GPW: Self-Tempered Anarchy since 2009


Your GPW Editor-on-Occasion is Petra Fried in the City.
Send us your stories, ideas, and information. Insiders welcome - confidentiality guaranteed.



stories along The Way

Monday, May 31, 2010

Saturday, May 29, 2010

Amir's Garden access trail renovation complete

As part of the 40th anniversary celebration for Amir's Garden, the oldest access trail to the iconic garden has been completely renovated.

Amir's Garden is one of three iconic gardens in Griffith Park. The five acre all-volunteer ornamental garden serves as a shady rest stop for hikers and equestrians. It is also a memorial garden and the plant pallet there has been chosen so that it plays the role of a fire break, something that last happened in 2004 when 1/4 of the garden was destroyed by a brush fire. The fire was successfully stopped by firefighters in the garden.

The garden access trail on the north east slope was the first access trail built to connect Amir's Garden to the Mineral Wells fire road. It was constructed by Amir and his friend, Henry Shamma, 35 years ago on what is the steepest side of the garden. Shamma was a close friend of Amir's, and is another historic figure in Griffith Park. There is a plaque for Henry located on Glendale Peak in the park today.

It took most weekends from mid-November 2009 to May 17th, 2010 to complete. The passage of time and erosion caused by rain and short-cutting had done major damage to the historic trail. In some places, only 3 of every 10 stairs still remained. In other areas, entire sections of the trail needed to be moved due to erosion or for safety reasons.

<<--Before

Renovation work consisted of brush clearance, slope stabilization, reconstructing terracing, installing new stairs, and adding proper drainage. Almost 200 stairs, 20 railroad ties, and more than an estimated 1500' of pipe and rebar were used in the project. All new wood was used with a few exceptions. Pressure-treated wood was used for longevity.

As you enjoy the new hiking surface, for safety reasons hikers are highly encouraged to stay on the main trail itself and not go off trail. Some sections of the reconstruction completed last (at the bottom of the trail) have not been rained on yet and the dirt on the sides is loose.

Given that summer seems to be here, make sure you stay in the middle of the trail until some real water falls from the sky.

<<--After

Who did the reconstruction work? Thirty of the stairs in the longest section were replaced by Oscar Ayala and his scout troop in March as part of his Eagle Scout project. The rest? By this author as my gift to the park for the 40th anniversary of Amir's Garden.

Enjoy the workout!

Read more about Amir's Garden and the garden's founder and caretaker, Amir Dialameh, at the Amir's Garden web site.

Friday, May 28, 2010

LAPD to hold community meeting on lewd conduct in parks

Remember this charming little photo from a City park?


LAPD Northeast Division is holding a community meeting about lewd conduct in City parks within the division, and they want to hear from you.

This includes Griffith Park.

If you've run into this illegal activity, please come share your information next Tuesday with Sgt. Phillips and other parks users.  And don't forget to report any activity when you witness it to the Park Rangers: 323-644-6661

Officials say that most of the complaints they hear are anecdotal, which is really a symptom of how jaded parks visitors are. This stuff has been going on for decades, and the lack of responsiveness from City agencies is the reason people are cynical.

Show up on Tuesday, and bring a friend.
Tuesday June 1st, 2010 at 7pm

Location: 111 N. Avenue 56 at The Wall Las Memorias in Highland Park. 
On Avenue 56 just north of Figueroa on the right hand side.

Contact: Sgt Phillips  26822(at)lapd.lacity.org

Thursday, May 27, 2010

"Bud Light Riders" single-handedly trash up entire NE SFV trail system

Out in the Northeast San Fernando Valley, one group of horse riders have almost single-handedly turned the local network of trails and environmentally sensitive areas into their personal trash dump.

If it weren't for a few individuals who conduct major trash clean-ups in the area, the "Bud Light Riders" would have succeed by now.

Who are the Bud Light Riders?

Alcoholic local equestrians without a shred of a conscience, I'd guess.  They must be alcoholics with the amount of beer they consume while riding on the local trails.  These idiots have thrown their cans on every single trail from Hansen Dam up Big Tujunga Wash, Fascination Springs, the Doc Larsen trail system, Little Tujunga, Lopez and Kagel Canyons. Every trail.

How do I know? Because I've wasted untold hours of what should be my hiking time engaged in picking up their crap in all of these areas. I can almost count the exact number of steps between beer cans. I guess that is how much distance passes while they suck down the next can.

Believe me, these people qualify as alcoholics, and Bud Light is their cheap buzz of choice.

The Bud Light Riders live somewhere around my neighborhood.  Every month or so, they share their alcoholic-haze riding experience up close and personal with me by throwing their Bud Light empties in my front yard as they lurch by. Unfortunately, I am not home when they do it, but it is just a matter of time before I catch them in the act and we have a major conversation.


Drinking on horseback is illegal, same as drinking and driving, and drinking and boating. A horse is a large animal, and can be dangerous if something unexpected sends them out of control. The rider is responsible for control of their animal at all times.

If you are drinking on horseback, you can be cited. You SHOULD be cited, because you are a freaking idiot.

As for the littering, that should be a no-brainer. Stewardship of our wild lands, trails, and environmentally sensitive areas is the responsibility of everyone, especially those who enjoy the areas in person. In fact (clue-phone time) -  a non-trivial portion of the City's actual drinking water filters through Hansen Dam via the Big and Little Tujunga Washes. When you litter and pollute there, you are polluting the City's drinking water. Answer the damn clue phone and knock off the littering!

I guess it is possible to drink yourself into a state where you have less than no-brains, as with the Bud Light Riders. Yesterday, I personally picked up a full, 35 gallon trash bag of beer cans - mainly Bug Light - from Little Tujunga Wash. I crushed them all and still filled up the garbage bag.

I know I missed a bunch of cans because of the heavy brush. When I'm riding my horse and not on foot, I can see a lot more crap from the vantage point.

That said, last October I picked up two full 80 gallon trash bin liners of cans in the same area while hampered by the poor vantage point.

I must look like their mother, because they expect me to pick up after them.


Bottom line is that these moron simply need to be stopped. Take their keys to their horses away from them. Make them do hundreds of hours of community service, picking up similar crap from other morons. Educate them.

Yet down in Hansen Dam Recreational Area, a City park where there should be Park Rangers who could cite these idiots, there currently is no oversight of any kind. It's a drinking, campfire-building, riding-while-intoxicated free-for-all.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Park pic of the day

TwitPic pic of a little park somewhere in Los Angeles by Robb_Torres


And check out DialIdol.com if you don't want to wait for/sit thru tonight's American Idol results show. Deja vu, BTW.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Building a park, CRA-style

 A $56 million park?

Let me say that again:

A FIFTY SIX MILLION DOLLAR PARK?

$3.5 million per acre. Yikes! That beats Cahuenga Peak at roughly $2 mil per acre as the biggest park boondoggle of the year, if not the decade.

