By Stephany Yong, Senior writer, 16, Walnut HS
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Stephany says teens should pay attention to what’s happening in their communities.

My friends and I always have a big test or project coming up. Add extracurriculars and we have biweekly stress attacks. When the weekend comes we want to do something fun. But there’s not much going on where we live in Walnut, which is 25 miles east of downtown Los Angeles. The main attraction is a shopping center with a Robeks and T.J. Maxx. So my friends and I ask our parents to chauffeur us to nearby Brea, which has a better shopping center close to a movie theater. Of course Brea isn’t Melrose, but it’s better than the T.J. Maxx plaza.

So I got excited during the fall of 2008 when people started talking about a proposal to build an NFL stadium and entertainment complex in the City of Industry, fewer than three miles from my house. My first thought: Walnut teens could say goodbye to hanging out at the T.J. Maxx plaza and hello to weekends with concerts and hip eateries (Chipotle gets old after a while). 

Dozens of white “NO STADIUM” and green “WE ARE FOR THE STADIUM” signs appeared on people’s front lawns. I expected opposition to the stadium since so many Walnut residents prize their small and serene community. But some people welcomed the jobs that would be created.

Stephany likes how peaceful the parks are in Walnut, which is 25 miles east of Los Angeles.

Photo by Charlene Lee, 17, Walnut HS

My mom forwarded e-mails to me from the anti-stadium group. My parents opposed the stadium since they feared home prices would go down; real estate agents used Walnut’s lack of traffic and quiet neighborhoods as selling points. But I didn’t care to click through pages of statistics about a project that didn’t seem bad.

Residents worried about traffic and crime

In January 2009, I covered an anti-stadium rally for my school newspaper. Opponents of the stadium claim that it would create more traffic congestion on Grand Avenue (the major road in Walnut), increase pollution and lead to more crime and drunk driving. They base their arguments on statistics that they say show increased traffic and crime in the neighborhoods around Staples Center and Dodger Stadium.

About 100 people held handmade, neon-colored “No Stadium” signs, wore T-shirts with the words “No Stadium” on them and demanded that Walnut city council members more strongly oppose the stadium and sue the developers (Majestic Realty).

As protestors marched down Grand Avenue, the sight of reporters from ABC 7 and the San Gabriel Valley Tribune prompted them to march more enthusiastically and raise their signs higher. I took photos of older women, sign in one arm and water bottle in the other, and of teens who were hysterically waving their neon signs at passing cars. The whole scene seemed energized—a word I had never associated with sleepy Walnut.

Protestors said that they moved to Walnut because it was a safe, quiet place to live and that the stadium would threaten that. Protestors wagged their fingers at city council members and criticized them for failing to push for the lawsuit. City council members defended themselves by saying that they were trying their best, but the protestors disregarded the explanations. I realized this wasn’t just a struggle against the stadium but for the city council to represent people’s wishes. Even though I saw my community as boring, the protestors who lived here were willing to fight for the aspects of Walnut that I didn’t appreciate, and I respected that.

Toward the end of the rally, I walked to where people could get pamphlets. About 20 teens wearing “No Stadium” T-shirts were holding up posters that read “Honk for no stadium!” I was surprised because I had viewed this as an adult issue. The stadium would lower the property values in nearby communities such as Walnut, according to the signs at the rally. I didn’t expect teens to oppose the stadium. It would breathe some life into uneventful Walnut—what was there to oppose?

When I interviewed the younger protestors, I found that many had parents involved in Citizens Against Stadium (CAS), the homeowners group that organized the rally. The teens saw opposing the stadium as a family effort, calling up friends to come too.

It was refreshing to see teens defying the stereotype that they are self-absorbed and don’t care about their communities. Seeing them at the rally, I felt something slowly developing in myself—passion for our community.

I remembered all the good times

Regardless of how boring it could be, Walnut was still my home. Whenever I pass by Suzanne Park or the tennis courts, there are moments that I remember that still make me smile—running on the beautiful trails on weekend mornings, picnics in the park and summer nights at the courts with broken racquet strings. Even though I wanted something more exciting in my hometown, I still had a lot of fun growing up here.

After covering the rally, I sided with the anti-stadium movement. I looked on the CAS website and followed the lawsuit against Majestic Realty. In October 2009, Governor Schwarzenegger signed a bill that exempted Majestic Reality from having to keep studying the environmental impact of the stadium. Developers have said that construction will start once they buy an NFL team. I’m not against new jobs, but I feel that Schwarzenegger ignored how hard residents worked to fight the stadium—he didn’t even acknowledge the negative effects the stadium would have on surrounding communities.
I pictured Walnut post-stadium: Grand Avenue packed, thicker air, light shows on game nights, and noise from concerts. Walnut wouldn’t be the same.

It took the issue of the stadium to make me realize that Walnut’s quietness wasn’t necessarily a bad thing and that there are people who care enough about this town to fight for it. I appreciate Walnut now—it’s our suburban utopia.

Other stories by this writer …

Getting ready for earthquakes. Last summer’s earthquake made 15-year-old Stephany’s family realize that they need to be prepared. (May – June 2009)

Gay couples should be allowed to marry. At first it wasn’t important to Stephany, 14, but she came to see this as a civil rights issue. (January – February 2009)