October 2, 2008

Friends of Open Space in Valley

By Alfred Lee

The folks at Amigos de los Rios would like to consider "green" more of a starting point than a tired buzzword.

That will be demonstrated at its annual Emerald Necklace gala dinner scheduled for 6:30 p.m. Friday at the historic El Monte Community Center at 3130 N. Tyler Ave., El Monte.

The event will raise funds for the nonprofit organization's Emerald Necklace parks project and present awards to the wide mesh of partners who have worked on it.

The group's grand plan is to provide new open space for the public.

The Emerald Necklace project calls for a 17-mile interconnected network of trails, parks and greenways touching 18 cities along the Rio Hondo and San Gabriel rivers and totaling about 1,500 acres. Open spaces and restored habitats, including Rio Vista Park, Pioneer Park, Fletcher Park and the Lashbrook nature area, are part of the project.

It will offer recreational space for walkers, joggers, bicyclists and equestrians as well as a corridor for commuters on foot and on bicycles.

The project's ambitions, however, lie not simply in the greening of the asphalt jungle, but in the emphasis on a multi-disciplinary, multi-benefit park network. Amigos is the driving force.

"At Amigos, we do nothing but partner," the group's president Claire Robinson said.

"We partner, partner, partner; collaborate, collaborate, collaborate - with the city and county, and the state conservancy, to buy land, clean it. Every park we design, we do with a tremendous amount of community input."

The project began in 2004, Robinson said, as a "10- to 20-year vision" tackle not only public health and environmental concerns, but also to create cultural spaces, to fashion joint use projects with schools, and to remove civic blight.

The amount of open space directly relates to the health of the community, she said.

Robinson added that a scant 0.3 acres of parks per 1,000 people currently exist in the San Gabriel Valley area.

"You need a minimum of three acres (per 1,000 people) and we have one tenth of that," she said.

"So consequently, we have up to 60 percent of the population suffering from one or another form of chronic illness that is entirely preventable - early onset diabetes, hypertension, obesity, asthma. It's outrageous."

Local honorees at Friday's dinner will be Belinda Faustinos, executive officer for the Rivers and Mountains Conservancy; Mark Acu a, Tongva tribal liaison; and the El Nativo Growers, a wholesale plant-growing operation in Azusa.

"We're in the position to be able to award grant funds to facilitate some of their visionary programs," Faustinos said. Amigos has "really gotten into that sweet spot where where they have involved not only the immediate community ... people who live in surrounding homes ... but also businesses and local elected officials."

As a Tongva tribal liaison, Acu a has advised the Amigos on Tongva history, plant life, culture and artwork to be integrated into the parks.

"We need to re-establish our connection with an incredible past we've already wiped out that is part of California's history," he said. "We need to remind ourselves of what we are losing on a daily basis."

El Nativo Growers, meanwhile, has provided native plants to the project.

"We worked with (Amigos) the last few years, helping them acquire native plant materials, getting them delivered to project sites, doing what we can to make sure the plantings are successful," said Rebecca Nash, El Nativo's sales and marketing manager.

"We are planting (the native plants) so that we protect our state's biodiversity and bring cultural heritage back," Robinson said. "A lot of plants are integral with the history of the city and successive cultures."

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(626) 578-6300, Ext. 4496


Belinda Faustinos

Executive Officer of the Rivers and Mountains Conservancy

Service Award: Faustinos has worked since 1985 to plan, acquire, develop and protect hundreds of acres of open space from forest foothills to ocean wetlands in our region.

Ligiah Villalobos

Los Angeles

Community Advocacy Award: Villalobos is the writer and producer of the film, "La Misma Luna" (Under the Same Moon) which demonstrated the power of family connections as a building block of urban communities.

Mark Acu a

Heritage Award

Acuna has worked to raise awareness of local history in the San Gabriel Valley. As a Tongva Tribal Liaison, his work is dedicated to preserving the memory of a vanished culture.

Rancho Santa Ana Botanical Garden


Ecology Award: Special Projects Director Bart O'Brian and Horticulture Outreach Coordinator Barbara Eisenstein have contributed significantly to the planning of watershed restoration.

El Nativo Growers


Ecology Award: contributed an extensive collection of native plants for use in landscaping and land restoration, a critical part of the Emerald Necklace project.

UCLA School of Public Health Center to Eliminate Health Disparities

Los Angeles

Science Award: The UCLA School of Public Health's efforts to encourage public health with disease prevention and reduce disparities in the incidence of disease and death.

(c) 2008 San Gabriel Valley Tribune. Provided by ProQuest LLC. All rights Reserved.