LA County Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas proudly stood alongside NBA hall of fame basketball star to announce the reopening of the Earvin “Magic” Johnson Park in Willowbrook, the unincorporated area of LA County. The park is synonymous with the closing of the Ujima Village housing development that sat on the property. Many residents were forced to relocate due to the oil contamination on the site.
ABC 7 reported the $70 million in renovations includes upgrades to facilities and the refurbishing of a lake that is used to monitor the toxicity in the soil.
All of these things are surrounded by a new man made lake. Thank you Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas and all of the agencies responsible for this $200 million dollar project! pic.twitter.com/ofG26blHcg
— Earvin Magic Johnson (@MagicJohnson) October 3, 2020
Johnson joined community members, including “Sweet Alice” Harris for a celebration and ribbon cutting at the park on Saturday and reported to his social media followers the costs of the renovations were expected to reach $200 million.
The first phase of the 120-acre redevelopment has been postponed several times since the project was first announced in 2018, the board allocated $3.74 million in Measure A and Measure U funds.
“They can come and be safe and play and have a good time,” Johnson said.
“What you see represents the dreams, the aspirations, the hope of many members of this community,” said L.A. County Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas.
At one time that dream included living in affordable housing on the site which used to store oil.
Ujima Village sat atop of the old Athens Tank Farm, and due to leakage from the oil, it seeped into the soil over a 40 year period. After developing the land, the De Lay family, who spearheaded the project, defaulted on a HUD backed loan and HUD took control of the property. HUD would then sell the land to LA County for $1 with conditions they would not be held liable for environmental concerns.
The developers built the livable space on the portion of the land they thought was the least contaminated. The residents got sick while Golden State Water said the water was safe.
By 2004, Ujima Village needed extensive work and LA County tried to unload the property to developers. After running tests on the soil, they found out it was contaminated and the deal was off. Residents moved out of the 300-unit complex in August 2010, after an environmental investigation found asbestos and other hazardous materials on the property. Since that time, the empty complex has become a source of decay and community blight.
Ten years later the site is headed on the road to recovery.
The other phases of the project, which have a total estimated cost of $135 million, will take place over the course of 18 years to avoid withholding amenities to the public.
The park will divert and filter water from the nearby Compton Creek to irrigate 30-acres of wetlands and a man-made lake defining its center. Developer’s AHBE|MIG have proposed future additions that could include an aquatic center, a skate park, and a sculpture garden.