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Budget Deficit Solution Is No Day in the Park

April 22, 1993|RICHARD WINTON | TIMES STAFF WRITER

THE REGION — A Little Leaguer scrambles for home plate as his parents roar their support from the bleachers at Crescenta Valley Community Regional County Park. Nearby, a family munches on sandwiches at a picnic table and children dash after a soccer ball.

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

The 33-acre park in Glendale and La Crescenta's 8.7-acre Two Strike County Park are among 72 of 99 county parks that may close 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.

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

"Basically, we can't maintain the parks with 288 fewer staff," county parks department spokeswoman Sheila Ortega said. "We've no more fat to cut."

The county would remove playground equipment and picnic tables, board up the buildings and erect fences around the parks and then let nature take its course, Ortega said.

"If they close the park, where are people going to go?" said Milton McCollough, who lives across the street from Crescenta Valley Community Regional County Park and takes in an occasional ballgame there.

"High schools use it for cross-country running events, the Boy Scouts use it for camp-outs and there are fairs in the park," he said.

"People are going ape over the possibility the park may close," said Betty Fitzgerald, a Chamber of Commerce volunteer who has fielded more than a dozen phone calls from angry residents.

The park, at 3901 New York Ave., has a community building, picnic area and lighted ball field. Shutting the park would save the county $113,721 a year, county officials say.

It and Two Strike County Park are the only parks in the La Crescenta-Montrose area.

The county pays $31,628 per year to run the baseball field, a children's playground and basketball and volleyball courts at Two Strike County Park.

"This community cannot get along without these two parks," said Sharon Beauchamp of La Crescenta, a member of the Glendale Board of Education. "That's where the Little League plays. Crescenta Valley is where the Easter egg hunt is."

Beauchamp and other residents have protested the possible park closures to County Supervisor Michael D. Antonovich. Aide Peter Whittingham said Antonovich plans to conduct hearings in the district on the parks and other proposed county budget cutbacks.

Cities may be able to save their parks by purchasing them, annexing the property or leasing them from the county, said Jeff Wheeler, a county parks official.

But Glendale Mayor Larry Zarian said the city is as cash-strapped as the county. The city is facing a $6-million budget shortfall and cannot afford to take on the park, he said.

Nello Iacano, city director of Parks, Recreation and Community Services, said the parks budget was slashed last year and faces further cuts this year.

"We're having a significant problem maintaining the parks we have. . . . I don't see we can take on the responsibility for a park that size."

But unincorporated communities such as La Crescenta do not have the option of taking over their parks because they do not have a city government or budget.

Margaret Klug, chairwoman of the La Crescenta Town Council, said the council will lobby county supervisors to keep the two parks open.

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

Parks officials say the county's 18 golf courses will not be closed because they produce revenue.

A $540-million parks assessment initiative for park and trail improvement that passed with 64% of the vote in November will not save the parks, Ortega said.

She said the money from the initiative is for major renovations of parks in bad shape or new buildings, not for routine maintenance and operations.

The county parks department will have a community meeting on possible county parks closures at Crescenta Valley Community Regional Park, 3901 New York Ave., at 7 p.m. on Wednesday.

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