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LAPD to Resume Park Bike Training

June 07, 2002|KURT STREETER | TIMES STAFF WRITER

The Los Angeles Police Department's bike unit will once again be able to train its officers in Griffith Park after a compromise pushed through this week by city officials.

The board of the Recreation and Park Department voted 5-0 Wednesday to allow LAPD bike training at the park's dormant Toyon Canyon landfill, settling a dispute that had placed police between bikers and residents worried about park paths.

The LAPD's bike unit had used Griffith and Elysian parks since the early 1980s, teaching about 100 officers a year how to navigate on dirt paths, an element of bike officer education required by state law enforcement regulations.

But late last year, the LAPD was suddenly forced to stop training in the parks after a vocal core of residents complained that the bike riding was a safety and environmental menace. The city attorney's office then reviewed the matter, finding an ordinance mandating that no biking--even by police--should be allowed on any dirt trails in any of the city's parks. Left without the ability to train on the very dirt paths they could use if responding to an emergency, the LAPD was forced to suspend its classes.

City Councilman Tom LaBonge came up with a compromise, proposing legislation allowing police to use the dirt-covered landfill up to 96 hours a year. The bill passed the council unanimously last month and was rubber-stamped Wednesday by the park board.

Chuck Soter, a member of the Los Feliz Home Improvement Assn., a community bordering Griffith Park, said the compromise sat well with his neighbors: "We thought something could be worked out that was fair to all."

Lurking beneath the bike patrol issue are deep tensions between those who want to ensure that bikes are never allowed on dirt paths in city parks and members of the bike community who have been pushing for more access.

Staff at the park commission, which had studied opening some parks to bikes in 2000, only to back down as the debate grew, is now considering holding a public meeting to explore allowing local residents more say in the issue on a park-by-park basis.

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