Park Groundbreaking and Health Fair, November 17, 2018
After 16 years of demanding our park be built on an abundance of precaution, Los Angeles County Supervisor Mark Ridley Thomas and Cynthia Babich of the Del Amo Action Committee take in the moment. Wishing Tree Park was achieved by the collaborative efforts of good people.
This park was conceived as an idea to create a space for the remaining families in the community who were not a part of the relocation buyout area, which we continue to believe was not large enough. A transformative space where families’ land could begin its long journey from a toxic spot into a community jewel. The foundation of this dream: Build with an Abundance of Precaution.
Some of the special features of our park include:
Pollinating Gardens, Community Room, Children’s Play Area, Memorial Plaza, Futsal Soccer Courts, Wishing Tree Plaza, Baseball Field, Basketball Court, Walking Trail, Exercise Area, Accessible parking.
In early 1990, community members along 204th Street began to organize over concerns about the widespread contamination being discovered in homes, the soil in gardens, the air and dust in our homes, home raised chickens and toxins floating on the groundwater underneath our homes. Del Amo Action Committee, DAAC, was formed by community residents to push for health protections. The need to understand the exposures to residents past and present as well as proactively monitor neighborhood health conditions into the future was apparent; DAAC headed the call to action.
One of DAAC’s first actions was to lead negotiations for the buyout of 27 homes by Shell, Dow and the US Government, the parties responsible for the Del Amo Waste Pits. These were the homes closest to the Waste Pits allowing for the creation a buffer zone between sites like these and our community. We have been as engaged as the government regulators have allowed us to be and for the past 30 years DAAC has advocated for the rights of the amazing families who live in the neighborhoods surrounding “Wishing Tree Park.”
It was very important for us to be over cautious with this land our park occupies; better safe rather than sorry later was our ultimate goal. To ensure we accomplished this goal we advocated for an orange demarcation barrier to separate remaining native soils and the 2 foot of new clean soil to cover entire site from edge to edge so park users could have confidence that they would not be contacting any past contaminants. Adequate ventilation under all structures was required so we do not have to worry about the possibility of air pollution vapors building up inside.
The name “Wishing Tree” speaks to the very heart of the community. On a beautiful afternoon while doing community outreach we met two little girls, a little boy and their Grandmother; living in a home on the south side of the park. They were excited to hear about the parks creation and wondered about the trees already there, specifically they asked if the “wishing tree” was going to be saved. The little girl told of how they and their Grandmother often walked over to the largest tree in the boxes along the alley and placed their written wishes in the branches of the tree. Several meetings were held and many other great names were suggested like Long Park, Great Tree Park and Plaza Park. Once the community votes were counted it was Wishing Tree Park that was chosen.
The trees that remained in our park are mighty. Bearing the scars of decades of neglect, as the humans haggled over the how and when of the park’s destiny, the trees remained standing tall just like the members of our community. Along Del Amo Alley the urge to survive so strong the trees that had been contained in wooden boxes surged their roots into the ground; surviving and growing strong capturing our wishes in their branches for a safe park. As with life and death, not all of the trees made it to the finish line. Memorial Plaza cradles special benches made from our oldest eucalyptus and Wishing Tree Plaza honors the families by name, who worked at times against all odds to make the community healthier and a better place to raise families, who did not live to see the fruition of their labors but whose spirits soar in this sacred space.
Wishing Tree Park Timeline
1995 DAAC led community negotiating team
1997 Buyout Agreement signed
Properties acquired and vacated.
Ensured the buyout property benefits the community remaining behind (families and friends torn apart)
1998 Park planning process (RP’s and County) Concerns raised about “What is Clean”
Families moved because of health concerns. Safety of a park in a place when “contaminated homes” were torn down – metal slag (source of heavy metals on site)
Not all community representatives signed onto final Park Committee recommendations.
1998 – 2001 Homes demolished and area graded for park concept recommended by committee
2002 While EPA and the DTSC had identified this as a No further action site DAAC sampled buyout area for heavy metals at the surface. Found: lead, chromium and arsenic – nickel and aluminum too, all at extremely high levels. Concern Lead – Children – lowered IQ effects brain development. Solution: Park Open space developed with a precautionary vision.
2004 – 2009 Trust for Public land – Bailed on the community after extensive work and phase 1 testing
Soccer Association – interested but they would be the primary users not the community
2010 Led by DAAC and facilitated by Angela Johnson Meszaros we convened a 204th Street Park Stakeholder Meeting June 9, 2010 forming a task force of community, agency and local nonprofits to:
“We would like people and agencies to partner with us so that, together, we can achieve the long sought after goal of having a safe, community supported park in the Del Amo community.
With you we can:
* transform our 10 acre empty field into the long promised community center and park
* put together a stakeholder process driven by community needs to approve a remediation plan and engineering measures to ensure that the park and its buildings are safe.
* ensure ownership of the parcel is transferred from Shell to a proper long-term landholder.
* put in place a plan for long-term maintenance of the park.”
Stakeholders included Community members, Del Amo Action Committee and their youth, L A Conservation Corps., L A Neighborhood Land Trust, Karly Katona from the Supervisors office, US Environmental Protection Agency, Responsible Parties, Dept. Toxic Substances Control and other thoughtful stakeholders.
2010 – 2015 Bright colored water permeable barrier with clean dirt on top. Partners have dedicated five additional years of hard work and fundraiser to secure this vision for our community.
November 18, 2015 Los Angeles Neighborhood Land Trust owns the park.
January 23, 2016 Community Celebration
November 17, 2018 Groundbreaking Celebration
December 10th, 2022 Del Amo Action Committee Health Fair