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Around the Foothills

For Griffith Park, there has been a shift in a happier direction.

May 26, 1988|DOUG SMITH

At the south end of Chevy Chase Drive, past the railroad tracks, a few homes and graffiti-splattered walls, the La Azteca Tortilleria and the abandoned plant of the Diamond H Fence Co., stands a guard gate. Beyond that is a small complex of city offices.

Outside, a mildly cryptic sign in the parking lot reads: "The 20th Hole."

In golf, of course, the "19th Hole" is the country club, where golfers retire for post-game drinks and repartee after completing the real 18 holes.

Though its imagery may not be so clear, the "20th Hole" has a literal meaning. It designates the parking spot of Shelden Jensen, the new man at the top in Griffith Park.

Jensen, who makes no secret of his pleasure in the game of golf, got the sign several years ago as a gift from the maintenance crew of Griffith Park when he was assigned to the out-of-the-way office building beside the Los Angeles River as head of the department's Metro Division.

In those days, it was not a particularly upbeat duty.

The worst of influences were bearing down on city parks--strained budgets, shrinking park services, rising gang violence, graffiti, drug use.

This may be too early to announce that the tide has turned, but for Jensen, and Griffith Park, there has definitely been a shift in a happier direction.

In a reorganization put into effect last week, the 3,761-acre park, including the Observatory, the Greek Theatre, the Zoo, Travel Town and the soon-to-be completed Gene Autry Museum, was split into a separate division of the department, equal with the existing Valley, Pacific and Metro divisions.

Jensen was named to head the new division. The assignment, he said, came with a commitment from General Manager James Hadaway that the money will be provided to make up for past neglect.

"Now that it's a separate, independent division, we can start addressing the little problems that have been nagging us," he said.

In his first week, Jensen was already out drawing up his list of improvements.

Dressed in gray slacks and a maroon Recreation and Parks Department golf sweater, the tall, handsomely graying Jensen gave me a private driving tour to show what he had found.

Aptly, it began on the golf courses where Jensen had already been that morning to play a round after first checking into work a couple of hours early.

One of the fairways was cut up with trenches for a new watering system that will eventually be extended to all four courses.

The construction has been a problem, closing the course on weekends, which frustrates golfers and cuts the city's revenue, Jensen said. He said he intends to have that corrected soon.

Moving on, Jensen pointed out the crumbling white wood railing on one of the park's many bridle trails.

"Our railings are so shot and beat up that we're going to have to start a program to replace them."

The irrigation system that keeps the park green is in similar disrepair, he said. A consulting firm has been hired to find out how to rescue it.

Eventually, the entire system will be rebuilt. Instead of drawing on potable water, as it does now, the new system will draw reclaimed water from the joint Los Angeles/Glendale sewage treatment plant next to the park headquarters. Then, even in a drought, the park will not want for water.

Jensen abruptly stopped his car beside a roadway sign that was defaced with the scrawl of spray paint.

He took a plastic bottle from his trunk and squirted a clear liquid on the sign.

The graffiti began to melt away.

"It's a new product from Australia," he said, wiping with a cloth.

Jensen scowled when it also wiped the sign down to bare aluminum.

Park security is sadly thin right now, he said. The department has 25 mounted ranger positions budgeted, but only 12 rangers on staff. Hiring has been suspended while the department is working to have the rangers upgraded to the status of peace officers. Hiring should be resumed this summer, Jensen said.

Other improvements either now under way or on Jensen's list included the resurfacing of parking lots that are faded and punctured by sprouts of grass, the construction of mounds to buffer picnic areas along the Golden State Freeway, the rehabilitation of Fern Dell and the development of a waterfall system in the old Los Angeles Zoo.

Jensen reminisced about his own visits to that zoo, before it was closed in 1961.

Now, the canyon has been converted into a series of picnic grottos.

"You can actually sit in an old bear grotto among the rocks and have a picnic," Jensen said.

As Jensen pulled back into the 20th Hole, he mentioned that he had noticed just that morning a couple of small problems out on the fairways. He said he brought them up at the morning staff meeting.

They'll get quick attention.

As for the meaning of the 20th Hole, it may take time to reveal itself.

For the present, it seems to be the mark of someone who's found the right grotto.

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