Griffith Park's field of schemes

Friday, March 21, 2014
Carol Henning

Although Colonel Griffith J. Griffith donated almost 4,000 acres of his Rancho Los Feliz land to the City of Los Angeles in order to provide a place of respite for the “plain people,” many eye this piece of real estate as a land of financial or patronage opportunity. L.A. City Councilmember Tom LaBonge’s 4th District includes almost all of Griffith Park. The councilmember often proclaims his love for the park, and, to show his love, he would like to gift the park with some pet projects.

On  April 2, 2014, at 9:30 a.m., the L.A. Department of Recreation and Parks meets at the EXPO Center, 3980 S. Bill Robertson Lane (formerly Menlo Avenue). At the meeting commissioners will consider the Performing Arts Center and the Crystal Springs ball fields. Griffith Park is a public park. It is OUR park. Do not let the schemers have their way with it. Please attend the meeting and make your voice heard. E-mail the commissioners—Lynn Alvarez, Iris Zuñiga, Kafi D. Blumenfield, Sylvia Patsaouras and Misty M. Sanford—at rap.commissioners@lacity.org.

Three proposed projects that will impact the park have been under consideration by the L.A. City Department of Recreation and Parks (DRAP) Board of Commissioners. One of them, the Haunted Hayride, was voted on at a “special agenda” meeting on March 19 at the Grace E. Simons Lodge in Elysian Park. A touch of irony, that, for Grace Simons was an activist who protected Elysian Park from commercial encroachments. The other two projects will be voted on at the Commission’s April 2 meeting. They are a performing arts center at the Old Zoo and baseball diamonds in Crystal Springs.

The Haunted Hayride

The Haunted Hayride—an event celebrating blood, severed heads, murder, torture, private profit, advertising and traffic congestion—has been inflicted on the park for the past three years as a joint venture of Ten Thirty One Productions, the Los Angeles Parks Foundation (LAPF) and DRAP. Councilmember LaBonge has been a consistent supporter of the Haunted Hayride. “A long-term contract is now recommended to ensure the continued success of a Halloween event in Griffith Park,” announced the Board of Recreation and Parks Commissioners’ report for a five-year Request for Proposals (RFP) to extend the event.

At the March 19 meeting, three Sierra Club members representing the Griffith Park Section, the Griffith Park Task Force and Inner City Outings spoke against the Haunted Hayride. Nobody spoke in its favor. Nonetheless, dollars dancing in their eyes, the Rec and Parks Commissioners voted to go ahead with proposals to continue the Haunted Hayride.

According to Sierra Club Griffith Park Task Force co-chair Joe Young, no one at the March meeting claimed to know how much revenue had been raised by last year’s Haunted Hayride. By March 19, though, the numbers were in. The 2013 spectacle generated $1,506,595 in ticket sales, with another $82,926 in concession revenue. Subtracting expenses, the event netted $273,174. Some of the money went to the Department of Recreation and Parks.

Can anyone point to an example of how Griffith Park benefitted from this? Joe added that there was no discussion about the appropriateness of using the park to stage blood-and-gore themed events, of displacing mostly low income users of the Old Zoo picnic area, or of disturbing wildlife with the noise, traffic and lighting that accompany the event. The Haunted Hayride appears to be nothing less than a misappropriation of public park land for private gain. As Robert Reich writes in Beyond Outrage, “much of what’s called ‘public’ today is increasingly private.”

The Old Zoo                                                                                                                     

The Old Zoo area, dressed with glee by Haunted Hayride set designers, is also to be the location of a new performing arts center, otherwise known as “the band shell.” This will be a permanent structure. But the Old Zoo area is an active wildlife corridor and, according to the Historic-Cultural Landmark designation for Griffith Park, this performing arts center will be located within the Urban Wilderness boundary. Which do we need more in park-poor Los Angeles: another venue for entertainment, or preservation of remaining open space and wildlife habitat? (With a setting such as this one, however, it would be tempting to stage “Bambi” for the kids, starring an actual resident fawn and featuring a cast of animal extras from the adjacent hills.)

At the March 19 meeting, people involved in Shakespeare in the Park and Symphonies in the Glen raved about how successful these programs have been. If they have been so successful, why is a permanent installation needed?

New baseball diamonds at Crystal Springs   

Finally, there are the “youth baseball” fields in Crystal Springs. LaBonge aide Carolyn Ramsey is said to have appeared recently at a Recreation and Parks Commission subcommittee meeting and to have remarked that the councilmember has wanted these ball fields his whole life. This, some might argue, constitutes the needs assessment for the ball fields project. Councilmember LaBonge seems to have chosen this project as his legacy. Having one’s name on baseball diamonds in Crystal Springs, Park Central, is likely more gratifying than seeing it in a corner of Griffith Park, say, Ferraro Field or North Atwater Park.

The Sierra Club’s Angeles Chapter and the Griffith Family Trust both oppose the use of Crystal Springs for ball fields.  Dugouts, bleachers, scoreboards, security lighting and fencing will be built on a four-acre area now used for picnics and free-play. In order to accommodate the ball fields, “up to 49 trees” will be removed, including a heritage sycamore. Removal of mature trees, of course, means removal of habitat. Construction is expected to take two years. It is doubtful that anyone will want to play or picnic anywhere near the noise, exhaust and mess contributed by backhoes and bulldozers.

The funding for this project is to come mostly from Proposition K (“L.A. for Kids”) money. The passage of Prop K created a city-wide assessment district which generates 25 million dollars each year for the acquisition, improvement, construction and maintenance of City parks, recreation facilities and other projects through an annual real property tax assessment on City residents over a 30-year period. Some of the grants allocated through Prop K are competitive. The ball fields project is one of these.

Prop K is supposed to fund projects that increase recreational opportunities for children. It is difficult to see how displacing traditional users of Crystal Springs in order to install facilities that will be available only to children who are organized in youth baseball leagues increases recreational opportunities. Is “recreation” only worthy of the name when kids wear uniforms? The State of California’s 2006 Recreational Trends analysis includes the information that Latinos’ number one preferred form of recreation is preparing a meal for the extended family outdoors, followed by a hike or other activity. This is considered by some to be “passive” (rather than “active”) recreation. Would it help if the families wore matching T-shirts and formed teams?

The consistent user group at Crystal Springs is predominantly Latino families picnicking. Many, if not most, of them do not have a yard or easy access to green open space. These are the very people Colonel Griffith had in mind when he gave land to the City to benefit “the plain people.” But, who cares when there are naming rights to be claimed and a wealthier, more vocal constituency to be served?

"Parks and Park Funding in Los Angeles: An Equity Mapping Analysis" (Wolch, Wilson and Fehrenbach, Sustainable Cities Program and GIS Research Laboratory, University of Southern California, May 2002) observed that, “now the most ethnically diverse city in the nation, Los Angeles is obligated to carefully monitor the well being of its residents and communities of color….For public programs like parks and recreation, such monitoring is critical to avoid…environmental injustice.” Indeed, environmental justice is the key to opposing ball fields in Crystal Springs along with other money-making, prestige-awarding projects planned for Griffith Park.

Speaking against ball fields in Crystal Springs may stereotype one as a tree-hugging, child-hating curmudgeon or, as the Los Feliz Ledger describes us, “older extremists trying to thwart a much needed city service for local children.” As one of the older extremists, I would simply ask: What about the children who use Crystal Springs now—for picnics, birthday parties and running around? Taking away shade trees and open space in exchange for two baseball diamonds, which will be surrounded by chain link fences with locked gates (like Pote Field) is not a fair deal.

Griffith Park was given to all the people of Los Angeles, not to special interest groups.

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