News And Politics

Police-run youth program looks for larger space at South LA wetlands

Oct. 1, 2012, 1:22 p.m.

The Newton PAL program is looking to take over a 56,000-square-foot building located at the South L.A. wetlands. (Credit: José Martinez)

A police-run youth program which includes everything from tutoring to fitness and boxing, has outgrown their makeshift gym at the LAPD Newton station parking lot and is setting their sights on a 56,000-square-foot space at the South Los Angeles Wetland Park. The Police Activities League (PAL) began about a year ago with only three participants; it now includes more than 400 kids.

“I'm getting to the point where I'm limited in the number of kids I can take on and the number of programs I can offer,” said Capt. Jorge Rodriguez, who oversees the program.

He has been working with councilwoman Jan Perry's office as well as officials from the City's departments of Building and Safety and Recreation and Parks, to establish a game plan for the structure located between San Pedro and Avalon streets, and 54th and 55th streets. The space is currently unused and according to Rodriguez, spans an entire city block.

Not only would this allow PAL to continue the programs already in place, but there are endless possibilities for new activities and kids to be incorporated into the massive space.

“I'm talking about everything and anything under one roof,” Rodriguez said.

Before the police captain can obtain a Certificate of Occupancy for the space, the building will need to be retrofitted for earthquake safety and checked for asbestos and lead paint. The project is expected to cost $2.5 to $3 million, and most of that money will have to come from a private funder or corporate sponsor, as the police division itself has limited resources for this project.

Rodriguez added that many kids in the neighborhood surrounding the wetlands are currently not participating in PAL because they are unaware of it, so moving the program to a new location may help advertise the free program to a larger audience. Having a police presence in this area may also encourage parents and families use the less-than-a-year-old wetlands space more often.

The massive building is part of a wetlands development that opened earlier this year on the site of an old MTA bus yard. At the February debut, Perry described the project as a "grassroots effort" that brought "nature back to our community."

"What you see now is just the beginning of something that will … explode into something absolutely beautiful," she said.

The Los Angeles Times reported that the wetland project took more than 3 years and $26 million to come to fruition. As Rodriguez continues to look for donors for the new space, the Newton police division along with S.W.A.T. and 77th Division will be hosting a fundraiser at the Westin Bonaventure hotel later this month. The police captain said they hope to raise at least a portion of the money needed to keep and expand the PAL program.

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