From the Publisher / Arnold G. York

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What happened to Darwin?

My dog Ella and I are both growing older daily, so we’ve decided we’ve got to walk at least 30 to 45 minutes every day just to keep all the parts working properly. Truthfully, I’ve never been much of an exercise buff, and walking is kind of boring, so it’s good to have some company and Ella seems to pretty much agree.

One of the places we walk is Legacy Park, which is in the middle of Malibu next to what we like to call our Civic Center. Sometimes we walk in the morning, sometimes at noon and other times in the late afternoon or early evening; sometimes during the week and other times during the weekends.

The weather varies, the month varies, the time of day varies, the day of the week varies, but one thing that seldom varies is that there are very few people in the park. I’ve thought about this, and the reason I suspect the park is empty is probably because Legacy Park consists of 20 of the most boring acres you could find anywhere in Southern California.

Something about Legacy Park clearly turns people off. It’s filled with native California flora, some very interesting sculptures, paths that meander, almost no shade, no trees of any particular attractiveness, no meadows to play in and, sadly, no particular reason to visit. It’s clearly a park designed by engineers, bureaucrats and deed-restricting lawyers instead of landscape architects. It’s about as unfriendly and uninviting a people place as you can possibly find.

Now I must confess, I was raised in New York City 100-plus years after Olmstead designed Central Park in Manhattan and Prospect Park in Brooklyn, which people still flock to by the millions each year. The best one could say about Legacy Park is that people flock to it by the dozens each year.

So where did we go wrong and what, if anything, can we do about it?

For one thing, we have this thing about native Southern California vegetation, and Legacy Park is filled with it. The truth is, Southern California is pretty much desert, and although to some this is beautiful, to me, and I suspect to a majority of the citizens of Malibu, a native plant park kind of looks like a garden of weeds. Why do we still make believe there is no water in Southern California? This isn’t 1911. Today we have 20 million to 25 million people living in Southern California, so why pretend that doesn’t change just about everything. We generally have plenty of water, except perhaps in drought years. What we have in Legacy Park is not really a park. What we have is a botanical zoo; an homage to yesteryear when we lived on the edge of a desert and there were perhaps several hundred thousand people living in Southern California. For some reason, which frankly escapes me, we have turned native plants into an environmental religion.

I believe in Darwin. I think in the main he got it right. We all compete. Plants compete for air, sunlight and space. Animals compete for food, breeding grounds, for mates. The stronger and more adaptive survive, the weaker die out, ultimately vanish, and become extinct.

Yet, many in the environmental world are unhappy about the Darwinian world. They want what they consider the good guys to win. They’re constantly trying to pull out what they call nonnative plants, sometimes called exotics, that are pushing out the native California species.

The question I pose is, if the new species are winning and the old ones are dying out, when did we become God to decide which stays and which goes? And how do we know we’re right?

It’s the same with animals. I’m sure there are many who are upset with some species of animals disappearing from the Santa Monica Mountains. We track large cats like they were some valuable natural resource. We’re willing to spend millions to preserve steelhead trout in the waters of Southern California. We have decided to protect certain flora and fauna, to which I say-why? In places where big cats roamed, we now have coyotes and raccoons. They look at our homes and garbage cans, our little furry dogs and cats not as some interference with their natural habitat, but as a veritable horn of plenty, a cafeteria to which they all are invited.

Just drive up to Pepperdine University and check out the deer. The deer in our hills are apparently doing just fine. But I digress, so let’s just go back to plants and Legacy Park.

I would like to see people using Legacy Park. In order for that to happen, it’s got to be people friendly. We need a landscape architect who understands that parks are for people and not just to cleanse runoff water. A group of us are going to have to get together and do something. It’s going to cost money and it’s going to take time and it’s going to offend some elitists who really don’t like to see people living in the environment. It’s a great deal easier to be for the little animals and fishes because they don’t talk back. Well, we’ve spent $25 million for Legacy Park, $50 million if you count the interest we’re going to pay over the next 20 years or so, plus the construction costs and we ought to get something back that we can all enjoy and use.

Let me hear from you. Comments should be direct to agyork@malibutimes.com