Protecting Open Space in Northeast Los Angeles

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Over the weekend, I enjoyed a spectacular hike in an area of Los Angeles where you’d least expect to find a nature trail. The predominantly Latino neighborhood of El Sereno in northeast Los Angeles is one of the most park-poor areas in the region, with less than two acres of parkland per 1,000 people.

Here, an everyday activity that most folks take for granted in wealthier parts of the City—walking or biking to a neighborhood park—is a dangerous and risky undertaking, complicated by the area’s severe congestion and ubiquitous freeways. Because of this chronic scarcity of parkland, undeveloped hillsides have long served as critical open spaces for the local community.

One of El Sereno’s most important open space areas is Elephant Hill, which I hiked on what turned out to be a pleasantly overcast morning. What struck me first as I started up one of the hill’s many criss-crossing trails was that I couldn’t hear anything but the morning chirping of songbirds. Two ridges on either side of my trail formed a small valley, which blocked out the sounds of the cars and buses rumbling down the streets below.


People who live in the city need access to nearby open space and parkland. It’s a chance to connect with nature, and to take a break from the stresses of life in the city. In Los Angeles, however, the City’s few remaining open spaces are under constant threat from development.

A few years ago, NRDC, as part of a broad-based coalition of community groups, environmental organizations, and elected officials, took action to stop a residential development project from destroying Elephant Hill.

Now, the City has a golden opportunity to provide permanent protection for Elephant Hill, while at the same time expanding public access and securing much-needed environmental improvements to the property.

On Wednesday, the Los Angeles City Council will vote on Councilmember Jose Huizar’s motion to sell the five-acre Elephant Hill property for the purpose of permanently protecting the parcel as open space for the community. The sale would allow the Mountains Recreation and Conservation Authority to apply for state funds to make improvements such as building a new system of walking trails that would be accessible by public transportation, restoring local native habitat, and addressing persistent drainage problems associated with an underground water system.

These improvements would bring immediate benefits to the community in terms of increased opportunities for recreation and exercise, and a restored urban ecosystem for local native flora and fauna like the alligator lizard and black-bellied slender salamander. Most importantly, the permanent protection of Elephant Hill would guarantee the people of El Sereno the ability to connect with nature and enjoy a peaceful place of respite.

I hope the City Council decides to pass Councilmember Huizar’s motion on Wednesday. If any Councilmembers are undecided, I’d urge them to hike to the top of Elephant Hill to take in the unbelievable 360-degree view of Los Angeles. This is a special place that deserves our protection and support.


Photo credit: NRDC (Damon Nagami)