot, that will help your neighborhood transform.

You might be wondering what the parks and recreation funding measure subsidizes. For starters, numerous studies place regular exercise as the premium defense for living a long life. Like clean air and drinking water, public parks provide an essential amenity for all living beings. More specific to our locale is the story of America’s most urban mountain lion, P-22, who has called Griffith Park home since 2012. Subsisting on a diet of three deer a month, with an additional raccoon or coyote tossed in, his regular journey from the Santa Monica Mountains to Griffith Park would not be possible without park funding.

Last May, the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors drafted a parks and recreation funding measure in collaboration with the LA County Regional Park and Open Space District. In order to generate public buy-in through November 8, LA County is making every effort to inform its residents of this potential park funding measure via public meetings, social media, and mail notices. If this proposition (as yet named) receives a 2/3 majority vote, the funding stream generated by tax assessments will help pay for parks and open space programs for the next 35 years.

I received this first-rate education in park funding at a community meeting in East Los Angeles, where community members animated the presentation with neighborhood pride and the government lingo behind parks funding resulted in confusion and frustration among attendees. Community meetings also often take place at dinner time, when blood sugar levels are not working in our favor. However, the fact that we gather in a public school auditorium to learn about the democratic processes that move park funding is a live-action version of the ideas of freedom and public good that draw me to public parks.

The designer in me will always see unfortunate handrail details and dispassionate paving patterns whenever I visit a public park. But now I will also consider the long road it took to become realized: the draft ballot measure: the community meeting about the draft ballot; submitting the final ballot measure; achieving 2/3 majority vote; residents and businesses who contribute to the parcel tax; the public agency staff that distribute funds for the planning, construction, operations and maintenance of the space, and, of course, designers. It takes nothing short of democracy to realize public parks. In November, regardless of your politics, Southern California voters should support park funding.


Masako Ikegami handles marketing in the Los Angeles studio. Original image of P-22 by National Park Service.


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