By Edwin Folven, 5/17/2012
Little Leaguers and Their Coaches Want More Places to Play
Some users of Griffith Park are crying foul over a proposal to build two Little League-style baseball fields in the Crystal Springs picnic area, while others are cheering the plan as a way to enable more youths to play ball.
The proposal is supported by Los Angeles City Councilmember Tom LaBonge, 4th District, a long-time advocate for Griffith Park whose district includes the expansive natural area. The city wants to build the two new ball fields in an area adjacent to Pote Field, an existing regulation-size baseball facility, on land that is currently designated for picnicking. Thirty-two trees would have to be removed, and seven picnic tables would have to be relocated to accommodate the new fields.
The displacement of picnickers and the removal of some existing trees has upset some park users, including the Sierra Club’s Angeles Chapter, which opposes the plan. Joe Young, co-chair of the Griffith Park Task Force of Sierra Club and a long-time hiker in the park, said he believes there are alternative locations where the new ball fields would be suitable.
“We like baseball fields, but we think the Crystal Springs picnic area is not the right place to build them,” Young said. “Picnic areas in Griffith Park are very hard to find and are scarce, and they are intensely used. On the weekends they are full, and we think the elimination of acreage at the picnic area is not good for the public.”
Young said it is “hard to tell” how many people would be displaced by the relocation of the picnic tables, but Shiela Irani, director of special projects for LaBonge, said the number would be minimal. The new baseball fields would take up approximately two acres in the 4,310-acre park, and the picnic tables would be moved 100 feet from their existing location. Irani acknowledged that one sycamore tree would have to be cut down, but that 12 of the 32 trees to be removed would be replanted elsewhere. City officials have also promised to plant two new trees for every one that is uprooted.
Mark Mauceri, a Los Feliz resident who is a member of the Greater Griffith Park Neighborhood Council and the coach of a Little League team, the Silverlake Pirates, said he fully supports the idea for new ball fields in Griffith Park. Mauceri, who formerly lived in the Miracle Mile area, said the few existing Little League facilities, including ones at Pan Pacific Park, in Silverlake and in Toluca Lake, are already at capacity. The new ball fields at Griffith Park could accommodate 8-10 teams of youths ages 4-14, a total of approximately 140 players and their families, Mauceri said.
“We have a great big park with no basketball and no baseball. The traditional sports we think of in America are not available at Griffith Park,” Mauceri said. “The city has known for a long time that it is underutilizing greenspace for recreation, and these would be two parts to [remedy] that situation.”
Mauceri also said the displacement of picnickers is a non-issue, because they would be able to hold a picnics a short distance away.
“It doesn’t have to be mutually exclusive,” Mauceri added. “There are people who don’t think the park should be changed in any way. This is NIMBYism in an environmental wrapper.”
Irani said the proposed project is estimated to cost $950,000, of which $500,000 has already been secured through Prop. K funding, a state bond measure to fund youth recreational facilities. The additional money would likely come from the 4th District Council Office’s discretionary funding, or QUIMBY funds, which is money developers pay for community projects in exchange for approval of projects.
LaBonge said he has wanted to create new youth ball fields in Griffith Park for years, and added that some of his brothers used to play on ball fields that were once located in the Crystal Springs area but were removed when the Golden State (5) Freeway was constructed. LaBonge said the proposal to build new ball fields would enable more youths to play baseball, and the location is perfect next to Pote Filed, named after Phil Pote, a baseball standout at Los Angeles City College baseball and a long-time Major League scout.
“It has always been my goal to see that the baseball fields are replaced,” LaBonge said. “It’s always a balance.”
LaBonge said he initially considered alternative locations at the future Headworks Reservoir, and at the former site of the Toyon Landfill — both on the northern edge of Griffith Park — but that there was opposition to those sites as well. He added that the fire in Griffith Park five years ago put plans for new ball fields on hold, but now things are “back on track”.
As part of the process, a seven-member committee known as the Local Volunteer Neighborhood Oversight Committee (LVNOC) was created to review the proposal. The committee met twice, and will hold a final public meeting today from 4 to 5 p.m. at the Wilson Harding Golf Course Banquet Hall, 4730 Crystal Springs Dr. in Griffith Park. The committee will consider any last minute public comments on the plan and alternatives to the Crystal Springs site, and will vote to support or oppose the ball fields. Irani said the LVNOC’s decision is not binding, but will be considered as the project moves forward. She added that after the LVNOC’s decision, the plan would go to a steering committee comprised of the representatives from the City Administrator’s Office, the City Legislative Analyst’s Office and the Mayor’s Office. From there, the city council would determine whether an environmental impact report is needed, after which it would return to the council for final approval. Irani said the goal is to have the fields completed within three years.
Young said one alternative could be to build the ball fields across the L.A. River at the North Atwater Park. Irani said that alternative could be difficult, because limited space may require a basketball court and some other existing facilities to be removed.
Bernadette Soter, vice president of Outreach for the Friends of Griffith Park, said her organization has not taken a position on the new ball fields and is waiting to see if any alternatives could be found.
“We are in favor of ball fields, but we don’t want them to displace hundreds, if not thousands, of picnickers,” Soter added. “We don’t think they should simply replace one form of recreation with another form of recreation.”