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A Vote for Restoring County Parks for the Children : Prop. B: Los Angeles youngsters, oldsters and in-betweens need room to relax, but recreation areas too often are unsafe or unusable.

October 21, 1990|Peter Ueberroth and Rafer Johnson | Peter Ueberroth, former major league baseball commissioner, was president of the Los Angeles Olympic Organizing Committee for the 1984 games. Rafer Johnson, gold-medal winner in the decathlon in 1960, is president of the state Special Olympics

When we were growing up, we spent weekends and every day after school in the vacant lot down the street or in the neighborhood park a few blocks away, throwing a football, playing baseball, catch, tag or maybe just fooling around. We spent our free time outside running around on green grass, playing the games that all kids everywhere play. Many a professional athlete has gotten his or her start in the neighborhood pick-up baseball game, the community gym's basketball court or the local public pool.

But today in Los Angeles, children don't get this chance. Here, our children have taken to the streets--and to much more deadly games. Instead of green parks, our children play in concrete jungles. Far too many of our parks have become playgrounds for gangs or are labeled "dead" because they are in such bad shape that they are unsafe and unusable. Senior citizens are afraid to take a daytime stroll, and parents don't even feel safe enough to take their families out on a Sunday picnic.

There is no doubt that Los Angeles County's continued population growth, traffic and urban congestion are eroding our quality of life. As these problems only continue to get worse, we are faced with one very clear reality: We must take steps to protect the natural resources that make Los Angeles a good place in which to live, work and raise our families. Green parks, sports facilities, beautiful and accessible beaches and pristine mountains and canyons are all vital to our quality of life.

Today, we do have an opportunity to reverse the destruction of our parks and last remaining open space.

Proposition B, the Los Angeles County Safe Neighborhood Parks Act on the November county ballot, provides funds to make our parks safer, restore and expand our local neighborhood parks, build more ball fields, gyms, pools, sports facilities and senior recreation centers, protect our mountains and canyons, plant trees and restore our beaches.

If Proposition B is approved by Los Angeles County voters, it would provide $816 million for parks and recreation throughout Los Angeles County. Proposition B would reduce the attractiveness of gangs by providing recreation alternatives for our youth, keeping kids off the streets and giving them something positive to do. And Proposition B would help clean up our foul air by financing tree planting in urban areas all over the county.

But we already have a lot of parks, you say. Not enough to keep hundreds of people from being turned away on busy weekends at the Kenneth Hahn Recreation Area in the Baldwin Hills. Even with a 300-acre park, there often isn't enough room for everybody who wants a place to take their families and relax without stumbling over somebody else who's trying to do the same thing.

Sometimes it seems as if everyone in Southern California has gone out to run. Growing numbers of our children and adults are turning to baseball, soccer, football, basketball or tennis for recreation and exercise.

But Little League, soccer, football teams and other organized-sports users are regularly turned away from parks all over Los Angeles County because there simply isn't space; in many of our urban parks in Los Angeles, gyms have been closed because they aren't safe to use.

Proposition B would have an impact on all of us, wherever we live. The measure targets specific areas of the county where funds are most needed, and includes more than 80 projects. Here are some examples:

--San Fernando Valley: Create new ball fields, recreation sites and restore wildlife habitat in Sepulveda Basin, as well as a lake for swimming at Hansen Dam.

--Covina to Long Beach: Provide parks, sports facilities, ball fields and picnic sites.

--Palmdale, Lancaster and Santa Clarita: Construct new sports facilities to serve this park-poor community.

--Pasadena and Glendale: Restore Devil's Gate, the Arroyo Seco and build ball fields and sports facilities.

--South-Central and East Los Angeles, San Pedro: Restore over 100 "dying" or "dead" urban parks that serve more than two million people.

--Claremont, Whittier, the Santa Monica Mountains: Protect our mountains and canyons.

--South Bay and coast: Improve our beaches and piers and add more public access all along our 65-mile coast.

--Palos Verdes Peninsula: Preserve the sweeping vistas and natural lands that make this area unique to Los Angeles.

If we don't act now, we may not have another chance. Children don't wait for politicians to act; they need parks and playgrounds now so that they will grow into healthy adults.

We are failing our young people if we cannot provide them with even the most basic sports and recreation opportunities, and if we cannot assure them the quality of life that we had when we were growing up.

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