Wait: LA Weekly says there is another $27 mil in taxpayer funds going into this project, for a cost of $5.2 million per acre. Holy crap. Given that the average price for the development of an entire park is around $5 million, the chunk of change being sunk into this monster could pay for 16 new parks in the many parts of town that are extremely park poor. Wow. That is U-G-L-Y. Now this is a project Robert Garcia should probably be suing Antonio and CRA Essel over.

Someone is going to make a blank-load of cash off of this. Is it Charles Pankow Builders LTD, a business not based in Los Angeles? Jan Perry who lives nearby? Perhaps Her Majesty Carol Schatz, who has been simply screaming to see this built? Questions questions.

From the CRA press release:
------

$56-million, Downtown Civic Park
Anticipates Opening in June 2012
CRA/LA Approves Construction Plans to Move Project Forward
 

Los Angeles — Construction of Downtown’s massive, $56 million, Civic Park, which is part of the ambitious Grand Avenue plan, could start in little more than a month and be finished in two years, according to documents reviewed last week before the Board of Commissioners of the Community Redevelopment Agency of the City of Los Angeles (CRA/LA). The Board approved final construction documents for Civic Park, a required step before the plans are submitted to Los Angeles County and the Los Angeles Grand Avenue Authority, the entity overseeing work on the Grand Avenue development. Although the start of Phase 1 of the three-phase, 3.6 million square foot Grand Avenue Project at the top of Bunker Hill has been delayed, work on Civic Park is moving forward. Once the Grand Avenue Authority approves the park construction documents, work can start as early as late June this year, with 24 months for construction and a June 2012 opening. “In the heart of Los Angeles’ civic and cultural center, Civic Park will remake a neglected and often overlooked public space into a spectacular community gathering space, make Downtown more livable and create what will likely become an iconic park for Los Angeles,” said CRA/LA Board Chairman Bruce D. Ackerman.
 

Hill Street and Broadway divide the four block, 16-acre site. A challenging 90-foot grade change exists between Grand Avenue and Spring Street, the north and south bordering streets. The final construction documents contain all the information necessary to obtain a building permit including specifications to build site improvements, off-site public improvements, landscaping, signs, public art and construction requirements, standards and specifications.

The park will be built on the existing Los Angeles County Mall and Court of Flags, plus the surface parking lot next to City Hall, all of it County-owned land. It is bordered by buildings along both its north and south sides. The proposed design ties the site together, creating a connected, unified park. Using the grade changes as an asset, the plan envisions amphitheater steps and planted terracing for pedestrian ramps where none exist now and vertical space for outdoor seating. Programming for small to large events and festivals can take place at the site . Civic Park funding consists of $50 million from leasehold acquisition fees pre-paid for Phases I and II, interest earnings of $750,000 on those fees, state Proposition 40 park funds of $970,000 and future interest earnings on leaseholds of $4.28 million. Pankow Builders, based in Pasadena, has been selected as the Park contractor.

Monday, May 24, 2010

Here kitty kitty

Just saw my first mountain lion clearly while hiking alone on foot. 4:51pm He/she crossed the trail about 50' in front of me, stopped and looked at me, and continued across the trail, disappearing into the brush.

No mistake about what it was.

My hike stopped there, all of a half mile into a 5 miler. Ah well...

Location: Big Tujunga Wash and Conover Fire Road near Angeles National.

Stay safe, y'all.

Mayor's 'Million Trees' program is greening... Griffith Park

GPWist has received some good intel that much of the extensive tree planting happening in most of the picnic areas of Griffith Park is being done by Tree People and others as they unload the rest of the Mayor's Million Trees program trees.


Million Trees was proffered as a City-wide greening initiative by the Mayor. From the web site
This is a partnership between the City of Los Angeles, community groups, businesses and individuals like you, working together to plant and provide long-term stewardship of one million trees, planted all over the city with a focus on areas that need it most.
If actual planting defines need, then City-wide it looks like the green spaces in Griffith Park need it most.

GreenGoPost.com has a good blog entry on what one person found when he recently went to get trees from the program at their Griffith Park nursery location. Hint: it wasn't very green.


GPWist first reported on the curious intensive plantings that occurred at Mineral Wells. Beyond the added forestation in a High Severity Fire Zone and the increased need for maintenance and water during major cutbacks for the Department of Recreation and Parks, the lines of trees cut down people's ability to utilize the areas for soccer games and similar activities.

The latter is both good and bad, depending upon the type of area impacted. Inappropriate use of different lawns cause a great deal of damage in parks throughout the City and cost Rec and Parks and taxpayers a lot of money in restoration and extra care to rehabilitate. Some claim that building more formal play fields is the automatic cure for these activities, but point of fact is that the biggest problems come from people picnicking who then just want to play a game. They aren't going to leave their picnic and move to an organized sports field to do it. That's not human nature.

That said, picnic areas that are designed for larger activities to spontaneously break out are in demand and should be included in design and refurbishing projects.

I was kind of shocked on Sunday when the very first parks patron I casually asked about the plantings in an informal survey responded extremely vigorously in the negative at the carving up of all of the park's picnic areas by the aggressive planting. They couldn't play soccer in their favorite picnic spot, they told me, with considerable anger.

Not everyone, then, has the knee-jerk reaction that TREES PLANTED automatically equals GOOD THING.

The devil, as always, is in the details, and that means proper planning and management: imperative in any parks system.

Friday, May 21, 2010

In Silver Lake, a feud over an open-space corridor

On Wednesday, the City Council unanimously passed the Sam Menlo-Slum Lord development without comment or debate as part of the consent agenda. They ignored the appeal without comment, siding with Councilman Tom LaBonge who feels that Community Plans are optional (see below).

That leaves the citizens of Los Angeles no choice but to file a lawsuit the City if they want to make them do the right thing: uphold the Community Plan.

Should your Community Plan be optional?

Images from Corralita's Red Car Property blog.
------
In Silver Lake, a feud over an open-space corridor

All agree the trail is needed; the question is where. A conservation group wants it to stretch alongside a proposed condo development on Riverside Drive, a councilman wants it along the L.A. River

By Carla Hall, Los Angeles Times May 19, 2010

In a heavily trafficked city crisscrossed with freeways, where do you put the pastoral trails for furry commuters and nature-loving city dwellers? Well, you put half a mile of it alongside the big condo development proposed on Riverside Drive in Silver Lake, says the Santa Monica Mountains Conservancy, aggressive fighters for open space in the city.

No, you put trails near the Los Angeles River, argues City Councilman Tom LaBonge, avid hiker and protector of Griffith Park who finds himself in an unusual battle with the conservancy. And if you're speaking for the developer, the Menlo Trust, you argue that the land alongside the condo development is too steep for a trail.

So goes the fight over a half-mile stretch of dirt in Silver Lake. 

