San Gabriel Valley’s newest park on the site of a former landfill

Standing atop Nike Hill, Victor Moreno wiped sweat from his brow and dust from his eyes.

The three-mile run on a sunny afternoon had been a challenge, but the payoff was worth it: from the highest point of 1,160 feet in the Puente Hills, he was treated to magnificent 360-degree views. The skyscrapers of Los Angeles soaring into the sky to the west, the grandeur of the San Gabriel Mountains to the north. To the east lay the seemingly endless Inland Empire, with Orange County suburbs stretching south.

A truck drives through part of the future Puente Hills park in July. The landfill operated from 1957 until its closure on October 31, 2013.

(Genaro Molina/Los Angeles Times)

But what really mattered to Moreno, 32, was the chance to introduce his 12-year-old daughter Janae – who was on her first ascent – ​​to some things many city dwellers never see: jumping lizards, jumping rabbits and diving birds of prey. . For years, the partially paved trail has been a haven for Moreno, a place to relax and, more recently, to unmask. The Hacienda Heights resident said he can’t wait for his daughter to make memories there.

Much of the natural space surrounding the trail for decades was part of the nation’s largest trash heap – the Puente Hills landfill, which held one-third of Los Angeles County’s trash. It is now on track to be the county’s first regional park in 30 years.

“It’s hard to find that view anywhere in Los Angeles,” Moreno said. “We are lucky to have that and pass it on to the next generation.”

The LA County Board of Supervisors recently approved $28.25 million to begin planning and construction work on Puente Hills Regional Park, carved into 142 acres of the 1,356-acre former landfill.

“It has been six years since the Puente Hills landfill park master plan was completed and nine years since the landfill closed. Our communities have waited far too long for this park,” said supervisor Hilda Solis, who grew up in La Puente and represents the area where the park will be located, after the funding motion passed.

Phase I construction will include an interim cycling skills course, children’s play area, picnic area, stairs, open space and parking. A grassland section will host shows, kites, concerts and other events.

“We see this park as a restoration of unusable and unsuitable land to the community,” said Norma Edith García-González, director of the Los Angeles County Department of Parks and Recreation.

    A crow flies over part of the future Puente Hills landfill site in Puente Hills

A crow flies over part of the future Puente Hills Landfill Park in Puente Hills July 13, 2022. The Los Angeles County Department of Parks and Recreation has circled what will be the first park in county built in the San Gabriel Valley in 30 years.

(Genaro Molina/Los Angeles Times)

“Now those communities who have sacrificed so much to live next to this landfill can benefit from its rehabilitation.”

The landfill operated from 1957 until it closed on October 31, 2013. The waste is estimated to have covered 602 acres, was piled 500 feet high, and weighed approximately 130 million tons.

Nancy Lara, who has lived half a mile from the landfill for more than two decades, has spent years battling rodents, mosquitoes and flies that she says were attracted to the landfill. The infestation was so severe that she encouraged neighborhood stray cats to stay near her home to kill rats and mice. The smell of the landfill was an almost constant constant, she said.

“I never really thought anything was going to happen because there’s been talk of closing the landfill and building a park for years,” Lara said. “It’s good to see things finally happening.”

The need for more green space in communities in eastern and southeastern Los Angeles County is undisputed.

    Hikers pose for their friend

Hikers pose for their friend, off camera, against the backdrop of the future Puente Hills Landfill from Nike Hill in Puente Hills on July 13, 2022. The Los Angeles County Department of Parks and Recreation circled of what will be the first county park built in the San Gabriel Valley in 30 years.

(Genaro Molina/Los Angeles Times)

Tori Kjer, executive director of the Los Angeles Neighborhood Land Trust, an advocacy group that has helped create 29 city parks since 2002, said projects like Puente Hills Park have long-term benefits, especially in disadvantaged communities. .

“Parks are essential infrastructure…for healthy communities,” Kjer said. “We see a direct correlation between places like Beverly Hills, which has plenty of parks, and Watts, which lacks. There is a significant difference in life expectancy.

(A 2017 report from Los Angeles County cited green spaces and bike lanes as important factors in extending lifespans, along with components such as fresh produce stores, affordable healthcare and a strong work-life balance.)

A total of $114 million has been set aside — a combination of county and state funding — for the first phase of construction in Puente Hills; the whole project could take more than two decades, with the first construction shovels expected to start in 2025.

In the meantime, Studio-MLA of Boyle Heights, a landscape and architectural design firm hired by the Parks Department, will carry out community outreach activities, while officials secure necessary permits to begin work.

As for the waste, it continues to settle under protective clay caps placed across the landfill to prevent rainwater from mixing with the debris. There is also a pipe system to move gases, primarily methane, away from the garbage and into storage to eventually be sold to the Southern California Gas Co.

Maintenance and monitoring of the waste beneath the park is expected to continue for 75 years as the waste settles and eventually compresses by approximately 25%. In some areas, settling can reduce underground waste piles by up to 125 feet.

About 300,000 yards of land have been added to 27 of the 40 acres in the west section of the park site, where construction will begin. This land will create a “lasagna structure” of defense, where waste is buried under layers of clay and soil, García-González said.

“Science is there to support this effort,” said Studio-MLA founder Mia Lehrer, citing other landfills that have been successfully converted into parks. She touted the Palos Verdes Peninsula South Coast Botanical Garden, a former diatomaceous earth mine and landfill that was turned into a garden in 1961, as an example.

Once Phase 1 is complete, future sections of Puente Hills Park will include equestrian, bike and running tracks, an elevator that transports passengers to the top of Nike Hill, a dog park, a bike park, a ecological visitor center, slides located through the hills and areas. for food trucks.

The plan has been well received in several rounds of community feedback, according to parks and recreation staff. But one drawback noted by several residents was the lack of sports fields.

Six people are walking along a paved path.

Hikers descend a road where the future park will be developed in Puente Hills. The park will include multi-use trails, running loops, a cycling skills park and an area for horseback riding.

(Genaro Molina/Los Angeles Times)

There is no space for sports facilities due, in part, to the uneven nature of the colonized ground and the difficulty of maintaining lawns while preventing water from seeping into the waste below .

“The bells and whistles are ringing great, but I’m disappointed we can’t have a park for football or soccer or softball,” Kelly Torres, 38, a mother of two, said after a hike. “We need it in the region.

Hector Hernandez, a Baldwin Park resident who spotted hawks while on a nature walk with two of his children – aged 10 and 6 – disagreed.

The 53-year-old said he played football in a Sunday ‘beer league’ which met in Glendale. What he is looking forward to is a quieter, more child-friendly place to take his family.

“You can find football pitches everywhere,” he said, “but finding nature nearby and that view is something else. It needs to be protected.”

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