Preservation of Liberty Park, the unique parcel of green space in Koreatown that is privately held, moved one step further yesterday when the City Council’s Planning and Land Use Management Committee voted to approve the recommendation of the Planning department to designate Beneficial Plaza and Liberty Park a Los Angeles Historic Cultural Monument. Jordan Beroukhim, Planning Deputy for Council City President Herb Wesson, in whose district the park in located, asked the committee to adopt the recommendation of the Planning Department staff and approve the application moving it to a vote before the full City Council where it was approved today.
Dozens of people showed up to the hearing and twenty spoke in support of the application organized by the group Save Liberty Park.org. Speakers included Barbara Hensley, a representative of the Los Angeles Sierra Club; Marcello Vavala, from the Los Angeles Conservancy; Catherine Yang, Program Associate for Korean Immigrant Workers Alliance (KIWA); and dozens of residents, including Kee Suk Jung, who said he was a member of the Koreatown neighborhood council and had collected over 1,500 signatures in support of the park preservation.
Most speakers cited the increasing density of the neighborhood and the lack of green space making Koreatown one of the park poorest parts of the city and the primary reason to support the preservation of the park. Keith Cresby, a Koreatown resident urged the committee to preserve the park in light of the fact that over 8,000 housing units are currently being built in some twenty new projects under construction or planned in the community. He was also critical of the pocket park planned at the Pio Pico Library, which some have described as a compromise for loss of Liberty Park, and urged the city to “scrap that pricey, ill-advised plans and find a larger parcel to cultivate park space with the fees generated by the these new developments.”
Anne Kim, representing Save Liberty Park, urged the committee to listen to the voices of over 1,200 residents who support the preservation of Beneficial Plaza and Liberty Park, which she described as a symbol of good health and unity of the community. Kim said the residents donated funds to hire an architectural research firm to prepare the historic cultural monument application which can be quite costly. Kim noted the money did not come from interest groups or one rich person and urged committee to listen to the community.
Kim told the Buzz that her efforts to preserve the park began more than a year ago after she read a flyer about plans to build a 36 story building on the grassy area in front of Beneficial Plaza known as Liberty Park. Kim started making calls and sending emails to learn more about how to the park could be saved. She reached out to her fellow residents in her building at the corner of Wilshire and Western as well as residents diagonally across the street. Along with Annette Van Duren, they formed a coalition, raised funds to hire an architectural research firm to prepare the application and began a grassroots effort to gather support for the application.
Kim and Van Duren were at the meeting with owner and developer Dr. David Lee of Jamison Services when he threatened to use a gun to keep people out of the park according to a story published in CityWatchLA.
Last night, The Real Deal, an online real estate newsletter and magazine, posted the following statement from Lee: “For 30 years in the Korean community in Los Angeles, I have prided myself on my ability to enjoy a congenial relationship with everyone. Unfortunately, last week comments by me were misunderstood by valued friends and to those individuals I sincerely apologize.”
The designation of historic cultural monument status for Beneficial Plaza and Liberty Park won’t prevent any future development but it will require a design review process that takes that historic status under consideration.