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Park Project Causes Unexpected Uproar

Some North Hollywood residents oppose improvements that they fear will only worsen what they consider a homeless problem.

October 10, 2003|Karima A. Haynes | Times Staff Writer

A schism erupting over a seemingly noncontroversial park improvement project in North Hollywood caught Los Angeles Park and Recreation Department officials off guard when opponents and supporters packed a recent neighborhood meeting to discuss the $200,000 project.

The plan calls for upgraded restrooms, landscaping, benches and picnic tables and upkeep of an existing baseball diamond and an off-leash dog park at Weddington Park South at Bluffside and Valley Heart drives. The improvements would be paid for with funds from Proposition K, a 1996 bond measure which provides money for city recreation projects.

At the Oct. 1 meeting, 70 homeowners voiced their concerns.

Supporters said the upgrades would attract nearby Universal Studios workers during their lunch hour. They said the baseball diamond and dog park should be maintained.

Opponents said they wanted the restrooms closed, the benches removed and street parking banned between 9 a.m. and 6 p.m. on weekdays in hopes of deterring homeless people from loitering and asking for handouts.

For The Record
Los Angeles Times Saturday November 08, 2003 Home Edition Main News Part A Page 2 News Desk 3 inches; 131 words Type of Material: Correction
Studio City park -- An article in the Oct. 10 California section about an Oct. 1 public hearing on a Weddington Park South improvement project should have made it clear that the information came from a source at the meeting and that no Times reporter was present. The article stated that park officials were "caught off guard" at the meeting by divisions between residents over plans for improvements. Although the issue has been contentious, the meeting was not. The story incorrectly said the park is in North Hollywood. It's in Studio City. Additionally, an off-leash dog park, baseball diamond and the closure of restrooms were not among the planned improvements brought up. According to the attendance list, 11 residents and seven city officials were present, not 70 as the article said.

"I feel bad for the homeless and I wish there was some place for them to go to be taken care of," said Victor Viereck, president of the North Hollywood Residents Assn. "But when they [use the park], the bathrooms are not as clean as they should be and people feel uncomfortable around them because of the panhandling."

Shuttering the amenities is an extreme solution, said Viereck, who supports expanded police patrols to reduce loitering and increase park safety.

"If you start shutting everything down, you will ruin the whole purpose," he said. "The park needs to be open for the use of the people."

Hyunsook Cho, a neighborhood resident and member of the project's Volunteer Neighborhood Oversight Committee, said the park's beautification and safety were important, but running the homeless off the property wasn't the answer.

"Homeless people are a fact of life," she said. "They are everywhere and we just have to deal with it."

Jack Poynter, a homeless man who was sitting at a park picnic table Thursday afternoon, said homeless people were being unfairly targeted.

"People have a certain prejudice against homeless people," said Poynter, 40, who earns money by cashing in recyclables he collects in his two shopping carts. "Homeless people should be able to use the park as long as they aren't doing anything wrong."

Los Angeles Recreation and Parks Department officials plan to consider residents' requests. Although a date has not yet been set for the next community meeting, a final plan is expected by June 2004.

"It is an important improvement for the community and the city," said Kevin Regan, the parks department's director of operations for the San Fernando Valley region, "and we will continue to work closely with the community throughout the entire process to make sure that the community at large gets what they would like out of this improvement project."

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