It may be too steep for humans to hike right now, but all kinds of other animals use the trail, said Paul Edelman, deputy director of natural resources and planning for the conservancy. "We need this for gray foxes and bobcats." The conservancy has appealed a city planning agency decision to let developers build a 120-unit condo complex — alongside the existing 157-unit Riverglen development — and obliterate the corridor. The full City Council is expected to vote on the conservancy appeal Wednesday. Neither the conservancy nor their supporters oppose the actual condo development. "I'm just opposed to it being done without a trail," said Diane Edwardson, a longtime Silver Lake community activist.

Not everyone in Silver Lake agrees. "The terrain is very treacherous over there anyway," said Elizabeth Bougart-Sharkov. "Building a path is a stupid idea. It's like a bridge to nowhere." Countered Edelman: "If you use that argument you would never get anywhere: 'Oh it doesn't go anywhere.' Well you have to start somewhere." This trail, he said, "would be the first official segment of the contiguous corridor."

Supporters say removing the trail sets a dangerous precedent for dismantling other community plans in the city. But LaBonge contends that "a community plan is a guide. It's not an ordinance." Wildlife will survive the lack of this particular trail, he said.

Read the rest at the LA Times.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

ID that bloom with Flower Finder

By way of ModernHiker, the Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area web site has a very useful new tool for some of us more casual hikers: a Flower Finder. 

See a flower you don't recognize while hiking?  Go to the SMMNRA site and scroll down to the Site Searching section for the Flower Finder and the Compact Flower Finder which has a lot less notes. Answer the questions and it will lead you through describing your unknown flora until it is properly ID'd.

Add this to our favorite native plant database over at the Theodore Payne Foundation and you've got a lot of stuff covered.


Saturday, May 15, 2010

Last chance for Griffith-Elysian connector trail

Approval of another apartment complex for Los Angeles slum lord Sam Menlo marks the end of the last chance for a connecting trail between Griffith Park and Elysian Park - unless the City Council can be convinced to vote against it next Wednesday in chambers.

This blog thinks they should vote against the Menlo development. The Red Car trail is a historic trail, and this is its last chance to be completed. Like the Griffith Park Historic Monument application, the Red Car Trail is so much more than another apartment complex - it is a significant contribution to the internal health of this City. One hopes our City Council has even a minute understanding of  an important moment in time. Sadly, this is doubtful. Even LaBonge, who loves to milk those significant moments, is siding with the slum lord developer.

The Corralitas Red Car Property blog has a lot about this Sam Menlo character. The City continues to do business with one of the worst slum lords in Los Angeles, to the detriment of hikers and passive recreation. Hat tip to the same blog for the below image.

The following is an email blast from the "Friends of Griffith Park" group with the appeal information:
---

The citizens and wildlife that live in Los Angeles are about to lose the only trail that links Griffith Park to Elysian Park - a trail that was mandated by the State Legislature in 1983 as the Griffith Park to Pueblo de Los Angeles Trail (also called the "Red Car Trail"), and is included in the City Community Plan. The City has erroneously approved the construction of a 120 unit condo by the infamous developer Sam Menlo that would straddle the trail and forever close it to human and wildlife use. We must not allow this to happen. The L.A. Times has a complete dossier on Mr. Menlo's slumlord reputation and problems with the law, Click here to see it: "http://articles.latimes.com/keyword/sam-menlo"
There is one last chance to save the Red Car Trail, if we take action immediately. The Santa Monica Mountains Conservancy has filed an appeal to invalidate the City condo approval and allow their plans to create a hiking/equestrian/wildlife trail  to move forward.  The Planning and Land Use Management Committee (PLUM) voted to deny the appeal yesterday, Tuesday, May 11th. Score another point for developers, and zero for the citizens of Los Angeles! There is one final vote by the City Council on Wednesday May 19th. We need to support the Conservancy's appeal, and tell the Mayor and members of the City Council that the interests of the Citizens of Los Angeles are more important than the interests of condo developers.
We especially need to tell Councilman Tom LaBonge, who has indicated his approval of the condo project,  that the destruction of the "Red Car Trail" is a disservice to his constituents, and all the people of Los Angeles. 


Please register your support by signing our petition and leaving comments at the following link:
http://www.friendsofgriffithpark.org/GPRedCarTrailCorridor.htm
Email addresses and telephone numbers for Council Members and the Mayor are available at the City of Los Angeles website. Click here:
http://www.lacity.org
Councilman Tom LaBonge's telephone number: 213-485-3337
His email address:  councilmember.labonge@lacity.org Other contact for Councliman LaBonge is available on his website: Click here: http://www.tomlabonge.com

Background information (from the Santa Monica Mountains Conservancy press release of May 7, 2010):
Santa Monica Mountains Conservancy Appeals City Decision to Sever Wildlife and Trail Corridor Between Griffith and Elysian Parks
Proposed 120-unit condominium project expansion along Riverside Drive would jeopardize mammal populations in Elysian Park and build over future community trail
Los Angeles—The Santa Monica Mountains Conservancy (Conservancy) is appealing the City of Los Angeles's decision to permit a 120-unit condominium project on the former Pacific Electric Red Car right-of-way on Riverside Drive in Silver Lake. As designed, the project would eliminate a heavily-used wildlife movement corridor between the City's two flagship parks, genetically isolating mammal populations within Elysian Park. The project would also prevent the planned extension of a popular hiking and equestrian trail along the Red Car right-of-way properties connecting Griffith and Elysian Parks.
The Conservancy has requested minor changes to the building plans to accommodate the wildlife corridor and future trail; however, the City has refused to require the applicant to dedicate any land for the community trail. Instead, the developer has decided to give the property in the trail corridor to neighboring homeowners. Fourth District Councilmember Tom LaBonge faces strong resistance to the trail from these few vocal homeowners poised to benefit directly from the development. The Silver Lake Neighborhood Council and the Greater Griffith Park Neighborhood Council Parks, Recreation, and Open Space Committee both recommended to the City that the hiking and equestrian trail dedication be required.
City officials' suggested trail alternative on the east bank of the Los Angeles River is separated from the subject area by Interstate 5, Riverside Drive, and the river itself and thus provides no substitute alignment. If the Conservancy's appeal is denied, precedent will be set to eliminate Community Plan trails without a formal Plan Amendment hearing. In this case a few homeowners are driving the elimination of the El Pueblo to Griffith Park Trail.
Designated by the State Legislature in 1983, the El Pueblo to Griffith Park Trail is designed to connect downtown Los Angeles to the Santa Monica Mountains via the historic Pacific Electric Red Car right-of-way west of Riverside Drive. As far back as 1981 former Councilmember John Ferraro pushed legislation for the City to adopt this trail corridor. Because of its unique qualities, the all-dirt, off-road hiking and equestrian trail is included in the Silver Lake-Echo Park-Elysian Valley Community Plan. A portion of the trail south of Fletcher Drive is currently widely used by community members accessing Elysian Park. The proposed development runs from Fletcher Drive northwest to Glendale Boulevard and would permanently foreclose future completion of this halfmile-long trail segment.
Please register your support by signing our petition and leaving comments at the following link:
http://www.friendsofgriffithpark.org/GPRedCarTrailCorridor.htm
Thank you for supporting Griffith Park and its wildlife.

