USA - El Monte park advocates turn to iron foundry for help; park construction could begin in January

Lesedauer: min

EL MONTE - For years, some residents here complained about Gregg Industries and the strong odors that came from the iron foundry.

And for years, other residents have been trying to build a neighborhood park on Gibson Road, just north of Valley Boulevard.

Now those two forces may be coming together.

Over the past decade, Gregg Industries was cited more than a dozen times for air quality violations. The foundry has since closed because of the recession, but its parent company Neenah Foundry Company is still working out a multimillion-dollar settlement agreement with the South Coast Air Quality Management District (AQMD) over those violations.

City leaders and community activists behind the movement to build Gibson Mariposa Park are hoping a portion of funds from the settlement agreement can be used to build the park, which will be located just across the train tracks from the foundry.

"The money should stay here in the neighborhood. Where else can this money go?" activist Maria Rosario Valdez asked rhetorically.

Valdez has been one of the main forces advocating for the park's construction. She also was part of the battle to keep Gregg open in the face of the AQMD's citations and the recession. Before it closed, the company employed more than 200 people, many from El Monte and some who live in the neighborhood.

"Their children could use the park," Valdez said.

Though company officials said foreign competition and the recession were to blame for the foundry closing, they also said the timing of the AQMD citations didn't help.

"We fought so hard for Gregg to stay open. It didn't ... Maybe something good can come out of this whole thing," Valdez said.

Officials from Neenah contacted El Monte officials last week to ask if they would be interested in the park being part of the settlement agreement, City Manager Rene Bobadilla said.

City leaders responded enthusiastically.

"If this company was polluting the environment, and that environment is close to the park, well it makes sense," Bobadilla said.

However, Neenah and AQMD are still working out the settlement agreement and neither party would comment on the potential of the park being part of the final arrangement.

AQMD spokesman Sam Atwood said a park has never been funded before through such an agreement. However, agreements have been used to fund other community projects, like health clinics.

The city already has $3.1 million toward the $3.8 million cost of building the park from county and state grants. Officials had hoped an additional competitive grant through Proposition 84 would put the city over the top. However, earlier this month they learned the city did not win those funds.

So instead, city leaders are hoping the Gregg funds will make the difference.

Assistant City Manager Jesus Gomez is hopeful park construction can begin in January and be completed by June, before summer.

The 4.3-acre park is to include a playground, a "splash pad" water playground, basketball courts, an outdoor classroom, picnic tables and benches, and restrooms.