Journal of Housing & Community Development

Building Community in Los Angeles County

August 14, 2020

The Los Angeles County Development Authority wins a 2019 Award of Excellence in Project Design for its thoughtful development of the Liberty Community Plaza. Nominated from among the NAHRO Awards of Merit winners each year, the Awards of Excellence Winners are chosen by national juries and honored at the National Conference and Exhibition in October. They represent the very best in innovative programs in assisted housing and community development.  

In the summer of 2015, Los Angeles County opened the Liberty Community Plaza in South Whittier, California. The 20,000 square-foot community center is located on the former site of an outdoor sheriff training facility. From the beginning, the project design was intended to provide a space for community services and activities, with a focus on sustainability and veteran involvement. The County Development Authority selected the local Community Development Commission (CDC) and the Housing Authority of the County of Los Angeles (HACoLA) Construction Management Unit to lead the development. Other project partners included HMC Architects and Morillo Construction, Inc.  

CDC and HACoLA began by requesting community input on the project. Between 2010 and 2011, they facilitated community meetings, focus groups, workshops, and surveys with local residents. The amenities included in the Liberty Community Plaza reflect those conversations. Currently, the center includes:  

  • Exercie and activity rooms (youth game room, learning center, arts and crafts rooms, heatlh and wellness rooms, etc.)
  • Rooms for military veterans’ programs
  • Event and conference space
  • LA County offices 
  • An outdoor ampitheater 
  • Water demonstration gardens
  • Running track and playgound
  • New shuttle stop

The center partners with Helpline Youth Counseling (HYC), Orchard Dale Water District, and Discovery Science Centers to provide programming for the community. About 8,780 square feet is dedicated to HYC classes, community rooms, and staff workstations. HYC counselors operate the center and offer services such as a free parenting class every Monday evening. The other 9,067 square feet of indoor space consists of the multipurpose rooms listed above, which are generally available for the community to rent. The center often hosts local events and classes, including a Memorial Day celebration for veterans and coding classes for elementary school students.  

Orchard Dale Water District and Discovery Science Centers operate within the center’s five acres of open, outdoor space. The District provides water demonstrations in native palette gardens, which include desert, succulent, riparian woodland, and coastal sage landscapes. Educational boards are also posted in the space to teach community members how to recreate the gardens. Discovery Science Centers partners with Liberty Community Plaza to provide garden tours to students on educational trips.  

Liberty Community Plaza draws in the surrounding community with its striking, sharp roofline and thriving gardens. The landscape design incorporates native Southern California plants that mirror its chaparral-covered hillsides. Local artist Susan Narduli created one of the design’s focal points: the Freedom Garden, a civic art and gathering space that remembers local veterans with a Walk of Honor that features 300 inscribed names. Ginko trees and a colorful rose garden surround the area and often bring birds and butterflies to the site.  

The project design for Liberty Community Plaza prioritized sustainability. Upon completion, the center received a Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) Gold rating. Two uncommon LEED credits—Access to Recreational Facilities and Access to Civic and Public Space— contributed to the high rating. In the outdoor space, photovoltaic (solar) panels provide energy for lighting, which reduces electricity usage. Bio wales capture run-off rainwater and place it back into the center’s water system. Water conservation is measured at 35 percent in the building and 62 percent in the landscaped areas. About 70 percent of the building’s electricity is provided through the photovoltaic panels, wind power, geothermal energy, and non-gaseous biomass. These sustainable energy sources also result in Renewable Energy Credits (REC) for the center.  

Building materials used in construction were 11 percent recycled. Further, the design provides high-quality indoor air by using low-emitting paints, adhesives, flooring material, and composite wood products. Natural daylight reaches about 89 percent of all indoor spaces, which further reduces electricity and creates a warm atmosphere for community members. In about 90 percent of the indoor space, windows provide a calming view of the beautiful outdoor landscapes. The project also exceeds minimum accessibility requirements, ensuring that individuals of all abilities can visit the center.  

The Los Angeles County Fourth Supervisorial District provided the financial contributions for the project. In total, approximately $18 million was required for the design services, engineering, environmental testing, project management, plan check fees, utility connection fees, and construction. The County specifically allocated $500,000 for passive park work. 

Thanks to the Los Angeles County Development Authority’s thoughtful project design, the South Whittier community enjoys a sustainable, inviting space that meets its needs. Liberty Community Plaza is a neighborhood asset that everyone can enjoy.   

More information about Liberty Community Plaza is available at

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