The 2022-23 state budget, which has passed the legislature and is awaiting Gov. Gavin Newsom’s signature, includes over $23 million for Long Beach projects, including:
- $3.8 million for completion of the walking trail along the San Gabriel River to the Pacific Ocean;
- $1.6 million for completion of the El Dorado Regional Park youth softball and baseball fields;
- $10.2 million for improvements at El Dorado East Regional Park;
- $2.2 million for capital improvements of Camp Fire Long Beach;
- $3.7 million for renovation and construction projects of Los Altos Family YMCA; and
- $1.6 million for improvements at Stearns Park.
“Improving the quality of life in our local communities has been a key priority for me throughout the eight years I have served in the state assembly,” O’Donnell said in a statement. “Our state’s budget not only funds our schools, social services and other vital programs, it also provides important investments in our neighborhoods and communities.”
But for some residents, who have argued for a more even distribution of park space in the city, the funding has highlighted the need for a more direct focus on park equity. Some have criticized how the list of projects favors East Long Beach, which is generally Whiter, more affluent and has better access to parks than other areas.
“From an equity standpoint, there’s a huge need for parks and open space … in much more dense areas of the city,” James Suazo, executive director of the nonprofit Long Beach Forward said in an interview Thursday.
O’Donnell’s 70th District includes almost all of Long Beach, except for the northernmost 9th City Council District and portions of the 8th City Council District north of Del Amo Boulevard.
O’Donnell was not available for a phone interview, but in an emailed statement sent through a spokesperson, O’Donnell said city officials asked him to pursue funding for El Dorado Park.
“El Dorado Regional Park, by its very name, is a regional park that is treasured and enjoyed by people from all over,” he said. “These projects will benefit all residents of Long Beach and the neighboring communities in my Assembly district.”
The spokesperson declined to provide further comment from O’Donnell on how the other projects were chosen.
City officials, meanwhile, touted the funding O’Donnell secured for El Dorado and Stearns parks in a Wednesday memo, along with requests by other local representatives that included $2 million for the 51st Street Greenbelt and $1.2 million for the Wrigley Greenbelt.
But several other projects in park-poor areas, like the long-planned expansion and connection of Drake and Chavez parks or the $136,700 in improvements needed for Silverado Skate Park, remain unfunded by the city or state.
The issue of park equity has long been a sticking point for environmental activists, given the proven link between green space and better health outcomes. Those calling for a more even distribution of parks have often pointed to the fact that East Long Beach offers over 15 acres of green and open space per 1,000 residents, while other areas of the city, including the Westside, have as low as 1 acre per 1,000 residents.
Suazo added that the parks in the more affluent areas also have more amenities and events than those in Central, North and West Long Beach. He attributed both the amount of park space and amenities to decades of racially motivated policies such as redlining, which kept people of color out of certain areas.
“What we’ve seen over years and years, and this press release [from O’Donnell’s office] just further shows, is that parks that have already gotten such a massive public investment will continue to receive massive public investment,” Suazo said. “And we leave park-poor areas to rely on charity or the private sector.”
“I think that’s very backwards way to approach how we resource and adequately fund structurally our parks,” Suazo added.
The issue of park equity has been a hot topic for years, which led the City Council to adopt a strategic plan to address park equity in January of this year.