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25 Valley Parks May Be Closed : Budget: County drafts list for worst-case-scenario cutbacks to help make up a projected $1.16-million deficit.

April 08, 1993|RICHARD WINTON | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

SAN GABRIEL VALLEY — Two dozen lawn bowlers play on the sun-soaked green at a county park in the heart of Arcadia as tennis players trade volleys on nearby courts and joggers dodge baby strollers.

But they all will have to go elsewhere if the county goes ahead with plans to drastically cut its parks budget.

The 37-acre Arcadia County Park is one of 25 parks Los Angeles County may close in the San Gabriel Valley, along with a public swimming pool and Eaton Canyon wilderness park, to help make up a projected $1.16-million county budget deficit.

The county's Department of Parks and Recreation has drawn up a list of potential cuts as part of a worst-case-scenario budget for 1993-94 that is 25% smaller than this year's budget. Of the county's 99 parks, 72 would be closed, more than a third of them in the San Gabriel Valley.

In addition to the park closures, the proposed parks budget would save the county $15.4 million by shutting down 24 of 33 public pools, closing two of three county park beaches, eliminating community outreach programs and laying off 288 employees.

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"Basically, we can't maintain the parks with 288 fewer staff," said one county parks and recreation official. "We've no more fat to cut."

The county would remove playground equipment and picnic tables, board up buildings and erect fences around the parks, and then let nature take its course, said Sheila Ortega, county parks spokeswoman. Other parks on the closure list are 15-acre Farnsworth Park near the end of Lake Avenue in Altadena, the 12.5-acre Charter Oak Park near Covina and Hacienda Heights' 12-acre Manzanita Park.

"Where else are we going to go?" said Dan Apuzzo, a Santa Anita Bowling Club member who frequents the Arcadia park. "We've got almost 200 members and they're out here every day. Many of them are retired. Bowling provides them with good exercise."

"Hundreds of picnickers use it on the weekends," lamented former Arcadia Mayor Frank Khanchalian, who was taking a stroll.

"It is a sad day when they consider closing the parks," added John Portis, Khanchalian's friend.

The Arcadia park, at 405 S. Santa Anita Ave., has a senior citizens center, lawn bowling greens, tennis courts, baseball fields and an Olympic-size swimming pool. Shutting the park would save the county $196,283 a year, county officials said.

Closure of the pool, which accommodates up to 400 people free of charge daily and where swimming lessons are available, would leave Altadena's Loma Alta Park pool as the only county pool in the San Gabriel Valley.

Loma Alta Park may also be the only park for the 40,000 residents of Altadena, because Farnsworth Park and the smaller Charles White Park are listed for closure.

The county pays $114,000 a year to operate lighted ball fields, an amphitheater, a community center, a playground and a picnic area in Farnsworth Park. A physical fitness gym was opened in January.

County parks officials say the San Gabriel Valley would take a heavy hit compared to other areas because the valley has a relatively large amount of unincorporated territory.

Covina Mayor Henry Morgan has another explanation: "They're probably saying our cities will take over the parks."

Morgan and other city officials in the San Gabriel Valley say they are scrambling to plug budget shortfalls of their own and cannot afford to pick up the parks tab from the county.

Jeff Wheeler, north regional operations manager for county parks, said cities may be able to purchase a park, annex it to the city or lease it from the county.

Arcadia Mayor George Fasching said his city will consider taking over Arcadia County Park. Although Arcadia is facing a budget shortfall because the state is taking a bigger share of property tax revenue this year, Fasching vowed to find a way to save the park.

"Something has to be done to keep the park open," he said.

Morgan said Covina would consider assuming control of Charter Oak Park if funding can be found. Charter Oak costs the county $83,114 a year to operate.

"We should have more park space in Covina given our population. . . . The question is can we afford it," he said.

That option is not available to unincorporated communities like Altadena that do not have a city government.

Kathy Klomburg, Town Council chairwoman, said Altadena residents are outraged that two local parks might close.

"Kids need places to go, and there are a lot of kids in Altadena. I can't believe they are going to leave us with one park," she said.

She said the community will carry the fight for its parks to the County Board of Supervisors.

Pasadena already has agreed to take back 53-acre Oak Grove Park in northwest Pasadena, known for its disc golf course, at the end of its 25-year lease to the county in September, said Bob Baderian, city director of parks.

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