SAN PEDRO — To city and Air Force negotiators, Martin J. Bogdanovich Recreation Center is the linchpin of a fragile agreement that would allow more military housing here while preserving land for an oceanfront state park.
To hundreds of children who play soccer at the center, to football players from Mary Star of the Sea High School who practice there, and to relatives and associates of its namesake, the 22-acre park is a lot more.
Several dozen children and parents held a demonstration at the park last weekend in an attempt to persuade Los Angeles City Councilwoman Joan Milke Flores, who represents San Pedro, to back out of a "conceptual" agreement with the Air Force that calls for military housing at the park.
The park, dedicated in 1983, was named after the founder of Star-Kist Foods, a longtime San Pedro resident and community activist who died in 1944. The city used about $420,000 in state funds to landscape the park and help construct baseball and soccer fields, but large portions of the park remain undeveloped.
The city and the Air Force, who are still haggling over details of the agreement, settled on the Bogdanovich site in July after the city objected to Air Force plans to build 170 homes at nearby White Point Park, which the city hopes to spare for a state park.
The Air Force has rights to take land "in the national interest" at both parks, since they once belonged to the Department of Defense and were turned over to the city under the condition that they could be reclaimed. The Air Force has invoked the "national interest" provision in its quest for housing, saying it needs to provide shelter for officers assigned to its space division in El Segundo.
Under the conceptual agreement, the Air Force would split the housing between the two parks--90 homes at Bogdanovich and 80 at White Point. The plan would eliminate Bogdanovich park, but state park officials say the smaller development at White Point would leave 100 acres there that could still be developed as a state park.
In recent weeks, the two sides have reached an impasse on how White Point should be carved up and where the boundary between housing and the park should lie. Bernie Evans, chief deputy to Flores, said this week that he is optimistic that the two sides can work out their differences this month. But if the conceptual agreement collapses, the Air Force has said it will return to its original plan to build all the homes at White Point and leave Bogdanovich untouched.
"We would still prefer to build on one site," said Larry Hannon, an Air Force spokesman, emphasizing that it was the city's idea, not the Air Force's, to throw Bogdanovich park into the negotiations.
But residents opposed to the agreement are not counting on a breakdown in negotiations between the city and Air Force to save their park. Opponents have collected hundreds of signatures on a petition opposing the agreement, written letters to various elected officials, and threatened to picket Flores' home in the South Shores area of San Pedro.
"We believe she is doing what she is doing under the wrong assumption that not too many people are upset about this," said Stan Denis, who lives near the park. "We want her to see that a significant portion of this community wants to save Bogdanovich park."
Evans said that Flores is aware of opposition to the agreement, but said the councilwoman believes the agreement is the best deal the city could get with the Air Force. Protests notwithstanding, Flores is committed to the compromise, he said.
In an effort to dramatize their cause and to ensure an audience, protesters assembled at Bogdanovich park last Saturday--the first day of the American Youth Soccer Organization's season. Bob Bryant, regional commissioner for the soccer group and an organizer of the protest, said about 1,300 children play at the park each season.
Flores has promised to relocate the soccer field, probably to an undeveloped portion of the county-owned Friendship Park on Western Avenue near 9th Street. The cost of the move, estimated to be $200,000, would be picked up by the city, and Flores has guaranteed that the Bogdanovich field would not be closed until the new field is open.
But Bryant and others say that is not enough.
"It will be a cold day in August when politicians who turn their backs on kids get reelected," said Bryant, who accused Flores of forcing the children of San Pedro to bear the brunt of the settlement with the Air Force. "We are not talking only about the soccer field. We are talking about losing an entire park."
Several community leagues play at the park, and the 65 members of the Mary Star varsity and junior varsity football teams practice there. The coach of the teams, which were working out at the the park during the demonstration, said the teams will be forced to practice outside San Pedro if the park is turned over to the Air Force.