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Gunfire at Park Prompts Closure of Basketball Court : Safety: Homeowners complain about 'non-residents' causing trouble. But others say curbing recreation will not control crime in Torrance, and oppose shutting it.

May 30, 1993|ANTHONY MILLICAN | TIMES STAFF WRITER

After a shooting at Columbia Regional Park last weekend, Torrance officials have taken the unusual step of closing the park's basketball court and removing the hoops.

Homeowners near the park have long complained about "non-residents" using the court and causing trouble. But local basketball players, many of them Torrance residents, are criticizing the move, saying that curbing recreation is not the way to fight crime.

"I've played down there before and I've never had trouble," said Kerry Gerber, who was shooting baskets Friday at nearby Delthorne Park. "All it's going to do is cause more problems for other courts."

The closure comes as part of an effort by the city to improve security at Columbia Regional Park for the Memorial Day weekend. Besides closing the basketball court, the city has beefed up police patrols at the park.

Two people were injured last Saturday when a suspected gang member began firing indiscriminately into a crowd at the park. Members of two gangs were arguing about a car accident in a parking lot, police said. They flashed gang hand signs at each other and started a fistfight, police said. One of the men grabbed a handgun from a car and fired.

The two shooting victims--Rafaela Ramos, 33, of Carson and Martin Gonzales, 32, of Moreno Valley--were celebrating a religious event with family members in the park and were not part of the brawl, according to police.

The victims were taken to Harbor-UCLA Medical Center and treated for minor wounds. They have since been released.

The shooting prompted parks and recreation officials last Sunday to remove the basketball rims and padlock the entry to the Columbia Regional Park court, which is surrounded by a chain-link fence. The fence is intended to prevent basketballs from rolling into the adjacent parking lot, city officials say.

It is unclear how long the court will be closed. Acting on a request by the City Council on Tuesday, parks and recreation officials are considering options that include moving the court to a less-accessible area of the park or closing it permanently. They plan to report to the council in the next few weeks.

At Tuesday's council meeting, council members said that since the shooting, many residents wonder whether Columbia Park is safe.

"I got a phone call (Monday) from a lady and the first thing she says to me is, 'Where do I take my grandchild now?' " said Councilman Bill Applegate. "That was in response to something I had said on my campaign stump. . . . I've always told people that everything else doesn't make any difference--how good the libraries are, how good anything else is in the city--if you can't walk out your door, if you can't go to the park with your child or grandchild."

Councilwoman Maureen O'Donnell said the city might have to consider "restricting the use of our parks in some way." She said fencing off the park and allowing only residents to enter might not be a bad idea for Torrance.

Other council members questioned the feasibility of such a move.

Basketball enthusiasts say the city has already gone too far by closing the court--even if only temporarily. The move "sends a message that the park's not safe anymore," said John Youk, 19, a UC Berkeley student and Torrance resident. "Personally, I don't like it."

Neither does Ricky Burden, a Gardena resident. He said he frequently plays basketball at Columbia Regional Park and stopped there Friday with a friend, LaTasha James, to find it closed.

"I thought it was closed because someone dunked and broke the rim," said Burden, 26. "What are they going to do at other parks if there's trouble, close them down? That's wrong."

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