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Report: LAUSD needs more green space, better ways to create it

Craig Clough | August 11, 2015

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green spaceA new evaluation of LA Unified’s greening initiatives by the district’s Inspector General encourages the addition of green space and gardens as a way to fight the California drought, finding them to be a more efficient way to conserve water than covering the open spaces with asphalt.

However, if the district wants to create more green space it needs to make improvements in the way it organizes the effort, the report found.

The report notes that studies have shown asphalt is impermeable, reflecting the sun and helping raise the core temperature of urban areas by creating “hot zones.” Studies have also shown asphalt is wasteful, as most rainwater is lost to runoff, while gardens and green space help redirect rainwater back into underground aquifers.

In its review of the history of green space at LA Unified, the report said the district undertook major efforts to pave over green space in the 1960s and 1970s, with the prevailing wisdom “that it is cheaper to maintain a swath of asphalt than it is to put in a garden.”

Despite the massive paving movement, some gardens survived at district schools, but it wasn’t until the 1990s that LA Unified undertook any kind of centralized, formal effort to green its campuses.

With scientific data on green space vs. asphalt now more clear, the report said, within a “larger picture of a sustainable school district, the benefits to student health, academic achievement and conservation of resources cannot be excluded from any consideration of operational costs, nor can LAUSD’s impact on the local environment be ignored,” the report said.

The district currently has roughly 450 schools that have some type of garden or large green space, and the Facilities and Services Division (FSD) oversees them. But to expand the green space, the Inspector General’s report found that improvements will need to be made.

One of the biggest ways green space is installed at campuses is by partnering with community groups and nonprofits that fund the projects. But the groups often find the process cumbersome, and it has led to several greening projects being put on hold, the report said.

The district must often maintain the cost of upkeep on the green space with a partner organization, but the number of district maintenance workers has been more than cut in half since 2008. The report pointed to a garden project at Compton Unified that recruited the project’s partner to help with maintenance and upkeep as an example for the district to follow.

The report also recommend ways to imrpove access to information needed by outside groups to plan greening projects. And it praised the district for its Task Force on Nature-Based Schoolgrounds, which studied ways for the district to improve its greening efforts and issued a report in 2014.

The FSD in 1998 created a greening coordinator position and, in 2010, two part-time green ombudsmen to partner with outside groups on greening efforts, but the positions fell victim to budget constraints. “School and community have indicated that the green ombudspersons have been extremely helpful in the past in negotiating the various district and state requirements,” the report said.

The FSD agreed with all the recommendations included in the report and said reestablishing the ombudsmen would depend on the availability of funding.


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