(Editor’s note: Circling the News is running a letter a day until the L.A. City Commission on Poverty and Homelessness meets on May 13. All of the public comments can be found at https://lacity.primegov.com/Portal/Meeting?compiledMeetingDocumentFileId=8168)
Krista Greenberg submitted her letter on May 2, 2021:
Councilmember Bonin and I agree that the current crisis confronting our unhoused residents is deplorable and untenable. But where we fundamentally disagree is the belief that transforming hyper-utilized parks adjacent to homes and schools into safe camping sites is a practical or effective solution to this community crisis.
Here are the facts:
Mar Vista Park—one of the proposed feasibility sites in this proposal—is home to an on-site preschool serving children as young as 3. Children’s recreation leagues, camps and enrichment programs sponsored by the city of Los Angeles are held in the park throughout every season of the year. A middle/high school (grades 7-12) with 500+ students is directly across the street from Mar Vista Park and utilizes the park’s recreation facilities for their physical education programs.
The park shares a physical border with private backyards. Multi- and single-family residences are either adjacent or directly across the street from the park. Mar Vista has very limited public green spaces or parks, making Mar Vista Park a critical neighborhood oasis in a dense urban area. The next closest City of Los Angeles park is Stoner Park, 2.3 miles away in a separate West LA neighborhood.
A recent legal ruling emphasized the critical quality-of-life function that public parks play for all residents of Los Angeles. In his April 20, 2021 ruling in Alliance for Human Rights v. City of Los Angeles, U.S. District Judge David O. Carter wrote, “The homeless have been left no other place to turn to but our beaches, parks, libraries, and sidewalks, and it is pivotal that they no longer rely on spaces that enhance quality of life for all citizens.”
Bonin’s proposal to explore the feasibility of public parks as safe camping sites carries significant risks to their surrounding communities, but unknown rewards to the unhoused neighbors who will still be living outdoors and without permanent housing. If it is imperative to find usable outdoor space for safe camping, then parking lots, undeveloped public land and industrial areas with proximity to transportation and services exist throughout the city. They offer potential solutions, but with markedly less risk. Parks should be the absolute last possible resort when every other feasible option has been exhausted.
Parks are designed for public use, and their land and function is a zero sum game. If a portion of these parks is transformed into a safe camping site, that same land—by is transformed into a safe camping site, that same land—by design—cannot be used for services and programming that serve the entire community. The city’s valuable, scarce public parkland must be protected for its intended purpose—to serve thousands of neighbors, families and children that rely on this public space for community and well-being.