Friday, May 14, 2010

Happy 75th birthday, Griffith Observatory!

LAist reminds us that today is the 75th birthday of the Griffith Observatory.  Birthday celebration events are going on all day long. See the schedule here.

May we all shine as bright for at least 3/4 of a century.

A birthday is a good day to make some positive changes. How about some Griffith Observatory tweeting? Not chirping, tweeting.

Morning around the park

CHIRP DAMMIT

How many of you were awake at 5am this morning because of the ongoing bird orgy in the tree next to your bedroom window?  Spring in the Southland can be a challenge when our avian friends are all amped up with birdie hormones. We just have to live with it. Or do we? Animal Services departments across the area report that people regularly call them to complain, and they expect action.

California is already 20 billion in the red for FY11. The Governator offers we taxpayers a handy fact sheet for how he is going to fix it. 

Did you get your DWP bill this month?  How do you feel about paying that monster? It's going up in July, too.  Read Mulholland Terrace's article on some of the not-so-hardworking DWP employees who benefit from your bill, then leave your feelings in the comments section.

News flash: Glenn Beck and local blogger/perpetual candidate Phil Jennerjahn - one of the people behind the RecallCityHall.org effort - have the same pedigree. The Colbert Report revealed last night that Beck has listed having been an entertainer - specifically  a clown - in the past. Mayor Sam is reporting that Jennerjahn may be in a little bit of trouble.

Both The Daily Show and The Colbert Report have been working over Glenn Beck real good this week. We mostly ignore Beck, so were surprised to learn that the political analyst has become a full-on prophet now, with God feeding him a plan that he will reveal on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial on August 28. And that's a whole new level of serious crazy.

The Colbert ReportMon - Thurs 11:30pm / 10:30c
Glenn to the Mountaintop
www.colbertnation.com
Colbert Report Full EpisodesPolitical HumorFox News

A victim of the economic climate, Homeboy Industries is laying off 300 employees. One of the favorite non profits in town with the politicos, we expect that a bailout in the form of cash or programming or full-on new P3 will be forthcoming.

On CityWatch, Stephen Box wonders what would happen if Walt Disney were the Mayor of Los Angeles. This is too scarily close to the Walt Disney acolyte who is the self-anointed mayor of Griffith Park. Hm.

It's going to be a beautiful weekend. Go outside and enjoy it!

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Glenn Beck's Nazi Tourette's

The Daily Show With Jon StewartMon - Thurs 11p / 10c
Back in Black - Glenn Beck's Nazi Tourette's
www.thedailyshow.com
Daily Show Full EpisodesPolitical HumorTea Party

Morning around the park


Mulholland Terrace has an excellent piece at the LA Weekly on the thuggies and wannabes at IBEW and the DWP - and what they do with our money. One read that will both enlighten, and tick you off as it should. Highly suggested.  Read DWP: Reservoir Dogs here.

300 500 acre brush fire in Corona, and it isn't even the ides of May.  Yet some of you anon commenters still think it is a bad idea to have all Park Rangers patrolling in da big parks. ...and Common Sense takes a nasty left to the jaw....

City Council bans travel to Arizona and makes noise about a lot of other economic bans. Wondering if we'll be stopping Angelenos at the AZ border.

Yesterday's Council session is probably more about deflection than action. That said, even if what Arizona has passed is a just cry for immigration reform as some claim, the Governor cannot seem to stop herself from passing other seemingly related garbage.  GIGO

Riordan's talking and talking and talking the B word. While Big Brother in City Hall refutes it and claims you are killing Los Angeles if you even utter it.

We don't support Riordan or bankruptcy. We have thought that bankruptcy is the likely end-state for some time now and have said so.  In reviewing the house of cards that the Mayor and his crack team of world-class fiscal experts (sic) have stacked LOS ANGELES CITY FY11 on, we still think the "B" word is likely.  Unless that 'economic miracle' happens. Hm.

City Council takes up the final required budget hearings Friday or Monday, and P3 is The WordPublic-private partnerships. Never bad in concept, but the haste, and hence with lack of any transparency coupled with a complete dearth of true fiscal leadership or skill makes P3 the new political kick-back. If the momentum continues, it'll take decades to undo the corruption being sown.

We're kinda sick of the corruption already. No more fresh hell, please.

The Mayor has his budget hat hung on the other P-word: Parking.  Word to the Mayor - some of that ain't gonna work.  This issue is evolving even now.

Will Bell is hosting one of the coolest bike ride ideas we've seen: Frank Lloyd Wright rides! Every Saturday in May. Most excellent. Check out lametblogs for the details.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Boston Globe's "Big Picture" covers the Gulf oil spill

Zoo parking charge will hit Griffith Park like a ton of bricks

The Los Angeles City Council begins its budget deliberations this Friday.  Yesterday, the Budget and Finance committee voted on their final recommendations to council. As D-Zahn reports, included in those recommendations are things like an additional 1000 layoffs to cover parts of the Mayor's budget that are not concretely funded.
There are also at least two important committee recommendations that will be heard beginning Friday parks advocates and users need to be aware of. One is the removal of all external review of the privatization of the Los Angeles Zoo. The other is the overt bypassing of the Arts Parks Health and Aging committee public hearing and analysis on whether to charge parking at the LA Zoo.  (see pg 23, marked pg 15 of this document)

The LA Zoo sits on Griffith Park-deeded land.  Parks users as well as Zoo-goers utilize the parking, and overflow from the Gene Autry museum - a museum paying just $1 per year for land valued at $600,000 in rent per year - conveniently parks there. 


Let's analyze this move, since City Council refuses to do due diligence.  The idea of charging to park in Griffith Park affects Zoo patrons and parks users, but it is being proffered chiefly by West Side guy Bill Rosendahl as a Zoo revenue-generating option.  Yet when one suggests that the Zoo - who is asking for the revenue - should simply add fifty cents or $1 to their admission prices, you have certain councilmembers looking at you in horror. 'How can you do that to the families'??!?  they exclaim, as if it is somehow something different.  (duuuuh.)

Charging at a Griffith Park parking lot is precedent-setting. There is no doubt about this.  When the Zoo lot costs money, parking will be pushed onto already heavily-impacted streets and other parking areas in Griffith Park.  Families and children will be dodging across those streets and through traffic to get to the Zoo entrance.  The Autry Museum, across the street from the Zoo, will then be "forced" to charge for parking, too.  The dominoes fall from there, and your City park will be lined up for the plucking.

