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Soccer May Get Kick in the Shins : History: If Will Rogers didn't play a sport, the park that bears his name may not allow it under a new general plan being developed. Soccer organizers are not happy with that idea.

November 01, 1990|KENNETH J. GARCIA | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Youth soccer may take it on the shins at Will Rogers State Historic Park next year. Softball has already been thrown out. Frisbee flying shot down.

Things might be different had the famed American humorist had access to a flying disc when he lived on the Pacific Palisades site from 1927 to 1935. But since the Frisbee wasn't invented until decades after Rogers' death and softball was hardly a popular pastime, they have no place at the 186-acre park. And now youth soccer may be on the casualty list.

State Park and Recreation Department officials are working on a general plan that would transform the area into a living memorial to Will Rogers, including adding a visitors center and even planting vegetation that existed when Rogers lived at the ranch.

At a meeting attended by nearly 250 miffed community residents Tuesday night, park officials said activities not in keeping with Will Rogers' lifestyle could be eliminated.

That is, unless a majority of local residents get their way.

"It is absolutely inconceivable to me that the state would consider taking this away," said Rick Ruud, regional commission of the American Youth Soccer Organization, which pays to use the park 12 Saturdays each year. "If this plan is enacted, it would have a disastrous effect on our program and our community."

Ruud said that if soccer is banned at the park, nearly 350 children, one-third of the total involved in the AYSO program in the Malibu, Topanga, Brentwood and Pacific Palisades area, would be stuck without a place to play. He said that since four other public parks near the park are already used by soccer teams, there is no other available space suitable for the sport in the area.

But soccer enthusiasts were not the only people taking aim at state planners Tuesday night, during the often rancorous three-hour meeting at Pacific Palisades High School.

Homeowners living near the park attacked the plan, saying proposal to build a parking lot near their houses would create security, noise and fire problems. They also objected to the planned destruction of the ranger huts on the site, saying that the housing guarantees 24-hour patrols of the park.

"We specifically object to tearing down the ranger huts because they serve as a buffer between our homes and the park," said John Niles, president of the Will Rogers Homeowners Assn. "We think it's just terrific to have rangers living in the park."

Even some historians objected to the plan, saying that it does not do enough to honor Will Rogers.

Daniel Preece, district superintendent for the Santa Monica Mountains District, tried to quell residents' fears about the changes, saying the document is far from being final. However, he declined to answer specific questions, such as the size of the proposed visitors center, saying it is too early in the planning stage. The draft of the general plan is expected to be completed next March.

"We are not here to push for any part of the plan," he said. "But I don't know of any plan that specifically says we are going to do away with soccer."

However, Preece acknowledged that the state wants to restrict activities that would interfere with historical pursuits at the park. He said state planners agree that organized sports might not be consistent with the nature of the park, but that doesn't rule out special event permits for some activities.

"For us, it's more a matter of trying to orchestrate a number of uses at the park," Preece said. "Generally, our guideline is that we like to allow people to enjoy the park in the way that they see fit unless they are in some way destroying the park."

Some current activities, such as polo, other equestrian activities, hiking and nature study will continue under any future plan, state planners say, because Will Rogers enjoyed those pursuits. Park rangers say that the area's historic designation makes it more restrictive than most state parks and that they are required under a 1944 deed to make Will Rogers' life the focal point of the site.

However, community residents contend that the humorist's hobbies and their favorite activities are not mutually exclusive.

"I'm sure if (Will Rogers) were alive today, he'd allow kids to play soccer on Saturday mornings," parent Jimmy Rogers said. "I don't know exactly what he'd say, but it would probably be something like, 'If it ain't broke, don't fix it.' "

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