Culver City Edition Lead Story West Edition

New walking paths connect parklands in Baldwin Hills

By early March, Dawn Vincent will be able to walk effortlessly from her home to nearby Rueben Ingold Park with access to the hiking trail along Stocker Street, Norman O. Houston and Kenneth Hahn parks – without a lot of traffic hassles.

She can hardly wait.

“I can’t believe it’s not opening until March,” said the View Park resident with excited anticipation. “It’s really great to see that state and local resources are focused on our community, giving us more park improvements, and accessibility to the state park and making that more available to us.”

As city planners nationwide are looking for ways to respond to the shift toward increased urban living — with information technology, climate and mobility being key factors — the opening of the Stocker Corridor Trail head is a notable investment in the View Park, Windsor Hills and Baldwin Hills communities where residents for years have been clamoring for better connectivity and walkability to the area’s parks and recreation facilities.

In the past, making connections between these city, county and state parks along La Brea Avenue and Stocker Street proved cumbersome. For hikers, walkers and runners like Vincent, it was oftentimes an exercise in safety management braving the rush of oncoming vehicles while on foot along the unpaved shoulder on Overhill Drive between Northridge Drive and La Brea. Others chose longer — albeit less traffic heavy — routes at Presido Drive or Valley Ridge Avenue to link up to the trail and the adjacent parks.

“The greater Baldwin Hills area is filled with so many significant and wonderful recreational assets with Ingold Park, Norman O. Houston Park and the various areas of Kenneth Hahn Park,” said Karly Katona, senior deputy for environmental sustainability, transportation and community development for county Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas. “Our focus over the last seven years has been how to best upgrade and enhance those upgrades to make it more accessible and attractive for residents.”

Not only is the 60,000-square-foot trailhead a linking point to the various parks in the southwest region, the improvements will include gated parking at the corner of Stocker Street and Overhill Drive; plus a trail widening, realignment and switchbacks along the existing Stocker trail along with various trail accesses. This includes as a stairway and an Americans with Disabilities Act-approved ramp connection to Ingold Park, as well as infrastructure improvements such as grading, retaining walls, fencing, bike racks, plus native plants, landscaping and irrigation.

David Burns of Fallen Fruit, examines some of the fruit trees that his organization has planted along the Stocker Corridor Trail. (Photo by Janice Rhoshalle Littlejohn)
David McNeill of the Baldwin Hills Conservancy examines some of the fruit trees that his organization has planted along the Stocker Corridor Trail. (Photo by Janice Rhoshalle Littlejohn)

Of the 37 fruit-bearing trees at the trailhead, the lemons, plums, apricots, kumquats and persimmons are already blooming — and, when ripe, will be ready for picking on the way to, or from, a hike.

“The fruit trees belong to the public — you take some and leave some,” said Austin Young, who along with David Burns, co-founders and artists of Fallen Fruit, the not-for-profit company that planted the trees, will help maintain the site along with county parks and recreation workers so that the trees are properly maintained and falling fruit doesn’t become a wildlife nuisance.

By the time the trees mature in three to five years, Burns said, the plants could bear as much as 500 pounds of fruit. Residents can expect free, community-wide fruit-related events like fruit jam sessions and more.

“I grew up in the area, in Baldwin Hills and Culver City, and I love how the city and county are embracing a different way to experience L.A.,” he said.

Beyond the health benefits of outdoor activity in the Southland, having easy access to parks and recreational facilities within walking distance of a homeowners’ doorstep raises property values because access to open space in urban areas is scarce, according to David McNeill, longtime View Park resident and executive officer for the Baldwin Hills Conservancy, one of the area agencies involved with the project.

In today’s real estate market the “walkability score” of a neighborhood is a consistent feature in real estate profiles, according to the study “Walking the Walk: How Walkability Raises Housing Values in U.S. Cities.” Among 13 of the 15 U.S. major real estate markets surveyed, even in a turbulent economy, walkability added value to residential property as much as additional square footage, bedrooms, bathrooms and other amenities.

Residents with homes in above-average walkability zones can command a premium of about $4,000 to $34,000 over houses with average levels of walkability, the study noted.

“Look at Playa Vista,” McNeill said. “They’re building into their open space with a planned community — they’ve put the parks and the trails and the habitat in and around those complexes. That’s how things are being developed. Whether it’s Los Feliz, Hollywood Hills — you pick an area — the property values are always higher when there is a portion of open space and recreation amenities in close working space to people.”

Added to the mobility factor, the community will soon benefit from the arrival of the Expo Line and development of the Crenshaw Line, both within a mile of their homes, as well as the county’s planned Slauson Corridor improvements which will add bike lanes and improve the sidewalks from La Brea to Angeles Vista.

“All of these infrastructure investments tie into the trail system we are developing, which is consistent with the Baldwin Hills Park Master Plan,” McNeill said. “The implementation of the Park to Playa Vision, a 10-mile contiguous trail from the Crenshaw community to the coast, is breaking new ground in terms of being the first regional trail in this district.”

Part of that plan includes the forthcoming Stoneview Nature Center — a five-acre site at the former Blair Hills School which is one of the examples of sustainable amenities coming to communities south of the Santa Monica (10) Freeway. It will include community and multipurpose rooms, a yoga deck, trails, fruit groves designed by Fallen Fruit, community gardens and public awareness opportunities focused on healthy mind, healthy watershed and healthy food.

Planned programing at the Nature Center will include demonstrations of landscaping alternatives based on California native plants, urban agriculture from garden to table, solar energy, as well as ecosystem restoration.

With several of the largest growing cities in the nation, California is charged with making its cities more adaptable to societal changes such as these — and L.A.’s southern region is leading the way.

While change is imminent, some longtime homeowners living near Ingold Park aren’t happy with the new amenities, fearing increased littering, loitering, traffic and noise once the walking park becomes more accessible.

“There is a lot of fear because of the popularity of the Scenic Overlook,” Katona said, “which has been one of the most phenomenal amenities in South Los Angeles. It creates a core location for people using that asset which is a very different experience from when you’re hiking in the Santa Monica Mountains, and we need to create more of these kinds of amenities so people within South Los Angeles don’t have to travel an hour to enjoy the mountains. So the people that are going to benefit from this is the local community.”

“Our goal is to try to meet the recreation needs of the area and improve access to outdoor activities,” said McNeill, noting residents can also look forward to a newly redesigned community room at Hahn Park, which will begin construction later this month. “It’s a constant dialog with community stakeholders, in fact, we will be asking the public what’s missing in the smaller parks surrounding the Baldwin Hills.”

For her part, Vincent, who has lived in the area for more than 25 years, said she believes that the positives for the broader community outweigh the inconveniences that can occur.

“There have been efforts by people in the community trying to help with that by organizing trash pick-up days,” she said.  “If things get worse, then we have to work together as a community to work with the supervisor’s office and the sheriff’s office to come up with better strategies to protect those homeowners from any negative consequences.”