Another, broader precedent is being set here.  The City Council is willfully removing any distinction between "parking revenue" as in organized parking structures and City lots, and, in essence, all City properties. Unchecked now, this will ultimately change your everyday experience in Los Angeles as it propagates.


We're pretty sure Councilman Tom LaBonge asked ... nay, begged to have this bypassed by his committee. As he seeks re-election in March 2011, it's the only way for Mr. Griffith Park to even begin to pretend this dangerous precedent isn't on his tenuous watch.

Most people, including the Griffith Family, won't be fooled.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

LA Clean Sweep goes live

A serious, organized grass-roots effort to bring accountability to City Hall is underway.

No, it has nothing to do with the current Three Stooges Show aimed at recalling our lame-duck Mayor (RecallCityHall.org)

LA Clean Sweep has four major initiatives that take a pretty good shot at what we need in Los Angeles to survive the historic budget mess:

#1 Clean Up City Hall

#2 Fix the Budget

#3 Focus on Core Services

#4 Power Sharing


Don't know about y'all, but in the past few weeks have you noticed that City Hall has gone from screaming about cuts to basically doing business as usual?

Meanwhile, all sorts of backroom deals are being made to carve up public property and services and hand them to the Mayor's cronies. More on this will be forthcoming in the press. Just know it's happening.

Someone needs to step up. Is it you? Go to LA Clean Sweep and see what you think.

Monday, May 10, 2010

Park Rangers mismanagement, and the loss of the public trust

On Sept 9, 2009, fifty parks users and community members from regional parks* all over Los Angeles drove into the heart of Los Feliz during rush hour to meet one-on-one with Councilman Tom LaBonge.

The meeting, called with little notice by Council District Four, was in response to the arbitrary, unwarranted removal of half of the City's highly-trained Park Rangers from active field work to be integrated into a new "Interpretive Unit".

No need for such a unit utilizing the full skills set of a Los Angeles City Park Ranger had been or has yet to be demonstrated, and the people who use the parks daily wanted an explanation. More importantly, they needed to be heard.


The Los Angeles City Park Rangers are currently full peace officers governed by California POST (Peace Officer Standards and Training) requirements. In a major metropolitan area like Los Angeles, this is important. Training is better - the enforcement and psychological portions take place at the Police Academy, and more highly trained and highly dedicated Park Rangers are fielded on average by this qualification. The naturalist trainings take place through PRAC-certified courses.

The Rangers being pulled by Recreation and Parks from real field work were Rangers grandfathered under somewhat controversial conditions at a time before POST certification. Some of those grandfathered were already peace officers. One swears an oath to be a peace officer. A few chose to ignore that oath in the grandfather deal, although they readily accepted continuing to receive the same pay as the full peace officers.

The schism caused by how poorly this change was handled still taints the entire Division today, and certain individuals, the Department of Recreation and Parks itself, and the associated unions continue to take advantage of it as a destructive manipulation tool.


The non-peace officer Park Rangers are Public Officers as defined in the California Penal Code and are trained to do a number of vital park-specific services, including:
      • Security
      • Patron assistance
      • Firefighting
      • Search and rescue
      • Community policing
      • Wildlife and resource protection
      • Education and interpretive -  both formal and the all-important in the field interactions
Public officers can enforce City parks codes. Peace officer Park Rangers do all of these things, with the additional job of being able to enforce all State and City codes - not just park codes - and arrest.

All Park Rangers know their parks like the backs of their hands. Locations without addresses are their forte when an emergency call comes in. They are the de facto "facility managers" of the large open spaces in Los Angeles. Their visible presence can be the difference between civility and safety, and complete and utter anarchy on a busy day.

To do their jobs, they must be tactical in their response, working in the parks, on patrol, and with the public. Being a Park Ranger isn't just a job, but a vocation in the true sense.


During the two and a half hour meeting in September in Los Feliz, every single citizen, neighbor, and parks user who made it there in rush hour said almost the exact same thing to Tom LaBonge. It didn't matter which parks they came from across the City. They needed Park Rangers on patrol in their parks. Park Rangers doing the full scope of Park Ranger duties. Vital duties that were borne out of the very day-to-day need in the parks of Los Angeles as it has evolved over the century.

Why would you pull highly-trained and paid Rangers from the field?  The heavy lifting with respect to interpretive work, if there is such a thing as compared to the need for other services in parks, can easily be done by trained docents and volunteers in similar, but appropriately scaled down uniforms.

LaBonge listened, and appeared to sympathize. His office produced a patronizing say-nothing narrative to General Manager Jon Kirk Mukri and Recreation and Parks commission president Barry Sanders. It looked for a moment like the needs of the parks had indeed been properly heard, and that something positive might come of it.

But as is often the case with the City, this whole action wasn't about the public or what parks really need. The very next day after the meeting, Tom LaBonge met with Recreation and Parks Assistant General Manager Kevin Regan.  LaBonge told Regan that he wanted the Interpretive Unit created anyway, to just do it. To hell with the public and public safety. To hell with union work agreements. To hell with CA POST. And to hell with taxpayer dollars. Tom wanted people in Ranger hats available for show and tell at the drop of that very recognizable hat.

So it was written. So it was done.


Today, by AGM Kevin Regan's orders, these ten public officer Park Rangers do not respond to the required chain of command that California POST units are required to adhere to. They spend their days not in the Park Ranger Station, but allegedly watching television for the most part over at CSY, Recreation and Parks' central service yard on the Atwater Village side of Griffith Park. They are now Regan's -- and LaBonge's -- highly-trained, overpaid and underutilized 'Interpretive Unit', whether there is a real demand or not. Whether it fits their job descriptions or not. Whether it best serves the parks, or not.

Ten million visitors descend upon Griffith Park alone annually. Regan's and LaBonge's body-snatch has left just ten peace officer Park Rangers to handle almost all of the work load. Other regional parks have no Park Rangers.



Unless management-by-malice and draconian practices are considered Best Practices within the Department of Recreation and Parks, it is truly hard to fathom how Assistant General Manager Kevin Regan has come to wield such exclusive control over the Park Rangers.

Originally a tree trimmer within the Department and well-known among other employees for running his personal home business doing the same while using City equipment, rarely is something positive said about Regan as an administrator outside of the official record, such as it is.

Communities who've dealt with Regan on important issues over the years during tenures as a superintendent in their area for the most part simply despise him. The stated complaints? Abusive. Arbitrary. Insane. Threatens. Lies. Flakes. Misrepresents. ... and other not so proper words we won't publish.  It wasn't very hard to collect peoples' thoughts in this regard. The words flowed freely.

In fairness, with a little work we did find two community members who had been charmed by Mr. Regan at some point. Older women, both in their '70s who say lovely things about the man. But just two. And two in a City the size of Los Angeles isn't even worth mentioning statistically as an aberration.

With a pedigree like this, making Regan one of the faces of a major public service department is a choice someone somewhere should be questioning.



