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Green oasis in downtown's urban core proves fleeting

What was once a lush acre of grass at the new LAPD headquarters withered away within months. Since then, insurers and the city have been arguing over who should fund the replanting.

June 11, 2010|By Rich Connell, Los Angeles Times
  • The department has been in talks with the event-planner's insurance company for months, trying to get the money to replant the grass and restore one of the few patches of green space in downtown's urban core.  See full story
The department has been in talks with the event-planner's insurance… (Gina Ferazzi / Los Angeles…)

Several months after the city opened a showcase community green in the shadow of the new Los Angeles Police Department headquarters, the lush acre of lawn has become an embarrassing expanse of dying, brown turf.

The rare open space, a hit with downtown loft-dwellers and their dogs, debuted as an alluring oasis in the city's urban core, complete with a stand of palm trees at one end and edges of benches, native plants and tall grasses.

"It was great," said Kelly Gonzalez, an administrative assistant who lives two blocks away and walks her dog in the area.

But just after the 10-story building and its sustainable, park-like landscaping were dedicated last fall, trucks and cranes rolled in to erect a massive tent for a Los Angeles Police Foundation fundraiser.

Ironically, work on the gala, which raises money to help improve the department, ended up destroying the green, the LAPD says. Vehicle tracks gouged in the turf can still be seen, and sprinklers in a water-conserving irrigation system were damaged, officials say.

"They ruined it," said Anne Johnson, a commercial producer who was exercising her chow mix Monday evening on the withered turf. "It was so beautiful."

The risk to the new turf was discussed before the November event, said Thom Brennan, commanding officer of the LAPD's Facilities Management Division. "I think everybody involved expressed concern about how well the lawn would hold up," he said.

But the gala went forward and the police foundation quickly took responsibility for the damage. Since then, repairs have been stalled amid disputes between insurance companies over who should pay for the $12,000 replanting, Brennan said.

In recent weeks, rising temperatures have accelerated the lawn's demise. Only a few tufts of green remain.

A new setback came Monday. After indicating that payment would be made for the damaged lawn, Brennan said, representatives of an insurance company for an event-planning firm hired to stage the fundraiser notified the city that they would pay only for sprinkler repairs — not for replacing the grass.

The company argued that the turf had been too new and the event shouldn't have been permitted on the lawn, Brennan said. "We all kept moving down this road believing they were going to pick up this claim, at least the last three months," he said. "I'm not happy with the way this has gone."

A spokesman for the company, AFA Claims Services, declined to comment. A spokesman for the Hartford, which insures the police foundation, said these sorts of claims, involving multiple vendors and insured parties, can take time to settle.

As repairs have languished, Brennan said he has been fielding calls about the lawn from Police Chief Charlie Beck, other LAPD brass and downtown bloggers.

Tuesday, Brennan met with police foundation officials, and said they agreed to bring the claim back to their insurance company. If the necessary funds are secured, repairs could begin within a week, he said.

Karen Wagener, who served as police foundation president until three months ago, expressed frustration at the delays. "I don't know what's taking so long," she said. Last fall's fundraiser, co-chaired by Hollywood mogul Jeffrey Katzenberg and catered by Wolfgang Puck, netted nearly $1 million, Wagener said. The foundation previously offered to advance funds to make the lawn repairs, if necessary, she said.

"The whole goal is to do good things for the LAPD," she said.

Brennan said he'd gotten no such offer to advance money for the repairs.

Many park users are just hoping they won't have to go all summer without seeing the open space revived and growing.

"Residents would love it to be green," Gonzalez said.

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