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Blind Youngsters' Plans for Lake Trip Hit Rough Water : Finances: County's demand for $500 fee almost sinks water-skiing outing. But there's still a ripple of hope.

August 03, 1993|HUGO MARTIN | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Who would be so brazen as to ask a group of volunteers to pay more than $500 in fees to take a few blind youngsters for a day of water-skiing at Castaic Lake?

If you guessed cash-starved Los Angeles County, you're right.

The Van Nuys Airport Optimist Club was charged the fees last month as it made plans to take about a dozen youths from the Braille Institute for a day on the lake--just as it had almost every summer for 11 years.

But this was the first time the group had encountered the rental fees--initiated last year--for a "special events cove" at the sprawling lake. The charges, imposed to make up for budget shortfalls, were too much for the nonprofit group, which postponed its July 28 outing and appealed to the county for leniency.

"We've been doing it year after year and we never paid a fee," said John Romano, who organized the outing. "What is the purpose of having a recreational facility if it's not for the youth?"

The water-skiing trip is one of several events organized for the Braille Institute's summer day camp, which teaches blind youngsters to conquer fear through such adrenaline-pumping activities as swimming, rock climbing and surfing.

For years, the Optimist Club has donated the items needed for the event at the lake, from the boats, fuel and water-skiing equipment to the hot dogs and drinks.

A July 23 letter from the county Department of Parks and Recreation asked that the group pay a $500 fee for use of private cove and provide a $1-million insurance policy, in addition to paying $43 an hour for a lifeguard.

Romano said the insurance policy was no problem because the Braille Institute has its own coverage. And the lifeguard is not needed, he insisted, because the institute staff is trained in water safety.

The problem was the $500 fee.

Brian Roney, assistant superintendent for the Castaic Lake Recreation Area and author of the letter, said the fees are needed to pay for additional lifeguards and other staff at the lake.

But there is still hope for the young water-skiers. Supervisor Mike Antonovich has promised to ask the board of supervisors next week to waive the fees. If that happens, the group plans to have the event Aug 18.

And if other nonprofit groups want to use the cove, Antonovich aide Peter Whittingham said, the supervisors will consider waiving fees for them as well. "There is no problem," Whittingham said.

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