Since being handed carte blanch with the Park Ranger Division, Regan's not-terribly-positive behavior seems to have escalated to new levels. Perhaps it is the fact that the employees he is dealing with are both college-educated and either peace or public officers, therefore they are not easily intimidated. Whatever the reason, Regan has been on a mission that to any observer is clearly  diametrically opposed to the successful enabling of the Park Ranger Division. People he supervises in other divisions openly state that they are grateful Regan is so hyper-focused on controlling the Park Rangers... it keeps him off their backs.

Regan himself is a civilian, and as a civilian is 100% completely unqualified to lead or manage a California POST agency.   As a kluge, Regan hired Office of Public Safety lieutenant Rick Beutell to babysit him. Beutell cannot legally lead the LA City Park Rangers because he is not on their POST roll, either. A legal and liability nightmare across the board, but one that the Department of Recreation and Parks is apparently very comfortable with.

Beutell does and says whatever Regan tells him - he himself is under orders to do so.  A puppet peace officer to disguise the fact that a civilian is running a California POST agency.

Regan's Interpretive Unit is sub-commanded by Senior Park Ranger Sharie Abajian. Abajian, a non-peace officer,  was not a finalist for promotion to Senior Ranger until, likely needing a spy, Regan chose to intervene in the formal process and select her. By way of her comeuppance, Sr. Ranger Abajian is indeed loyal, shamelessly makings no secret about her activities in this regard.


What has Regan actually accomplished during his tenure as commander-in-chief?

A detailed, well thought out Strategic Five Year Plan for the Park Ranger Division, developed by both peace officer and public officer Park Rangers in May 2009 at the request of the General Manager, sits ignored. Reading this plan is a good way to understand the history of the Park Ranger Division, who these people are, and why their job has evolved into what it was at the time of writing.

Regan wants none of this - revisionist history is underway. His revisions. If he says it enough, it must be true.

It's all about control. In an employee complaint he and Abajian themselves initiated, Regan allegedly ordered an investigating peace officer to create or manufacture the necessary evidence that he could use to fire the individuals. The investigating officer refused to manufacture evidence, and the investigation did not warrant termination. In fact, it barely warranted investigation.

For more than two years, Regan sat as decision-maker on the 3-person personnel hearing committee that investigated personnel grievances directly involving himself and his subordinates, including Park Ranger senior staff.

Regan regularly discusses personnel issues with other employees, agencies, departments, and officials. He conducts personnel management and discipline via broad sweeping, dictatorial email which is sent to high-level Recreation and Parks management, other agencies, and City officials. He does this typically with few, if any of the facts actually in hand. The facts come later, and they are not rebroadcast to the original recipients.

A popular acting chief park ranger with 30 years experience is sitting in an office downtown, having been moved there by Recreation and Parks with no substantiated reason for having done so. The Ranger is the only Sr. II in the division, and as such has important administrative duties.  No real reason for the removal except "it's a personnel issue" will be forthcoming, because a real investigation has no hope of turning up anything real. Better to let the rumor mill be judge and jury.

Yet for the record, this Ranger was Acting Chief for at least five years which technically gives him job rights to the position in Civil Service rules. His removal had nothing to do with anything Civil Service. California POST approved him in the position. The real reason for his removal is likely that he remains in the way of Regan's 'Interpretive Unit'.

Regan put a non-peace officer supervisor in charge of peace officer Park Rangers in the mounted units and the Observatory security. This is against California POST policy.

Park Rangers work with a number of other agencies in the performance of their duties. They have Memoranda of Understandings and Agreements for things like booking suspects and mutual aid with the Los Angeles Police Department and the Los Angeles Fire Department just to name two.  MOUs clarify roles and are directly related to officer safety and job performance.

Out of the blue, Regan outright canceled the MOU between the LAPD and the Park Rangers. He did not notify any Ranger Division administration. Attempts to re-establish the MOU by Senior staff were derailed by Regan. The last word was that Regan and Beutell would be writing a new MOU. Regan claimed that Park Rangers, even peace officers, do not need an MOU with the LAPD.

In summary, and trying to be positive for a moment, when he was first assigned the Division AGM Kevin Regan may have had more noble motives. That has evolved to today: Regan's major actions as the faux commander in chief of the Los Angeles City Park Rangers are now all about removing the support systems from every single part of the Park Ranger Division -  except Regan's 'Interpretive Unit', that is.


The hardworking men and women who are forced now to make up Regan's 'Interpretive Unit' were grandfathered into the Division in 2002. Their jobs and responsibilities were worked out in two Union meet-and-confer documents from the time, and their liability-protection as it applies to their specific work inside parks is clearly laid out in the California State Penal Code for Public Officers.

There is no question about what those job duties are, unless you listen to Kevin Regan who claims otherwise when convenient. That said, read for yourself. There is no issue in what these public employees are supposed to be doing. None of these documents have been revoked, only conveniently ignored.
Non PO Ranger Duties-RecandParks
Non-PO Ranger MOU-RecandParks


As we move into a number of holiday weekends this month, these public officer Park Rangers assigned to Regan's 'Interpretive Unit' will not be working as real Park Rangers. With few exceptions, they only work Monday-Friday now no matter when the busiest time in your average park occurs. Obviously this would be the weekends. Regan for his part is trying to now cut off peace officer Park Ranger services at 8pm, too. Parks close at 10:30pm.


Meanwhile back in the parks themselves, the patron calls come in and the services need to be provided. The remaining peace officer Park Rangers scramble to handle as they can, while Regan's 'Interpretive Unit' watches TV and hikes.... and contemplates interpreting things. They only do something if their commander says they can. Yet if calls are coming in and the Ranger Watch Commander sees five of them sitting there, if Sr. Ranger Abajian is not around to ask, they might as well be wall paper. Expensive, highly-trained wall paper who must properly follow someone else's orders.

There are no more Monthly Reports detailing unit activity to speak of, although a recent public records request by community members may see a hastily created one make an appearance. We'll be happy to publish that anticipated work of fiction when and if it makes an appearance. Comparison to Park Ranger Monthly reports before Regan's 'Interpretive Unit' came to be should be instructive.... like watching a train wreck in slow motion.



*Los Angeles City Regional Parks:  


Angel’s Gate/Cabrillo Beach; Augustus Hawkins Park; Debs Park; Elysian Park; Griffith Park; Hansen Dam; Harbor Regional Park; O’Melveny Park; Runyon Canyon; Sepulveda Basin; Venice Beach; Verdugo Mountains Park

Sunday, May 9, 2010

Weirder still - Dick Van Dyke in 3-D tribute to H-Sign

From a goofy press release:

Dick Van Dyke in S3D Debut

MALIBU, Calif., May 4 /PRNewswire/ -- A standing room only crowd gave film and TV star Dick Van Dyke a warm welcome after he made a personal appearance at the Malibu Film Festival on Thursday. Van Dyke plays the title role in The Caretaker 3D, a glowing tribute to the Hollywood Sign, produced under the Demand Z Content shingle by Jeffrey Amaral, who co-wrote the film along with director Sean Isroelit.

