4235 Monterey Road
Los Angeles, CA 90032


The Debs Park Framework Plan was published in 2000 and signed into law the following year by the Los Angeles City Council. The project was spearheaded by Mike Hernandez, the Councilmember representing the 1st District, and representatives of the National Audubon Society, including Melanie Ingalls, Nicole Possert, and Dan Cooper, as well as community members and environmental consultants.


Located in the dense cityscape of Los Angles is the Ernest E. Debs Regional Park (Debs Park), a relatively undiscovered park, hidden to most people who drive by on the adjacent 110 freeway. However, to the people of the nearby homes and the surrounding culturally diverse neighborhoods, this park is their backyard. Over the years, Debs Park has represented many different things to many people: a place for gathering food and ranching, a place for residential development and sporting competitions, and today a place of natural habitats and recreation. The park is host to abundant groves of native woodlands and shrubs giving shelter to numerous birds and animals. The attentive observer may chance a glimpse of a soaring Cooper’s or Redtailed Hawk, the Great Horned Owl, a desert cottontail, or the secretive broad-handed mole. With its expansive open space, and sounds and sights of nature, the park is an inspiring experience. It is also the home of baseball leagues, and a place for family gatherings, picnics, walking, camaraderie, and solitude among shaded trails. Vistas from the park’s high spots are breathtaking in their clarity of form, revealing the world around us.

This combination of natural and recreational qualities makes Debs Park a unique and special place — a place worth investing the time and effort to preserve and enhance.

Figure 1

Balanced on the easternmost edge of the City, Debs Park is located in Highland Park, five miles northeast of downtown Los Angeles on the south side of the Arroyo Seco Parkway (110 Pasadena Freeway) (Figure 1). It is nestled within the Repetto Hills and is part of the Arroyo Seco Watershed that drains via the Arroyo, to the Los Angeles River. The Park has an irregular perimeter that roughly resembles the shape of a key. The longest park distance is north to south, approximately 1.2 miles (6,250 feet) and the broadest is located in the northern half (east to west), approximately 0.66 mile (3,500 feet).

A locally prominent ridgeline, which is generally north-south trending, forms the backbone of Debs Park. This central ridge and its spur slopes divide the park into ten separate catchment basins, with drainage courses radiating north, east, south, and west.

Elevation ranges from 884’ at the highest point, to 425’ feet at the lowest point, found near the northwest boundary along the frontage with the Arroyo Seco. The varied terrain creates a 459-foot change in elevation, often felt by the hikers that traverse the hill-bound trails (Figure 2). Slope gradients vary throughout the park, with the majority of the park having slopes that are steeper than 50% (a ratio greater than 2:1). Active play and picnic areas of the park with terrain less than 10% slope were created by artificial fill in the southern half of the park during the 1970s. Filling this area was responsible for creating approximately 34 acres (11 percent of the total park area).

Figure 3 illustrates existing land use conditions of the park, such as the picnic area and adjacent surrounding communities. . The main public vehicular entrance is located on the eastside of the park, off Monterey Road, approximately one mile south of the Pasadena Freeway. From this entrance, a paved road traverses one-half mile into the park to the main parking area. Adjacent to the parking lot is the main picnic grounds with manicured lawns, shade trees, water fountains, picnic tables, barbecues, and restrooms. Opposite the picnic area is a steep hillside covered in both native and ornamental vegetation. From the main parking area, a paved trail/park maintenance road (closed to public vehicles) proceeds up to the top of a hill where there is a small reservoir, a grassy knoll, and park benches. This road continues upward and northward along the hilltop, past a damaged gazebo, closed to public use. Just past the gazebo, a maintenance road joins an unpaved, improved road currently used as hiking trails and fire protection. The unpaved roads wind through the northwestern slopes of the park to Griffin Avenue and the Arroyo Seco Parkway. The northern slopes, covered with dense California walnut woodland, also support remnants of coastal sage scrub habitat. Along the eastern and southern slopes are additional areas of walnut woodland and grassland.

The secondary park entrance is located on the south side of the park. This is the Rose Hill Park area where recreational activities focus on organized sports including baseball.

Pedestrian access to the park is available from Griffin Avenue, Via Marisol, and Bushnell Way School off Monterey Road. The hills are relatively steep, however the unpaved roads provide an excellent trail network for hiking.

