What Has the Los Angeles Parks Foundation Been Up to Lately?

 griffith park

griffith park

Parks are an essential part of any great city, and there’s an organization in Los Angeles that is solely focused on enhancing, expanding, preserving, and promoting them. The Los Angeles Parks Foundation (LAPF) has recently had a few major successes recently, which is impressive considering that it only employs three full-time staff members. The foundation recently created four new youth artificial turf soccer fields in Griffith Park that have been wildly popular. It also just completed a major overhaul of the formerly gang-controlled Hazard Park in East LA.

Although LAPF is not a grantmaking foundation, it's working in a space that's attracting a lot of attention from funders who are keen on making cities more livable. At IP, we have been closely tracking parks philanthropy, and so we thought we'd check in with LAPF's Carolyn Ramsay to ask a few questions about what this outfit is doing. 

Ramsay told us that funding is the number one issue facing Los Angeles parks right now. There are 450 city parks in all and they get a lot of use in a city with year-round good weather. LAPF was established in 2008, and its mission has not changed since then. However, the size and scope of its work has evolved over the years. And increasingly ambitious public/private partnerships are now at the heart of this organization's work, as is the case in so many other cities. 

Ramsay shared a bit about LAPF's recent work:

While we still have smaller programs like our Adopt-a-Park and Donate-a-Bench initiatives, we have also managed multi-million-dollar, state-of-the-art installations that have had a transformative impact on neighborhoods. In a partnership with the University of Southern California, we provided all project and fiscal management for a $1 million overhaul of Hazard Park in East Los Angeles. Soon, we will hold the grand opening of the state-of-the-art Rancho Park archery range. In partnership with many local foundations, we installed four new state-of-the art, artificial-turf youth soccer fields in Griffith Park... LAPF is responsive to the needs of the City through the Department of Rec and Parks, the Council Offices and the Mayor – the needs are always evolving. Fundamentally, creating these public/private partnerships is our core function.

LAPF raises private funding based on specific park needs. The work it does is part of partnerships with the Department of Recreation and Parks, the Mayor’s Office, Council Offices, and private funders. Ramsay told us about some of those partnerships:

The department had conducted a city-wide park needs assessment in 2009, gathering input from residents in a variety of ways at parks throughout Los Angeles. What residents requested most was neighborhood pocket parks, and in existing parks, perimeter walking paths with outdoor fitness equipment.  Based on that feedback, the city launched the 50 Parks Initiative to build 50 new parks – 30 of them have been built so far and we partnered with banks and non-profits on three of them. We converted foreclosed properties into parks in low-income neighborhoods with scant green space. Based on the needs assessment, we also partnered with the USC School of Landscape and Architecture and the Werner Family Foundation in 2012 to re-envision Hoover Recreation Center in South LA. The new perimeter walking path and fitness equipment are very popular with the community. The park is now well-used at all times of the day and evening, which makes it safer for everyone. Based on the success of the Hoover Ideal Urban Park project, we launched our Wellness Walks initiative to add walking paths and fitness equipment at parks in low-income areas. 

LAPF is also working with the Nature Conservancy to develop a native plant propagation site in Griffith Park at an abandoned nursery. “The Griffith Park Urban Environmental Center will be a research and educational facility focused on developing a climate-change-adaptive palate of native plants for the restoration of the Los Angeles River and this entire region,” Ramsay said.

Overall, there are four areas of focus at this foundation. Environmental Investments involve water conservation, recycling, and solar power. Community Landscape is all about park beautification, shade, benches, and statue restorations. Recreational Capital covers pool remodels, dog park upgrades, turf soccer fields, and court resurfacing. And finally, Healthier Citizens addresses creating park walking paths, solar lighting, and universal playgrounds.

Current projects of this foundation are as follows:

LAPF partners have included Humana, Whole Foods, the LA84 Foundation, City National Bank, Wells Fargo, and others. At the end of 2015, the foundation reported nearly $3.2 million in assets.

The founder and chairman emeritus of LAPF is Barry A. Sanders, who is an international corporate lawyer and retired from Latham & Watkins after 35 years. He’s authored several books, is an adjunct professor at UCLA, and is the chairman of the Southern California Committee for the Olympic Games. Judith Kieffer is the foundation’s co-founder, executive director, and secretary, as well as a third-generation Los Angeles resident. She has practiced law, managed a department for a large HMO, started a consulting company, and served as vice president of a $150 million foundation.