The debate over White Point Park intensified last week, when sentiment at a public hearing in San Pedro ran more than 2 to 1 in favor of developing a city-operated youth sports complex rather than a state park at the former Nike missile site.
The 50 speakers were so impassioned at the Wednesday night hearing that some residents and an aide to Councilwoman Joan Milke Flores suggested that a special election might be needed. The harbor-area councilwoman has pledged to follow residents' wishes in making her recommendations to the City Council, whose decision must be approved by Mayor Tom Bradley.
The hearing, conducted by the White Point Citizens Advisory Committee, was colored by the resignation earlier in the week of committee member Michael Lansing, the chief advocate for building youth recreational fields at the site. Lansing had complained that the 14-member committee, which was appointed by Flores and Bradley, is a "stacked deck" whose "credibility . . . is somewhat tarnished."
Lansing, who is athletic director of Mary Star of the Sea High School in San Pedro, also called for the resignation of three committee members who publicly favor a state park and nature preserve, saying the committee should be neutral.
The three--Ken Malloy, Goldie Otters and Greg Smith--showed no indications of quitting. Said Malloy: "I have no intention of resigning. If he wants to resign, that's his business."
About 350 people came to the Peck Park Community Center for the emotional hearing, which lasted three hours. Many residents, apparently eager to show their loyalties, arrived in soccer and baseball uniforms. And whether they were at the microphone or not, they were not afraid to express their views.
When a young man in a blue suit and tie branded those who favored a sports complex "a narrow . . . special interest," he was summarily booed, prompting committee chairman Jerry Gaines to ask the crowd to be courteous.
When a woman chastised the "environmental dilettantes" and declared that a complex of sports fields would be better than "a handful of campers, picnickers and bird watchers," she was among the many speakers on both sides of the issue who were treated to a round of applause.
In the audience sat Flores aides Mario Juravich and Ann D'Amato, each keeping a running tally of who spoke in favor of what. Depending on how they interpreted the comments, the count was 26 in favor of the sports complex vs. 11 for the state park (Juravich), or 18 for the sports complex vs. 6 for the state park, with another 6 favoring a compromise (D'Amato).
The committee, drawing cards from a box, initially picked 40 people to speak and limited them to three minutes apiece. About 50 spoke, however.
Committee vice chairman Bill Busby was the timer. He sat in front, with a clock and two sheets of construction paper--one white and one red. The white flag went up at 30 seconds to go. The red flag went up at the buzzer.
The debate, in part, went like this:
Rebecca Gill, spokeswoman for Assemblyman Dave Elder (D-Long Beach), who favors athletic facilities: "We must meet this unmet need so that more children can grow into healthy men and women."
Art Almeida, president of the San Pedro Bay Historical Society: "That land is open land from the cradle to the grave--for everybody. I thought what kids still like to do is chase butterflies and lizards through the open country--not just be strait-jacketed by athletic uniforms to be some idea of what their parents think they should be."
Michael Lansing, the committee member who resigned: "The kids are endangered, not butterflies and lizards."
Selma Hunter, retired schoolteacher: "If you build adequate sports facilities for our young people now, you won't have to build prisons for them when they're adults."
D'Amato, in interviews after the hearing and on Thursday, said that while Flores expects the committee's recommendation to reflect the sentiment of a majority of the community, the possibility of a special election is "a serious consideration."
She said only San Pedro residents would vote in such an election.
However, Gaines said the issues are too complex to be decided by a vote. Although he stopped short of saying that the committee will base its decision solely on what the majority of residents want, he did say community opinion will be a factor.
"I just don't believe that the committee is so independently thickheaded that it's not going to take into account the sentiments of the community," he said.
Wednesday night's hearing marked the beginning of the committee's deliberations, which will likely last several months. The panel will then make a recommendation to Flores, who will bring the issue before the City Council.
Last month, the committee published a 78-page study about White Point Park, which outlined, among other things, the history and geology of the vacant 102-acre parcel that overlooks the Pacific.