Parks Could Close Next Week

Gladys Park is a crucial community resource, but it could close next week if the city cannot come up with operating funds.

DOWNTOWN LOS ANGELES - In Los Angeles, there may be no community that relies more on its public recreational space than Skid Row. Every day the two local parks are crowded with people playing chess, shooting hoops and resting.

But unless the city can find some money, the poverty-laden community’s parks will close on Friday, Feb. 1.

Gladys Park and San Julian Park have long been operated and maintained by the nonprofit SRO Housing Corp., which owns apartment complexes adjacent to both parks. SRO received annual payments from the now defunct Community Redevelopment Agency to maintain the parks.

That funding dried up in June, however, after the CRA was dissolved by state legislation supported by Gov. Jerry Brown. That’s when Ninth District Councilwoman Jan Perry, whose district included San Julian Park before redistricting took effect, secured $175,000 from the Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority that allowed operations at both parks to continue for six months.

Now, those six months have passed and the dollars are gone. SRO has been paying to operate the parks since June 15, but the cash-strapped organization will have to close the sites on Feb. 1, said its CEO, Anita Nelson.

“We’ve managed those parks since 1988 so it’s heartbreaking for us because we know how vital they are,” Nelson said. “We don’t have a lot of time.”

Nelson estimates the annual cost of operating both parks at about $350,000.

Every day in Skid Row, hundreds of people must choose how to bide their time during the day, and it’s no simple matter.

Those who sleep in emergency shelter are essentially kicked out of the facilities in the morning, but if they stray too far they might miss the chance of a free hot meal. Worse, they could miss out on a bed for the night.

Thus, many pass the time in the parks, where they are joined by some of the thousands of people who live in the single-room occupancy apartments that pepper the area.

Then there are the approximately 1,500 people who lack housing and never make it into a shelter. All three groups rely on the parks, said “General” Jeff Page, who represents Skid Row on the Downtown Los Angeles Neighborhood Council and has been lobbying city officials since September to find a way to keep the parks open.

“You wind up with thousands of people on sidewalks,” Page said. “The parks are the valves that release that pressure. They’re also a safe zone or somewhere to go where they’re not on a sidewalk to be accused of loitering.”

Winding Through Bureaucracy

Redistricting moved much of Skid Row from Perry’s Ninth District to José Huizar’s 14th. Huizar is working on a solution to keep the parks open, said his spokesman Rick Coca.

“It’s a high priority for our office,” Coca said.

In the case of Gladys Park, which is owned by the city Department of Recreation and Parks, continuing operations is essentially a matter of funding. If the city can locate the money, the park known in part as the site of the Skid Row 3 on 3 Streetball League and other community weekend events would remain open. It’s unclear whether SRO would continue to manage the facility.

San Julian Park is more complicated. The park is owned by the now defunct CRA. For the city, keeping the park open means not only identifying funding, but also navigating a daunting bureaucracy to secure access to the site from the agency.

The successor entity overseeing the CRA is charged with disposing of its excess property, per the state law that dissolved redevelopment activities. The law allows for the successor agency to hold on to properties such as parks for “government use” and eventually transfer ownership to the city.

Such a designation, however, requires approval from the state Department of Finance. San Julian Park is on a draft list of CRA properties recommended for that designation, but the state is not slated to consider the proposal until April 1 at the soonest, said Ackley Padilla, a spokesman for the successor agency.

Padilla said the city could also opt to pursue a permit that would let it maintain and operate the park until a proposed transfer is completed. The CRA oversight board in December approved two similar permits for the city, one for the Watts Tower Cultural Crescent Park.

Absent the permit, the city could not take over San Julian Park on Feb. 1 even if it had the money, Padilla said.

With the threat of the closures looming, Page and other community stakeholders are getting anxious.

“We need answers,” Page said.

Huizar spokesman Coca said his office expects to have more information shortly.

Contact Ryan Vaillancourt at ryan@downtownnews.com.