SOUTH GATE – Completion of the long-awaited South Gate’s Urban Orchard Park Project, wedged between the Los Angeles River, the I-710 freeway, and a mobile home villa, has been on hold for more than a year pending approval of an LA County corrective plan. 

Green space in South Gate and other Southeast Los Angeles Cities is rare. South Gate is just one of several Southeast Los Angeles cities dealing with high carbon emissions that cause respiratory illness spewed by diesel trucks moving cargo along the I-710 corridor from the ports of Long Beach and Los Angeles. 

Currently, work at the $30.5 million Urban Orchard Project, slated to cover 7 acres of a former landfill overlooking manufacturing plants, the Thunderbird Villa Home Park, truck yards, and the busy freeway, amounts to site maintenance and security. 

Some residents in the neighboring Thunderbird Villa Mobile Home Park expect the project will move forward soon to address freeway noise reduction, increase police patrols, and phase in measures to control street flooding after heavy rains have drenched the community.

The Thunderbird Villa Home Park, located south of the Urban Orchard, houses 239 mobile homes with residents 55 years of age and older. Aflredo Santana / LA Public Press.

Lourdes Valles, a mobile home owner living steps away from the site’s main gate, praised the city’s efforts to erect a park in a highly polluted area she said often smells like “rotten eggs.”

Quality of life has “improved a lot thanks to security crews driving in and out of the site day and night,” and have deterred vandals, said Valles. 

Maria Tornero, another mobile home park resident, said she volunteered to plant an avocado tree following an invitation from a group of folks to give a helping hand. 

But more than a year later, she is unsure of the project’s fate and ignores if work to finish the Urban Orchard would resume. 

“I’ve seen improvements. I hope they are permanent,” she said.


South Gate leaders had planned groundbreaking ceremonies for the Urban Orchard Project more than a year ago, but the park’s development was halted by a “corrective action” order produced by the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health, Solid Waste Division in December 2022. 

The order stops work until a Post Closure Land Use Plan (PCLUP) for the project is approved. 

Giselle Hernandez, South Gate’s Marketing and Community Engagement Manager, said the county required the PCLUP “to ensure the project site is safe for public use” because the parcel was an unpermitted landfill in 1949.

“The city has now submitted all of the technical documents and studies required by the county,” to approve the plan, Hernandez said in an email. 

The Urban Orchard Project has been subject to the state’s solid waste regulations since 1988, after the soil was mitigated and cleaned to build a housing development that was eventually cancelled. 

South Gate, in coordination with the Trust for Public Land, a nonprofit group with the goal of building parks and protecting public lands for human recreation, began the project in August 2021 and have completed about 80% of it.

The Trust for Public Land website of the park says South Gate’s residents have scant access to green space, only 3% of the city’s land has parks, almost 40,000 people do not have access to a park within a 10-minute walk from home, and nearly 20,000 folks are poor. 

The US Census Bureau estimates South Gate had nearly 91,000 residents in July 2022. 

“Urban Orchard inspires the community to embrace the outdoors. This densely populated urban community faces elevated levels of air pollution and social vulnerability,” said the nonprofit’s website. “Trust for Public Land aims to see residents thrive holistically through the development of the park.”   

 The park will feature a grove with 200 fruit trees, an education building, a maintenance and restrooms facility, walking and bike paths, spots with gym equipment for outdoors exercise along the pathways, a wetland, picnic tables, light poles, and other amenities. 

A key feature of the Urban Orchard Project would include potable water pools and watersheds turned into a nursery for native fish like the rainbow trout and arroyo chubs, both considered threatened and endangered species. 

“Two primary purposes of the project are to divert and treat stormwater runoff from the Los Angeles River, and provide recreation opportunities to South Gate residents,” said a staff report prepared for the Feb. 27 City Council meeting.

California requires a PCLUP before a change to the site’s use can occur, including construction or land preparation, according to the staff report. 

Following the cease and desist notice, the South Gate City Council declared an emergency at a special meeting early last year, rescinded the contract with the previous developer, and hired construction firm LA Engineering to stabilize parts of the wetlands, build an easement, and board up two buildings. 

The staff report said the county approved a “work plan of interim controls” that allows LA Engineering to complete pending work for about $2.9 million. 

“The time for completion after approval is obtained will be known after the county comments and/or approval is received,” said Hernandez. 

A view of the unfinished Urban Orchard Park’s landscape dotted with light posts. Power lines run above the projected park, which features a walking and jogging path. Aflredo Santana / LA Public Press.

According to the staff report, the Los Angeles Department of Public Health, Solid Waste Management Program, acts as the Lead Enforcement Agency for CalRecycle to enforce regulations and ensure “solid waste sites meet the state minimum standards” in the county.

For its part, the Department of Public Health’s Office of Communications and Public Affairs said in a March 13 email the PCLUP “for the Urban Orchard Project in South Gate has not been submitted” to the LEA, and cannot provide an expected date of approval.  

Before construction resumes, the site has been maintained by city staff and the Conservation Corps of Long Beach.

Construction delays of the Urban Orchard Project have not impacted the city’s general fund, and the project continues within budget, Hernandez said. 

Funding sources include grants from the State Water Resource Control Board for nearly $8 million, a $3 allocation from the Land and Water Conservation Fund, a $530,000 award from the Los Angeles County Flood Control District, a $4.4 million grant from the Rivers and Mountains Conservancy Funds, and two more awards from the Safe Clean Water municipal and regional funds accounting for more than $6.8 million. 

The Conservation Corps of Long Beach also donated $713,000 and private donors pitched in $90,000,

The state’s Department of Transportation, or Caltrans, has committed to issue a grant for $5 million for the project. 

Since the emergency was declared last year, the City Council has continued to renew it.

“The city is working diligently to secure the PCLUP approval,” said the City Council report, adding that South Gate continues to address the requirements imposed by the county. 

The Urban Orchard Project’s landscaping has also uprooted dangerous wildlife such as coyotes and snakes that spilled onto the villa. 

South Gate Mayor Gil Hurtado, also a resident of Thunderbird Villa, said he recused himself from voting on the Urban Orchard resolutions, or participating in discussions related to the topic as mandated by law. 

But before he moved into the age-restricted community in 2014, Hurtado said residents backed the idea of converting the empty lot into a green space.

“Of all the options, the [Urban Orchard] park was the best that could be done,” said Hurtado. “The few comments I’ve heard are of enthusiasm.” 

The manager of the Thunderbird Villa Mobile Home Park declined a request for comment.