Environmental Quality / 2013
Why is the grass always greener over the leach fields?
Wildwood Mobile Home Country Club is a mobile home park with an old fairway/golf course connected to it. The fairway has been used as a leach field for the storm water runoff by the neighboring landfill for the last 56 years (unbeknownst to most Wildwood residents). However, it is also a recreation area for the park’s hundreds of residents. On an already contaminated site (an identified EPA superfund site), my idea is to create a built freshwater marsh, bio-swales and walking paths for the residents and wildlife in the area; to transform a 15 acre lawn-monoculture field into a diverse ecology that benefits multiple users and remediates water. This is a multi-step project that will likely require millions of dollars and community input and development. The $100,000 would be used to build an initial bioswale and develop a plan for the full marsh, with the objective of gathering support and finding additional funding. The Community Development Commission of LA (CDC) and County Supervisor Knabe are currently funding a new $4 million Orange Grove Park (5.5 acres) a mile and a half away from Wildwood (Knabe’s website 2013). Considering the environmental negligence towards this site, I seek to bring attention to Wildwood because it is also my home. Wildwood Mobile Home Park has over 360 mobile homes. Squeezed by a railroad and the San Jose Creek to the North and the 60 freeway and La Puente Landfill to the South, the thin site stretches a mile long and shares its slim width with a mostly turf fairway (what used to be a 9 hole golf course). With each mobile home set-up on 1/16th an acre, the fairway serves as the park’s primary green space. Access into the mobile home park is limited to an east entrance making the nearest bike trail and public park half-a-mile and 1.5 miles away travel respectively, leaving the fairway de facto for recreation and exercise. The fairway occupies the north half of the mobile park, which is lower in elevation and only accessible where the transition is not too steep. Thirty foot wide streets with no sidewalks line and lead up to the fairway, sloped so that all the run-off flows onto the grass. The lawn is watered regularly and occasionally inaccessible due to over-saturation, but it’s always green and well manicured by the Wildwood management. The smell on certain days is unbearable, especially on those scorching days. “Smells like spoiled sausage,” as one resident describes it. Walking through the fairway there are three storm drains transporting water runoff from the landfill. “Those tunnels cross under the freeway,” another resident tells me; her twelve-year-old son’s friends took the largest tubular freeway underpass to the other side of the freeway confirming it does. La Puente Landfill is on the other side of the freeway, at 700 acres and 500 feet tall, it is the largest active landfill in the United States (LA County Sanitation District). “It has received approximately 118 million tons of solid waste as of April 2008, raising the original site elevation by over 350 feet and earning it the nickname "Garbage Mountain"…takes 13,000 tons of solid waste per day…”(QED Environmental Systems). The dump is the backdrop to Wildwood Park. A closer inspection of Wildwood’s fairway reveals that it is part of the City of Industry while the rest of Wildwood is considered Hacienda Heights; the fairway is zoned Industrial. I wonder how many of the residents at Wildwood know that their fairway annex is actually a means of filtering the toxins from La Puente’s effluence before it enters the San Jose Creek (SJC). The City of Industry is a sliver of a city composed of industrial and commercial properties. A gerrymandered looking city that ranges from one to two miles wide and fourteen miles long, astride the SJC (between the 605 and 57 freeways). Both a natural and now industrialized corridor, perhaps the name says it all. The Puente Valley Operable Unit (PVOU), which includes the City of Industry and Wildwood park, was designated an EPA Superfund Site in 1994—an area with soil and groundwater contamination (with volatile organic compounds or VOCs) (EPA 2008). This is one of four sites in the San Gabriel Valley condemned to superfund status, a clean-up project was planned in 1996 to install extraction wells and a treatment plant system at the mouth of the Puente Creek to limit and reduce toxic exposure for area 4, the PVOU (EPA 2008). Construction began in 2011 in La Puente, three miles NE from Wildwood (EPA 2011). The planned remediation process takes 10-15 years once construction’s completed (EPA 2011). Wildwood is uniquely neglected and requires special attention to help foster an LA that values their residents and their living environmental quality. A concrete swale runs down the center of the fairway now. To start, spend the money converting it into a bioswale with vegetation, rocks, and a trail.
What are some of your organization’s most important achievements to date?
With 35 years of tradition of thorough environmental research and services to municipalities, NGOs, community organizations and other agencies, California Polytechnic University, Pomona’s Master in Landscape Architecture’s program has the history and the rigor for delving into projects with complex interactions and intersections of natural and human systems. The school has a host of 606 projects on their website for more information.
Please identify any partners or collaborators who will work with you on this project.
-Residents of Wildwood, while living close together, lack much mutual space to interact. With such varied age groups, family compositions and cultural identities, the park fairways seem rife with opportunities. Residents should be consulted throughout the design process. -Hacienda Heights Improvement Association: non-profit association whose goal is “to foster and support those projects of development and activity which will improve the quality of life in Hacienda Heights and make it a better place to live.”
- Los Angeles County Sanitation District. -Community Development Commission of LA (CDC): Could oversee development of the project. -County Supervisor Knabe: County of Los Angles, Fourth District: need for County support and fund
Please explain how you will evaluate your project. How will you measure success?
