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Baseball League Scores City Hall Victory Over Sylmar Foes


A favorable call by a city planning committee gave the Sylmar Independent Baseball League a late-inning victory in a long-running grudge series Tuesday, turning back a rally by neighbors to revoke the league's operating permit.

The city's planning and land-use management committee, in an unusual turnabout, not only spared the league's baseball fields but allowed its activities there to grow. The committee agreed to allow the league to extend the end of its season from Aug. 15 to Sept. 30, as well as retroactively authorizing the league to have a ninth diamond--already built--on the 22-acre complex, even though the city had previously granted permission for only eight.

"I support Little League," said Los Angeles City Councilman Hal Bernson, who also serves as chairman of the three-member committee. "But you have to be good neighbors," he warned them.

The private, nonprofit league, commonly referred to as Little League though not a part of that national organization, was facing an uphill battle earlier this year. The league signs up about 1,000 boys and girls between age 5 and 17 each season.

The city's Board of Zoning Appeals in December had declared the league a public nuisance for violating conditions the city Planning Department established in 1988 in return for permission to operate the baseball fields.

Neighbors last season had complained to city officials that fans and players made too much noise, failed to observe parking restrictions and had built a ninth baseball diamond without permission. It was the latest action in three years of conflict between the league and residents of the area.

City inspectors in a report last fall sided with neighbors. The league failed to play by the rules, according to inspectors, and league officials were ordered to appear before the zoning board. The violations could have been the end of the game for the 35-year-old league, which moved to its current site three years ago.

The Sylmar league drew strong support at the board hearing, with boosters saying the benefit to youngsters outweighed any inconvenience caused neighbors.

But they were no match for city inspectors who kept a detailed score card of city permit violations.

League officials then appealed the board's decision, mounting an aggressive offensive campaign. They hired an attorney and met with neighbors to give assurances that they would play fair and square.

"The neighborhood is hopeful that things will continue to improve," said Michael Thoreson, a neighbor whose family had previously been one of the league's toughest opponents.

Switching teams, he turned out as a fan at Tuesday's City Hall hearing, joining a friendly crowd of youth league rooters.

Councilman Bernson, who represents the northwestern San Fernando Valley, said he strongly supports the league because "it keeps kids off the streets, rather then them being involved with gangs."

Councilman Ernani Bernardi, who represents the area where the ball diamonds are situated, sent his chief deputy, David Mays, to give a pitch on behalf of the league.

"I like to say that it keeps 200 adults off the street and out of trouble," as well as benefiting youngsters, Mays joked.

But Bernson warned that city inspectors would continue to keep close watch over play at the baseball complex at 12700 Gridley St., especially to monitor complaints that parents and other spectators take up all the street parking spaces in the neighborhood.

"We want the cars to stay out of the neighborhood," Bernson said.

Sylmar baseball spokesman Dick Jackson said the league has just finished paving a parking lot, at a cost of $25,000, so it can comply with the city rules.

"I love it," said Jackson of the City Hall victory.

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