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Baldwin Hills Park Funds in Jeopardy

June 05, 1988|DEAN MURPHY | Times Staff Writer

SACRAMENTO — Los Angeles County is on the verge of losing $3 million in state funds needed to expand Baldwin Hills State Recreation Area because of a struggle in the Legislature over how to spend the money.

Assemblywoman Gwen Moore (D-Los Angeles) and Sen. Diane Watson (D-Los Angeles), both of whom represent the Baldwin Hills area, said they will fight to keep the money this week when the Assembly and Senate try to resolve their differences over the proposed 1988-89 budget.

"The money was appropriated for acquisition of land in Baldwin Hills park, and it seems to me to be unfair to take it away now," Moore said last week. "I am going to continue to fight. . . . I am getting that money."

In his proposed budget, Gov. George Deukmejian has recommended against using the money at Baldwin Hills, and the Senate budget committee, over Watson's objections, voted last week to divert most of it to Old Town San Diego State Historic Park.

But Moore was able to persuade the Assembly budget committee to designate the money for Baldwin Hills, meaning the fate of the expenditure will be determined this week when the two houses try to put together a compromise budget.

Sen. Jim Ellis (R-San Diego), a member of the budget subcommittee that recommended $2.75 million of the money go to Old Town, said the money is desperately needed there.

The money would be used to buy two small parcels virtually surrounded by the park, one of which is slated for a hotel development, state parks officials said. The property is currently being leased by two pottery-making companies.

"The land has been sold to some Japanese interests who want to build a high-rise hotel on the land," Ellis said. "That is why it has become somewhat of an immediate concern. If the property owner wanted to leave the pottery people on the land, we probably wouldn't have done anything."

The $3 million was appropriated to Los Angeles County last year to buy 27 acres along La Cienega Boulevard next to the Baldwin Hills park. But the land was too expensive because of its prime location and its oil wells, state and county officials said. For $3 million, the officials said, they would have been able to afford just five acres.

Purchase Canceled

After the county and state parks departments agreed to abandon the purchase, the county requested that the money be used to buy a separate 40-acre parcel near West Los Angeles College that is west of La Cienega and isolated from the rest of the park. State parks officials balked, and the governor's proposed 1988-89 budget calls for the money to revert to the state.

County officials insist that they are entitled to the money because it is part of $10 million they say was promised the park in 1984 when the state floated $370 million in bonds for park-related purposes.

Jim Park, head park planner for the county, said the county has received only $3.5 million of the $10 million, and with the 1984 fund nearly depleted, he predicted this year is the county's last chance to get more of the money.

"If we don't get at least the $3 million, we are treading water and not meeting the need down there," Park said. "We can't handle the crowds. We need more land so we can provide for public use."

Baldwin Hills State Recreation Area, formerly a county regional park, has been overflowing with visitors ever since it opened in November, 1983. On busy weekends, county officials have to close the park to additional visitors because of overcrowding.

Visitors Turned Away

On Memorial Day, for example, the county started turning away visitors at 1 p.m. A park safety officer estimated that more than 65,000 people visited the park over the three-day weekend.

The park contains fishing lakes, hiking trails, picnic areas and an archery range. It offers magnificent views of the Los Angeles Basin, including the beach areas, the San Gabriel Mountains, Santa Catalina Island and downtown Los Angeles.

Supervisor Kenneth Hahn led the drive to create the recreation area from land around the site of Baldwin Hills Dam, which broke in the 1960s, and there is a bill in the Legislature that would rename the park after Hahn. The state has turned the park over to the county to maintain.

The 318-acre park has grown over the years, with the state and county adding parcels as money became available. State and county officials hope the park will eventually grow to 1,300 acres, which would include the vast area of Baldwin Hills now dotted with oil wells.

The state paid $8.3 million several years ago for a 78-acre parcel along a southern ridge of the park west of La Brea Avenue, near Stocker Street. Both the Senate and Assembly versions of the 1988-89 budget include $1 million to develop the ridge area with picnic tables and other public facilities. That money is not part of the dispute in the Legislature.

Great Demand for Park

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