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College Orders Driving Range Closed

Near misses by errant balls over 160-foot fence lead to action by L.A. City College. Owner vows to resist.

September 18, 2004|Bob Pool | Times Staff Writer

A controversial driving range at Los Angeles City College was ordered closed Friday because golf balls allegedly continued to fly over its 160-foot-tall fence.

Los Angeles Community College district officials said "a substantial number of errant balls" have reportedly landed in a college child-care center next to the range and in neighboring areas, including the nearby Braille Institute.

Officials said they ordered the closure after a parent filed a complaint that she and her youngster were nearly hit by a ball that flew over the fence and landed in front of them this month.

The district gave the range's developer 60 days to solve the safety problem and obtain a final certificate of completion or his lease of the site would be permanently canceled.

But Hee Kyun Cho, operator of Majestic Golf Land, questioned the district's action and vowed to keep the range open until he can determine how balls are escaping the 190-yard practice facility.

Cho speculated that balls found outside the fence either slipped through a hole in the netting, rolled under it or fell from golf carts.

"We'll not close now. We'll find out the reason why," he said. "Everything has to be done step by step."

The shutdown order was the second for the driving range. It opened briefly in March before district officials closed it in reaction to reports of escaping balls, one of which smashed a campus catering truck's window. It reopened May 7 after ball-deflecting baffling strips were suspended over the range.

Community college officials said Cho will now be required to completely cover the range.

"The risk to the children and staff of the Child Development Center and the public as a whole is too great for the operation of the driving range to continue in its current state," said Priscilla Meckley, director of facilities planning and development for the district, in a letter to Cho.

College district business administrator Larry Eisenberg said the district is also investigating a report that an errant golf ball narrowly missed two workers at the Braille Institute.

The newest order came as the dispute over the range widened. City College sports boosters complained that the location of the golf facility will force a planned multimillion-dollar campus running track to have seven lanes instead of the eight mandated for championship track meets.

And the errant balls are not the only source of concern for the college district.

Administrators for the district said they will require Cho to file paperwork with the office of the state architect certifying that the golfing facility was properly built to state safety and construction specifications before it can reopen.

Contractor Gil Yoo of Paramount has refused to sign a form declaring that the project has been built to state standards. He contends that Cho still owes him $320,000 and that Cho made unapproved changes to the project.

Eisenberg said officials fear that Yoo and several subcontractors might place liens on the Los Angeles City College campus because of their dispute with Cho.

Cho said he has taken steps to obtain a bond that will protect the district from liens and is moving to meet other district requirements. He said the range can legally operate without filing the state certification form because its construction is deemed to be "substantially complete."

Cho's $6-million range was built on the last vacant piece of City College under a renewable, 10-year lease that pays the college district $120,000 per year. The deal was signed several years ago, when the district was strapped for cash.

Since then, voters have approved a $1.24-billion bond measure that is paying for a series of new buildings on district campuses, including a new athletic facility for City College.

College sports backers have demanded that the golf lease be terminated so the 4.3-acre site can be developed for student sports.

Construction of a proper eight-lane running track is being urged by officials of the Amateur Athletic Foundation and track and field coaches from UCLA and USC.

"The great expense of such an improvement will be negated if the track is not championship caliber," warned Arthur G. Venegas, UCLA's head track coach, in a letter this month to district trustees. "No conference or national championship [meet] will be held in such a facility."

Eisenberg said district planners agree that the range is in the way of an eight-lane track.

"But shot put and pole vault, those things are possible," he said.

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