50 years after Mary Poppins, the 84 year old star is still enthusiastic about working on the cutting edge of cinema technology. "It's great to actually be here in 3D," quipped Van Dyke, a Malibu resident, marking his first appearance in a 3D film. "I love this 3D stuff. The Caretaker 3D also marks the first time that the Malibu Film Festival has included a 3D film into the program. "The short film is fantastic in 3D," says Festival Producer Ryan Levee, who added, "we're so glad that we were able to project the film in Real-D."

The Caretaker 3D was produced as a tribute to the role of the Hollywood Sign Trust as the custodians of the Global Icon, and is based on 1930's legend of a caretaker who lived behind the letter "L" of the famous landmark. Van Dyke nostalgically portrays the mystical handyman whose job it is to replace the light bulbs that once illuminated the HOLLYWOODLAND sign.

Director of Cinematography on The Caretaker 3D was Allen Daviau, ASC, (E.T., The Color Purple, Bugsy) in his first stereoscopic effort. With stereo camera technology provided by 3ality Digital, post production by FOTOKEM, and VFX by Hydraulx, The Caretaker 3D represents the state-of-the art for 3D filmmaking and is director Sean Isroelit's second award-winning S3D effort in the new "deep" format which is sweeping the film and TV communities today.

"We gave every aspect of The Caretaker 3D 'top shelf' production value," stated producer Amaral, "and Dick Van Dyke's warm portrayal of the title character is the kicker. Based on the enthusiastic response we've had to this short film, we're fast-tracking our next feature length effort, "Magic Carousel 3D", a Mary Poppins -style 3D family musical 'tentpole' that will drive people wild with joy."

"I'm ready to jump right back into 3D again!" affirmed the beloved star with a big smile. "I was born to be seen in three dimensions."

SOURCE The Caretaker 3D

Saturday, May 8, 2010

Park pic of the day

Twitpic of a great afternoon in the park by geemoney

Daily Mail says Hef is getting a Hotel for his $900k

This gets sillier and all the more Danish all the time.

Cahuenga Peak is a Homeland Security site. Much of the City's important public safety communications are relayed across it. You certainly won't see a freakin' hotel  there.
----------

After Hugh Hefner steps in to save it, could the iconic 
Hollywood sign now become a hotel for the stars?

 

Playboy founder Hugh Hefner was a hailed a hero when he topped up the funds to save the Hollywood sign from the grasps of developers last week. Now though, it has been revealed that the famous letters which overlook Los Angeles could yet take on another guise - as a luxury hotel. Hefner put forward $900,000 to ensure the sign dodged the bulldozers but if a Danish architect gets his way, they could end up being adapted into accommodation.

The sign originally read 'Hollywoodland' when it was erected on the city's Cahuenga Peak in 1923. The letters have since welcomed millions of tourists - not to mention aspiring actors - to the world's film capital. Now architect Christian Bay-Jorgensen says the sign could be transformed into a hotel, with each letter hosting guests and rooms with amazing views of Los Angeles. The hotel letters would be twice the height of the current 45-ft tall sign, and include an observation deck.

'I'm a fan of the Hollywood sign and the unused spaces of America,' said Bay-Jorgensen. 'It could be interesting to make it a center for such events as the Golden Globes and Oscars. This could be the future of the sign.' The letters have inspired both tragedy and affection. In 1932, young Welsh-born actress Peg Entwistle, frustrated with ongoing rejection by the city's film directors, climbed 45 feet up to the top of the letter 'H' and jumped to her death. The 24-year-old became known as 'The Hollywood Sign Girl'. And when the sign fell into disrepair in the 1970s, it was restored after a campaign which saw nine donors pay $27,777 to 'adopt' one letter each.

 


 


 






Friday, May 7, 2010

Celebrating Cahuenga Peak

Friends of the park Joe Young, Felix Martinez, Stag Brown, and Lee Zebold celebrate the acquisition of Cahuenga Peak with an appropriately-decorated self-made confection.

TPL disputes New Yorker claim on Cahuenga Peak development

Good news!

Comment to Griffith Park Wayist on Thursday:

TPL said...
The New Yorker article is erroneous. TPL is committed to saving the most important natural areas in our nation. The Cahuenga Peak property is no different. It is our objective, and that of our partner agencies, to protect and preserve the natural landscape comprising the peak. TPL will not be constructing new roads or structures. While appropriate markers will be placed to acknowledge significant contributors to the Save Cahuenga Peak campaign, it is our collective intention to have these recognition markers blend in with the natural setting.
All being said, we cannot control every word printed in the press.

Monday, May 3, 2010

"Tiffany Overlook", roads next for Cahuenga Peak

The New Yorker is reporting that Cahuenga Peak - forever a symbol of the heart and strength of Griffith Park - is about to be outfitted with new roads and a new Tiffany Overlook in honor of the big money donors who 'Saved the Peak'.

Just the kind of schlock and development that a certain councilman loves.  So does Will Rogers, president of the Trust for Public Land, apparently. Says the New Yorker: "According to Will Rogers, the president of the Trust for Public Land, “They do these grants for places they think are important and romantic—places where people can propose to each other.” 

Guess the TPL believes you cannot propose to your loved one without a built structure at the ready. There's no mention of what Hef is getting out of the deal, either, but one can only imagine.

Well, it just couldn't be land acquisition, could it?  Nah. 'Course not. So how many of you who donated to the cause want your money back if it is going to be used for this crap, and not the land purchase?  Raise your hand.


Sunday, May 2, 2010

Reggie's home to get much needed clean-up

From the Daily Breeze on 4/26/10:

Cleanup of Machado Lake planned 
By Donna Littlejohn

The City of Los Angeles Bureau of Engineering is proposing to rehabilitate the Wilmington Drain and Machado Lake located adjacent to and within Ken Malloy Harbor Regional Park. A snowy egret leaves its perch on a containment boom which keep debris from further flowing down the Wilmington Drain under PCH in Harbor City. (Sean Hiller/Staff Photographer) 
Daily Breeze Photo Gallery

Driving by Harbor City's 231-acre regional park, Machado Lake looks to be a serene and picturesque oasis. But close up, the reality is harsh. For years the lake, which holds runoff storm water from the area, has collected everything from pesticides to swarms of mosquitoes and piles of trash. What once was a pristine spot for bird watchers has deteriorated through the decades. The park now draws homeless encampments and has become a haven for lewd activity.

As Palos Verdes/South Bay Audubon Society member Martin Byhower put it back in 2003: "That park is a microcosm for everything that can go wrong in a regional park." Next year, work begins to address those long-standing ills. The entire project - formally titled the Wilmington Drain Multi-use and Machado Lake Ecosystem Rehabilitation Project - is expected to be finished by mid-2013. Work on the Wilmington Drain that feeds into the lake begins in the summer of 2011 and is expected to take 1 1/2 years. Work on Machado Lake begins in the fall of 2011 and will take 2 1/2 years. Funding comes from the 2004 passage of Proposition O, a statewide measure to clean urban runoff and improve water quality.

