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A Dust-Up Over Sand Dune

Recreation: Manhattan Beach neighbors call for new limits, saying park is too popular with outsiders who make noise and leave trash.


For more than 40 years, Sand Dune Park has been a popular, fun-loving neighbor to residents of Manhattan Beach.

But lately, it has been entertaining hundreds of loud guests at odd hours and its once amicable neighbors are fuming.

Some, like Milton Rugg, who has lived in the city for 46 years, have stopped visiting. "We just don't enjoy going there anymore," Rugg said. "It used to be our little neighborhood park and now all of Southern California is using it."

Well, not quite. But it is safe to say that Sand Dune Park, a three-acre parcel with a children's play area and two handicapped parking spaces, is no longer solely a Manhattan Beach treasure.

For years, athletic teams and fitness buffs from all over Los Angeles County have been testing their strength and endurance on the dune's approximately 100-foot-high slope to the annoyance of neighbors who complain of trash, noise and parking squabbles with the visitors.

Residents are scheduled to meet with the City Council on June 11 to air their grievances before the council votes on a list of new park regulations. If the proposed changes are approved, the dune would be fenced and adult visitors would have to make a reservation.

Supporters say that the fence will deter park use after hours, and the reservation system will allow park monitors to control the number of people climbing the dune.

Parks officials have recommended that no more than 30 people be on the dune at one time. On summer weekends, the dune has had more than 300 people a day, officials said. There were 2,550 dune users in March, a 52% increase from the same time last year.

Located on Bell Avenue, Sand Dune Park was never meant to be a regional draw.

For Rugg and the others who built the park around the dune in the 1960s, it was just a little patch of grass and sand to enjoy when the area was still mostly small beach cottages. The dune is one of the last remnants of a time when much of the South Bay landscape was sand dunes, said local historian Jan Dennis.

"The dunes were so high and the sand was so deep you couldn't ride horseback or bring wagons to get into" Manhattan Beach, Dennis said.

But those dunes have long since been developed and no one seems to be having any trouble getting to Sand Dune Park.

A city study shows that attendance on the dune had a total increase of 18% from April 2000 to March 2001. In the next 12 months, attendance increased 27%.

"At some point, we have to draw the line," said Phil Jackson, spokesman for Residents for Sand Dune Safety, a community group that supports the proposed changes.

But others in town say that fencing is not the answer. They say some complaints, while legitimate, tend to get exaggerated.

"You kind of have to adopt a 'live and let live' attitude about these things," said Larry Teitelbaum, who is leading an effort to stop the fence proposal. "I live near the beach and sometimes somebody blocks my driveway, but it's the price I pay to be able to walk to the beach."

Janice Michaud, a Manhattan Beach resident who opposes fencing, said she is concerned this will turn into a conflict between neighbors.

"We have to work with them to come up with a better solution," Michaud said. "Sometimes I think they'll throw up a fence and say: 'Well, that didn't work, we have no choice but to close the park.'"

Then there's the question of whether the fencing and reservation system are exclusionary tactics.

Some dune users agreed.

"To me parks are supposed to be open places," said Rodney Scates of Gardena. "I could see if it was a place people came to loiter, but we're here to exercise, to release stress."

Some dune users said they had never encountered any rudeness or unpleasant behavior from Manhattan Beach residents. "But you still can't help but wonder if there's something else going on," said Shawn Johnson of Inglewood.

City officials said the new restrictions will probably be tougher on Manhattan Beach residents.

"The guy who used to be able to roll out of bed and head to the dune will have to call and make reservations, while the guy who's already in his car, traveling an hour and a half will just call" while he's on his way, said Richard Gill, director of the Manhattan Beach Parks and Recreation Department.

Dune users said they try to be respectful of the neighborhood and can understand some gripes.

"I can sympathize with their problems, but it's a public park and we should be able to use it," said Chris Rivera of Hermosa Beach.

"Good luck to the people who have to figure out a way to balance those two" issues.

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