By GWEN MURANAKA
Rafu English Editor-in-Chief
“When I retire, I want to live near Wilson Park!” a friend said to me recently.
It’s true. The neighborhood near the 44-acre Charles H. Wilson Park in Torrance would be an ideal place to call home. On any day or night, you will see people walking their dogs, playing softball or jogging along its nearly one-mile tree-lined walking path. On Tuesdays and Saturdays, the park hosts the popular Torrance Farmers Market, where you can buy fresh fruits and vegetables, and listen to live music.
Like the city itself, visitors to Wilson Park are quite diverse. Groups of walkers speaking Japanese and Korean, soccer players talking in Spanish. The park is a gathering place for residents who want to go outdoors and get healthy. According to the 2010 Census, 34.5 percent of Torrance residents are Asian; the park also attracts visitors from neighboring cities like Gardena and Harbor Gateway.
Louise Sakamoto, a Los Angeles resident, said she likes to walk for an hour when she visits the park.
“I like Wilson because of the tall trees there – the eucalyptus – and other trees. I like the slight inclines in the middle of the park. I walk up and down the stairs of the softball or baseball diamonds,” Sakamoto said.
The issue of access to parks and recreation space is important for Asian Americans, according to supporters of Measure A, a Los Angeles County initiative that would replace funding that expires in 2019 to build and maintain local parks, recreation centers and beaches.
Scott Chan, program director for Asian Pacific Islander Obesity Prevention Alliance, explained that minority neighborhoods are often lacking in sufficient open space.
As examples, Chan noted that on average there are 3.3 acres of park space – equivalent to three soccer fields- per 1,000 residents of L.A. County, but in minority areas the numbers are much worse. Gardena, according to Chan, has 0.8 acres per 1,000 residents, Alhambra has 0.9 acres, while Koreatown has just 0.1 acres.
“We’re encouraging people to get out and be active but what happens if there’s no parks?” Chan said. “If a park is not well kept, people won’t want to go there. The measure puts resources back in parks.”
Chan pointed to Almansor Park in Alhambra as a park that hosts a wide range of activities. The API Obesity Prevention Alliance seeks to empower Asian Americans by improving health and lowering obesity rates.
“If you have diabetes or heart disease, they tell you that you need to be physically active. A park is a place where you do that,” he said.
A needs assessment study conducted in May found that both Torrance and Gardena are in high need of park space. Measure A would generate $94 million annually for local park projects through an annual parcel tax of 1.5 cents per square foot. Funding would repair, upgrade and build neighborhood parks, with an emphasis on underserved neighborhoods. The measure requires approval by two-thirds of voters in order to pass.
Bruce Saito, director of the California Conservation Corps, said the assessment on taxes is small compared to the overall benefit.
Saito noted that the assessment on his home would be about $20 annually. Measure A replaces funding for park improvements that are due to expire in 2019.
“Improving park space and open space only enhances neighborhoods, and property values,” he said. “We take it for granted that trees are going to be planted and parks are maintained, but it’s not easy these days. I don’t mind making my contribution and I would expect the same of people who are wealthier.”
During its capital campaign, the Budokan of Los Angeles received a major grant from Proposition A, the parks funding measure that expired in 2015. Little Tokyo Service Center has been part of a coalition supporting the current measure.
“We strongly feel the Little Tokyo community can be part of a regionally integrated and interconnected system of parks and open spaces that are climate resilient and use green infrastructure techniques,” said LTSC Executive Director Dean Matsubayashi in a July 1 letter to Los Angeles County Supervisor Hilda Solis.
There has been some opposition to Measure A from real-estate developers. While The L.A. Times has endorsed the measure, The Daily News is in opposition, calling the parcel assessment a “permanent tax” with no sunset date.
Saito said that the consequences would be dire if the measure isn’t passed.
“It’s important for all L.A. County residents to support Measure A because if this does not pass, then Prop A dollars passed in 1992 and ’96 funding will go away in 2019. That means a lot of maintenance, great capital and service projects all throughout the county could go away as well,” he said.
For additional information, visit WeAllNeedParks.org.