SAN PEDRO — Under pressure from the federal government to develop Angels Gate Park, the City of Los Angeles has served eviction notices on three social service organizations that use the park to serve hundreds of needy people in the harbor area.
After winning a six-month reprieve, the nonprofit agencies were told that they must vacate by New Year's Day a cluster of abandoned military bungalows they have occupied rent-free since 1978, a city Recreation and Parks Department official said this week. The department oversees the largely undeveloped, 66-acre park overlooking the Pacific.
"We served them all eviction notices, and said, 'Sorry, folks, but you have to go,' " said Ron Kraus, a department official. "We feel guilty because they are social service organizations, but we are under the gun in this particular case."
Officials at two of the organizations--Joint Efforts, a drug rehabilitation center, and Alpha Chi Pi Omega, a national sorority with that has a chapter office on Beacon Street in San Pedro and uses a park bungalow for a number of its programs--said they have not yet found a place to move. Officials for the groups predicted that they will be hard-pressed to afford new quarters as large as the bungalows.
The third evicted agency, FISH, an ecumenical religious organization that provides food to the needy, moved its pantry into the Harbor Family Crisis Center on West 7th Street, but still uses a park bungalow for storage. Without the bungalow, the agency will not have room to accept donated furniture, FISH coordinator Ruth Lohrer said.
The park, once part of Fort MacArthur's Upper Reservation, was declared surplus by the federal government in 1978 and deeded to the city under the condition that it be used only for recreational and park-related purposes.
The presence of the three organizations has technically violated the conditions of the deed ever since they moved to the park with the permission of former Los Angeles City Councilman John Gibson, but the city allowed them to stay in the buildings, which once housed Army officers. No formal agreement was ever signed between the agencies and the city.
In 1984, the Interior Department, which oversees the development of federally granted land, conducted a routine inspection of the park and determined not only that the city had failed to develop the largely undeveloped park as specified in the deed, but also that the social service agencies served no recreational or park-related purpose, Kraus said. It then instructed the city to evict the agencies.
Kraus said two other organizations, the California Conservation Corps and the Izaak Walton League, another conservation group, also occupy some of the old military buildings at the park and had also been targeted for eviction by the Interior Department. But those organizations will be allowed to stay at the park until mid-1987 because the federal government accepted the city's contention that the groups' services are peripherally related to recreation and parks.
Kraus said that the city has been slow to develop Angel's Gate primarily because it lacked the necessary money. However, the city's recreation and parks commissioners recently voted to spend nearly $1 million over the next five years at the park for capital improvements. The improvements will include the demolition of the bungalows occupied by the social service organizations, he said.
"Right now, you drive past the place and it doesn't look like a park," Kraus said. "It looks like a collection of old buildings."
Pete Sly, a planner with the Interior Department's National Parks Service, said the agency believes it has been "pretty lenient" in allowing the three social service organizations to remain at the park for as long as they have. He said the agency initially told the city that the organizations would have to leave by July 1, but extended that deadline to give them more time to find another place.
"We feel bad because the buildings are what you might call a convenient nuisance," Sly said. "There are all kinds of worthy groups that need facilities, but we are really restricted."
"In the past you might say we have worn the white hats because we are a park and recreation agency and generally do things that benefit the public," Sly added. "But now all of a sudden we are wearing a black hat by telling these worthwhile social service organizations they can't stay."
Officials at the three evicted organizations said they are grateful that the city has allowed them to use the bungalows rent-free because they operate on small budgets derived from grants and donations.