The City of Whittier is set to receive $1.4 million in grants for local parks from State Assembly Majority Leader Ian Calderon. The allocation was announced following the approval of the 2018–2019 State Budget, and will target 6 out of the 20 parks in the city of Whittier: Lee Owens Park, Greenway Trail, Laurel Park, Guirado Park, Palm Park, and Joe Miller Field.
This is a significant boost to the Parks budget, which received approximately $5.8 million from the City of Whittier in the fiscal year 2017–2018.
In late 2017, the Whittier City Council voted to purchase a 13,873-square-foot vacant lot adjacent to Lee Owens Park, expanding the property by 20 percent. Funds from the grant will “assist with costs for renovation of newly acquired parkland,” according to the City of Whittier website, cityofwhittier.org. The acquisition and additional funds towards the Lee Owens Park will benefit the surrounding community, given its proximity to schools and the Boys and Girls Club.
One of the main concerns from residents during the 2017 local elections is lack of open space for recreation in Whittier. Newly-elected Council member Henry Bouchot ran on a platform that emphasized improving existing parks. “We’re facing a tight physical environment because of rising pension costs, and, at the same time, we’re having residents clamor for better, more accessible open space,” said Bouchot after the grant passed. “We have a lot of space for you to congregate, exercise, socialize, get off your smart phones for a little while — it's great to be able to provide that while also being responsible [with] our local city budget.”
A large part of Bouchot’s campaign platform was based on a promise of public safety, specifically increasing the safety and quality of local parks. “[In] Gerardo Park,” said Bouchot, “we’re gonna take down the handball court that was kind of shielding, sometimes suspicious and criminal activity, and allowing us to replace that with equipment that will be in close proximity to a playground, so parents will be able to get a little workout in while they’re watching their kids.”
Near Whittier College, Laurel Park will receive $300,000 for a new restroom. “Mainly [the funding] it’s to maintain our existing parks and remodel and revamp our existing facilities as we should. A lot of it has gotten old. But, I think it’s important also that we put some of that money towards proactive constructional items as well,” said Councilmember Fernando Dutra.
“For example, we have some ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act) issues that no one is talking about. So, I think it’s important to put a lot of our funding towards revitalizing existing ADA violations. To me, that would be one of my focuses. Yeah, it’s nice to have all the pretty stuff, but if you can’t get there that’s not very cool.”
Additionally, $450,000 has been allocated to replacing the lights along the Greenway Trail, over a decade after vandals destroyed the previous lights. These steps will make Whittier’s Parks more accessible and safe for patrons. “This $1.4 million grant for Whittier City parks is an outstanding acknowledgement of the role parks and recreational space play in the quality of life and health of our community,” said Mayor Joe Vinatieri in a statement [ask Madison]. “I’m pleased and thankful for the strong collaboration between Whittier and the Majority Leader’s Office, who helped secure this funding for six different parks in Whittier.”