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Fields of Dreams Deferred

June 07, 2003

As temperatures inch up, kite fliers, picnickers and soccer stars in two neighborhoods near downtown may gaze longingly at Taylor Yard and the Cornfield, two weedy fields of dreams near the city's park-poor center. Though they're out of luck this summer, their patience promises to be rewarded with the recreation facilities they want there.

Eighteen months ago, Gov. Gray Davis spent $60 million to buy the two former rail yards near downtown Los Angeles to transform them into state parks. That purchase ended a David-and-Goliath battle by neighborhood activists in Chinatown and Cypress Park to lock up 62 acres for open space and recreation instead of warehouses as some big-time local developers wanted.

In hindsight, winning Davis' support was the easy part. At least two summers will have passed -- this one and last -- before a baseball rolls through grass at Taylor Yard or the Cornfield, and an additional year or two more before permanent restrooms open or visitors centers post their monthly calendars.

There aren't villains or foot-draggers to blame and there are creative staffers who insist they're moving at double speed to zip the plan along. But it's absurd that even a park takes years to open in this city.

For The Record
Los Angeles Times Monday June 16, 2003 Home Edition California Part B Page 10 Editorial Pages Desk 1 inches; 48 words Type of Material: Correction
L.A. parks -- An editorial June 7 on the development of two state parks near downtown Los Angeles should have stated the size of the proposed Taylor Yard park as 40 acres, not 30 acres. Also, toxic cleanup was completed at that site in 1998, not this year.

What takes so long? First, both sites needed extensive cleanup. Because Taylor Yard was a rail maintenance site until 1999, for example, toxic chemicals had permeated the soil. That work ended early this year. As home to some of the city's first settlers and later immigrants, these sites also contain cultural artifacts.

This spring, planners met with neighbors to forge consensus on a preservation plan and on specific facilities to be built at the Cornfield site near Chinatown. By next spring, the state says, it will have graded the site, planted grass and opened it to visitors while construction of permanent facilities occurs.

At Taylor Yard, the planning meetings won't start until at least early next year. In this gritty neighborhood, residents want more ball fields. But state park rangers don't chalk baseball diamonds or check out basketballs. So state officials and community activists lost time arguing this point before pulling city parks officials, who do manage ball fields, into a parkland swap.

The city hopes to take over about half of the 30-acre site for ball fields and playgrounds, with the state developing the rest into meadows and trails. The state is eyeing city parcels to swap; land adjacent to the Kenneth Hahn State Recreation Area in Baldwin Hills or east of Mt. Washington might be ideal.

Prudence should be part of the process but so too must haste. Summers fly by and the kids of Chinatown and Cypress Park deserve good places to play.

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