Residents of the City of Los Angeles would like to see more recreation programs geared toward adult fitness and wellness in their city and to have more trails for walking and biking, according to a city Department of Recreation and Parks report.

The Department of Recreation and Parks released its Citywide Needs Assessment report Thursday, December 11th, providing input from community members from throughout Los Angeles on the status of recreational facilities and programs. In identifying their views of recreation issues in the city, residents were able to offer insight on various changes they propose for programs, department officials said.

Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa said the comprehensive study allowed the city to work with people who use its parks and will help the recreation department focus on core functions and community priorities.

“The Department of Recreation and Parks is responsible for the management of our parks and facilities, but at the end of the day, those parks belong to the public,” Villaraigosa said. “The members of our community deserve a safe, clean, family-friendly environment. This newest study goes a long way in giving voice to their concerns and towards a new vision for our parks.”

Department officials said the needs assessment report was intended to develop strategies to help prioritize and address the need for additional park space, improvements to existing facilities to meet current and future needs, the future prevention of maintenance problems and positive alternatives to an increasingly dense population.

“The department was looking to evaluate and come to an understanding of what the needs of the community are, using an evaluation of the existing system as a starting point and a way to direct the department in the future,” said Melinda Gejer, of the department’s planning and development division.

When conducting the needs assessment study, recreation department representatives held 26 leadership interviews, organized 24 focus groups and 23 community workshops throughout the city and reviewed over 2,900 completed mail surveys on park participation. Department staff also gathered information through program and infrastructure evaluations, park tours and service area analysis.

“Never, in all my years working in planning, have I seen such a broad and diverse outreach effort,” Camille Walls, of the department’s planning and development division, said about the process.

The needs assessment is among the first steps in the process to develop a citywide park master plan and the last study was completed in 1999, according to the department.

The report evaluated facilities and programs on a citywide basis and did not focus directly on City Council districts. The analysis instead covered city planning areas, such as West Los Angeles, and ranked the various facilities and programs by priority, as listed by residents of the region. The department plans to narrow the study to council district priorities as the next step in the process, Walls said.

Some Westside residents who are active in recreational issues such as youth soccer praised the department’s effort to gather recommendations from the community on recreation priorities.

“I think it’s important to get out and see what the people are saying about recreational issues,” Mar Vista Community Council member Sharon Commins said.

Del Rey Homeowners and Neighbors Association president Chris Nevil, who referees for American Youth Soccer Organization (AYSO), said, “I applaud Parks and Recreation for doing the exercise. It’s starting some very important conversation.”

According to the report, 71 percent of people who use Los Angeles parks listed more adult fitness and wellness programs as their number-one priority, followed by more festival and special events. Concerning facility and amenity priorities, Los Angeles residents ranked more walking and biking trails at the top, followed by small neighborhood parks.

In addition to those priorities, West Los Angeles area residents listed more nature trails, pocket parks and indoor fitness areas for facility needs and more walking and biking groups, nature programs and performing arts for program needs.

Among the “most often cited specific issues” of Westside residents are the overuse of parks, facility maintenance, and gangs and homelessness, according to the study.

Commins said she is in agreement with many of the findings of the report related to the need for more fitness programs and park space.

“I agree that fitness for everyone, at all age levels, should be a priority,” she said. “I agree that parks have an extremely high rate of use because there aren’t enough of them. I’m in agreement with the conclusion that tells us we need to add (park) space everywhere.”

As far as the specific issues mentioned for the West Los Angeles region, Commins said she acknowledges that maintenance is a “huge issue” but noted that the overuse of parks depends on the type of sport involved.

Nevil said he was surprised to see that more programs and facilities for youth sports was not listed as a high priority for the West L.A. region.

Del Rey residents have said that the community is “park poor” and Nevil noted that there is a limited number of active open-space facilities for youths in the community.

Walls said that while many programs were not phrased as being for youths, they still have an impact on youth issues, which is a priority for the department.

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