The higher elevations of the Park offer perspectives of the Los Angeles Basin. Downtown Los Angeles is visible to the west; Highland Park and Eagle Rock stretch up to the north toward Glendale; and on clear days the entire San Gabriel and San Bernardino ranges appear to the north and east. Toward the southeast are the Puente Hills, where the City of Whittier has preserved large tracts of land for the protection of wildlife habitat.

One of the great attributes of Debs Park is its ability to support a variety of uses, from hiking to baseball. To ensure the protection and sustainable management of these and other resources, now and in the future, the Framework Plan outlines a series of land use recommendations, or policies. The policies promote sustaining a unique visitor experience throughout the park, from its natural "wild" side to its manicured lawns and picnic grounds. The Plan further clarifies and articulates a mix of future land identified for the park through the public participation and planning process. Motivation for preparing the plan stemmed from several actions:

  • Availability of funds, including Prop K and A, for infrastructure and facility improvement.
  • Interest of citizen organizations, including the Friends of Debs Park, and individuals to reverse the decline in the parkÕs environment and to increase park security and the visitorÕs perception of safety.
  • Endorsements from the City of Los Angeles and community groups supporting the construction and operation of the Los Angeles Nature Center by the National Audubon Society (Audubon). The Center will provide nature education opportunities and instruction in natural lands management.
  • Proposals from ARTScorpsLA and other community-oriented organizations to provide programming and facilities.
  • Establishment of the Debs Park Community Advisory Committee to work with the community in the preparation of the Framework Plan.

    Planning the future of Debs Park started with the official appointment of community members to the Debs Park Community Advisory Committee (the Committee) by the City of Los Angeles. Councilman Mike Hernandez of Council District 1 and former Councilman Richard Alatorre of Council District 14, took the lead in forming and structuring the Committee and providing guidance. The Committee consisted of eight individuals with strong ties to community groups and organizations. In addition, representatives from Council District 1, the Department of Recreation and Parks (DRP), and the National Audubon Society-California provided non-voting staff support for the development of the Framework Plan. The Committee's charge included the preparation of the Draft and Final Framework Plan, interaction with community groups regarding the progress and direction of the planning process, and giving direction to the professional consultants. These responsibilities were carried out by conducting monthly meetings and special workshops, completing a planning questionnaire, reviewing various land use proposals for the park, and approving all stages of the Framework Plan.

    Studies performed for the planning process included an analysis of land use, terrain and slope, biological resources, geology, drainage, cultural resources, traffic, and public services. Based on an understanding of the physical, biological, and regulatory opportunities and constraints of the park, the Committee working together with the community articulated a number of goals and guidelines for future development of the park. Each proposed land use, thoroughly reviewed takes into consideration conflicting visions for the park and differences of opinions on park usage. Upon completion of the Draft Framework Plan, the City and the Committee held three public meetings. The intent of the meetings was to present the plan, to solicit additional public comments and ideas, and to bring consensus on areas of concern. For each land use decision, it was the Committee's goal to reach unanimous consensus within the group and with the public. This resulted in several compromises, reflected in the Final Framework Plan. With over a year of effort, the Plan firmly establishes the park's unique regional significance, while also respecting the needs of the adjacent communities.

    The investment made by the City, the Committee, community organizations, and others, to prepare the plan demonstrates a strong sense of pride and stewardship in the Park. The Friends of Debs Park, for example has contributed numerous resources over the years to improve the park, and continues to be active in helping visitors enjoy the park. Recently, this group was instrumental in successfully advocating for Proposition K funds for the improvement of park facilities, and contributed to the planning process by providing guidance in the preparation of the Draft Framework Plan. In addition, several non-profit organizations, such as the National Audubon Society and ARTScorpsLA, contributed significantly to the planning process. ARTScorpsLA is among one of the future providers of programs and facilities in the Park. The organization will offer a variety of options for helping young people find a better path in life. The Audubon Society will establish the Los Angeles Nature Center and provide land management expertise for the enhancement and restoration of native habitats at the park. The Nature Center would house interpretive exhibits, classroom space, an open-air study area, and landscaping for wildlife. By focusing on the "wild" or natural side of Debs Park, Audubon will "open" this existing, but under-utilized outdoor classroom for all park visitors.

    Plan Organization
    The Plan describes the type of existing and future visitor experiences and opportunities available within the park. Organized in sections, the Plan first presents a statement of the Park Goals and Vision, the foundation for all subsequent land use decisions. Following is a description of the park areas, and recommendations to improve infrastructure, to construct new facilities, to provide programming, and to ensure the safety of visitors and the future of the park. Details on the physical, ecological, and social environment of the park are interwoven throughout the document.

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