The $117 million cleanup of Machado Lake and the Wilmington Drain will include a series of steps, from installing trash nets and circulatory equipment to dredging the bottom of the lake. Floating islands will be created for nesting areas to support native habitat. Benches and other park amenities also will be added to the 231-acre Ken Malloy Harbor Regional Park that surrounds the body of water. Expanded recreational uses - possibly a "catch-and-release" fishery for example - will be decided upon later by the city's Recreation and Parks Department. "There are four goals: water quality improvements, recreational enhancements, wildlife habitat improvements and flood control," said Michelle Vargas, public information officer for the city of Los Angeles. "Clearly this will be a major improvement over what we've seen in decades of neglect," said Jess Morton, also of the Audubon Society. Nets and other filters will be installed to keep the lake and drain connections cleaner, Vargas said. The water level also will be maintained at 8 feet to ensure more oxygen to support the fish and other wildlife. "You won't see the summertime die-off of fish and birds caused by nutrient loads," Morton said. Algae, pesticides and pollutants such as metals from area industry are likely to be found in the sediment at the bottom of the lake once dredging begins in 2011.

Once known by locals as "the slough," the area was owned by the Dominguez family in the 1700s and American Indians remained prevalent around the lake. The property later went to the Sepulveda family. It was annexed in 1906 to the city of Los Angeles and eventually was designated as a regional park. In the 1990s, the park was named for Ken Malloy, a San Pedro environmentalist who died in 1991 at the age of 78. Malloy came upon the undeveloped area in the 1930s when his car bumped into some cows grazing on the property and spent years nurturing it. Convinced it could someday become a grand regional park, Malloy later formed the 62-acre Machado Youth Campground within the park. He was instrumental in planting hundreds of trees in the park as well, working with the California Conservation Corps. Public meetings about the project have been held and comments are still being solicited for the draft environmental report and will remain open until May 3.

donna.littlejohn@dailybreeze.com


Machado Lake: What's next? What: Comments on the draft EIR can be made through May 3. The document is available at the Harbor City/Harbor Gateway Library, 24000 S. Western Ave.; Wilmington Library, 1300 N. Avalon Blvd.; and at the office of Los Angeles City Councilwoman Janice Hahn, 638 S. Beacon St., Suite 552, San Pedro; and online at www.lacity.org/DPW/dpwhome.htm.  Information: www.lapropo.org; 213-978-0333; bpw.pao@lacity.org.

Saturday, May 1, 2010

[USA Today] Natural playgrounds the new trend

Natural playgrounds are growing into a national trend
By G. Jeffrey MacDonald 
 
BOSTON — The playground of the future is beginning to take shape — and it looks a lot like the backyard of the past. Designers of children's play spaces are increasingly looking beyond slides, jungle gyms and other plastic-coated structures in their quest to create fun, safe, healthy environments. As a result, kids are running outside and discovering play areas dotted with old standbys: sand, water, boulders, hills and logs.

"This is an emerging national trend of some significance," says Richard Dolesh, chief of public policy for the National Recreation and Parks Association. "Parents and other adults want natural opportunities for kids ... The question is: how do you ensure safety with the inherent challenges that nature brings?" Natural play spaces, as they're called, are becoming more common as municipalities, schools and child care centers seek sustainable ways to invest in new or aging playgrounds. Seattle is adding at least six natural play spaces to existing city parks. Boston-area institutions have at least four in the works. Similar projects are either underway or recently completed in Phoenix, Chicago, New York and Auburn, Ala.

Kids seem to get the concept. Jada Horne, 4, knows just what to do one April morning at a new natural play area at the Boston Medical Center's SPARK Center. She grabs a bucket of sand, adds water from a conveniently located spigot and gets to work. "I'm making soup!" she explains, tossing in a few handfuls of woodchips for flavor. Supporters of natural play spaces say they make sense on multiple levels. Child development experts say kids learn creativity and autonomy when they're engaged with "loose parts," such as mud and sticks. Funders in these lean-budget times are sometimes pleased to forgo five- and six-figure expenditures for manufactured play equipment. Some even argue that natural places are safer.

"They don't get boring," says Mav Pardee, program manager for the Children's Investment Fund, a financier of natural spaces and other educational experiences for Boston-area kids. But even some believers say built playgrounds are not going to become obsolete. They see equipment as an essential complement to natural play spaces. In Seattle, natural play spaces have engaged children at city parks since the late 1990s. Though kids at first enjoyed playing with sand and a cave at Carkeek Park, they tended to get restless and be excessively hard on the natural features, says Randy Robinson, a senior landscape architect for the Seattle Department of Parks and Recreation. "Once they'd dug in the sand a little bit, they'd be running up and down the hill, but there just wasn't enough for them," Robinson says. "People who are promoting environmental education don't want to hear that. (But) parents made a request to get some conventional play equipment installed nearby." Now kids burn energy by swinging or climbing and then use the natural play space when they're ready for creative downtime.

Makers of playground equipment say they aren't opposed to natural play spaces, since kids benefit from nature. But playing only with natural elements isn't adequate for a child's healthy development, says Joe Frost, a retired professor of education and a paid member of the Board of Advisors for the International Playground Equipment Manufacturers Association's Voice of Play outreach campaign. The campaign touts the benefits of playgrounds for kids. "Certain physical skills are established through built equipment that are difficult to provide through natural materials," he says. "For instance, they need climbing structures." Natural play spaces may appear simple, but getting one launched can mean overcoming multiple hurdles. Municipalities often struggle to get insurance because insurers aren't sure how to assess the risks involved, says Robin Moore, director of the Natural Learning Initiative at North Carolina State University.

Oversight boards sometimes resist proposals for natural play areas because they mark a departure from the playground norm, says Gail Sullivan, president of Studio G Architects, which designed SPARK's area. What's more, even natural play areas need money: SPARK's cost $80,000 to design and build. What's involved in caring for them remains a matter of some debate. Maintenance costs can be minimal precisely because nature is the whole idea, says Ron King, president of the Natural Playgrounds Co., a designer and builder whose gross sales doubled from $139,000 in 2007 to $279,000 in 2009. "Everybody says, 'What about maintenance?' " King says. "Our response is: 'It's a natural area. Let it go.' ... That's nature. That's what it's all about." But Linda Cain Ruth, a building science professor and playground expert at Auburn University, says natural playgrounds need careful maintenance to remain safe. "A lot of people think that because it's natural there's no maintenance, and that is not true," Ruth said. "Wood rots. ... You have to make sure you have a good surface for (kids) to fall on."

Image by By Josh T. Reynolds, for USA TODAY