Walkability, clean water, bio swales and wetland marshes; all attributes of the imagined finished Wildwood Mobile Home Park proposal. Constructed wetlands are designed to imitate the functions of a natural wetland but for the express purpose of cleaning water. Such strategies offer a functional, aesthetic solution; alternatives to the ubiquitous Wildwood fairway lawn that no one should probably sit on. Success would be treating some of the water on site and re mediating the soil. I already had a soil test on the fairway done and the results show the fairway soil is high in chloride and metals and the lab recommends leaching the soil further and to periodically apply nitrogen such as with blood meal, feather meal, fish emulsion, etc. The second goal would be to create a communal space that all the residents can cherish and find a piece of themselves within. Besides spaces to walk and exercise, communal activity or gathering spaces should be programmed in conjunction with resident input, so to most accurately reflect their desires. Access into the fairway is also limited and one goal should be to ensure access to all persons. The more people who use the space the better.
How will your project benefit Los Angeles?
Wildwood Mobile Home Country Club Park is at the end of two natural corridors and is also at the end of an industrial corridor, and a direct intervention at Wildwood would quickly impact this depraved community and improve the environmental quality for hundreds: The San Jose Creek is straddled by the City of Industry. As is often the case around rivers in Los Angeles, where the soil is unstable and sometimes contaminated, they build mobile homes, golf courses and schools, and it’s where the industrial and rail corridors are. The industrial corridor in of its business is revealed to be dangerous sometimes. While many visible occupants in the City of Industry are large chain distribution factories and commercial warehouses, there are some Industrial manufacturing complexes. One notorious neighbor, Quemetco, is a lead recycling plant and within a mile of the Wildwood entrance. Ranked #6 of top polluters in California on an EPA ‘Toxic Release Inventory,’ 1,756,634 pounds of total release (of chemical toxins) in a year, includes lead and nitrate compounds (EPA TRI 2011). Residents have been warned of lead pollution by the company’s required mailed-out literature, of possible arsenic and lead compounds and acid vapors in the air. But some of us cannot move away so easily, as the expression goes, ‘we have lead shoes.’ The Puente-Chino Hills Animal Corridor runs parallel to the elongated City of Industry but to the south and is “an unbroken zone of habitat extending nearly 31 miles from the Cleveland National Forest in Orange County to the west end of the Puente Hills…30,000 acres of land” (Habitat Authority). La Puente Landfill funded the preservation authority (tipping fee) to purchase the nearby Puente Hills (Habitat Authority). A 2005 City of Industry planned development, which cuts off this animal corridor in the middle, reflects a pattern of hostility towards ecological considerations by the City of Industry (Spencer, Puente-Chino “Missing Middle” Analysis). Auspiciously, this animal corridor ends at La Puente Landfill, as the only way to connect across the 605 freeway to Whittier Narrows is to fly over or dig under the freeway and through the river (or go through one child-sized underground tunnel?). This also poses an opportunity to provide habitat for wildlife we’d like to attract, like birds. A solution needs to address both of these issues. As a rail passes within 300 feet of these mobile homes right passed the fairway, a more substantial barrier could be established. The industrial corridor pollutes enough into the river system; more properties need to treat their toxic runoff on site. There has to be more creative solutions than golf courses, especially when they are not in use. A second solution should address the animal corridor and alternative ground paths to Whittier Narrows. Some wildlife will be encouraged to visit Wildwood, especially the healthy bird wildlife found in Los Angeles through habitat planning and planting
What would success look like in the year 2050 regarding your indicator?
Environmental Impacts are hard to quantify. Sometimes it takes big changes for people’s perceptions to also change. LA’s challenge: How can we make LA Rivers a more desirable, multi-modal transportation corridor? The possibility for healthy development along our rivers is an important challenge for Los Angeles to take on (which it earnestly does attempt). The areas by the rivers need to become desirable locations that Angelinos flock to that also fosters natural wildlife habitats and native ecologies, which use wetlands to clean water and provide outdoor, activated spaces that people desire to be in. This sometimes conflicts with the overlapping interest that all run along the river. Railroads, freeways, electrical and industrial corridors that also take advantage of the natural ecological corridors, all desire to expand indefinitely; the struggle continues. My LA 2050 specifically looks passed the short-sightedness of some of these overlapping, conflicting interest towards forward looking projects that seek to find some semblance in the dysfunction and disjunctions in LA towards creating an opportunity for the flourishment of environmental impact. I see Wildwood as a catalyst project that has such a perverse industrial/residential imposition that it exclaims battery and should get the county’s attention. A better transition seems necessary to satisfy the needs of residents to help shield us from the dangers of our location. The City of Industry is able to move around jurisdictional constraints by snaking along with the SJC, a zone of ‘special interest,’ but this has proven to have real consequences. These industrial companies need to exist somewhere, but this project wants to confront some of the industrial overreach that seems to infringe on the environmental justice of certain disadvantaged populations. The LA Sanitation district too, for its part involved in an integrated watershed system with Wildwood, should also seek to assist in this renovation effort. Success would be a sustained effort to nurture our most disparaged residents and to revitalize the natural corridors.