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A dispute over ball fields at Griffith Park

Supporters of youth sports teams want Los Angeles to build two Little League-size fields at the park. Opponents say they would gobble up two acres of lawn, eliminate a popular group picnic area and require the removal of numerous trees.

May 06, 2012|By Bob Pool, Los Angeles Times
  • Mark Mauceri, left, and David Adams at the Crystal Springs picnic area in Griffith Park, where they want youth baseball fields to be built.
Mark Mauceri, left, and David Adams at the Crystal Springs picnic area in… (Ricardo DeAratanha, Los…)

Baseball has made the pitch. But should Griffith Park make the catch?

That's the situation at the eastern edge of the 4,310-acre recreation area where supporters of youth sports teams want the city of Los Angeles to build two Little League-size ball fields.

But opponents say that's a bad idea because the fields would gobble up two acres of lawn, eliminate a popular group picnic area and require the removal of numerous trees.

The dispute has been brewing for years and at times has turned nasty, with warnings by opponents that "screaming kids" using the fields will scare horses on a nearby equestrian trail and endanger riders.

Officials could rule this month to clear the way for the $950,000 project, which would be funded by 1996's Proposition K and completed by 2016.

Backers of the project say the fields are badly needed by youth baseball teams that face a shortage of playing space in the vicinity of downtown Los Angeles.

"The challenge is finding a place for ball fields in the center of Los Angeles where land is expensive," said David Adams, a Windsor Square business turnaround specialist who for eight years has coached the Warriors, a Mid-Wilshire youth baseball team. "I can't think of a better place for ball fields than Griffith Park."

Adams — who joined the Griffith Park campaign last fall — said open space between the park's Crystal Springs Drive visitors' center and the 5 Freeway could easily accommodate the two fields. On the site's north side are two city-owned golf courses; on the south side is Pote Field, a full-size baseball diamond named in honor of former Los Angeles City College baseball standout and major league scout Phil Pote.

The Griffith Park ball field idea was first floated by City Councilman Tom LaBonge. He said his goal was to replace diamonds at the south end of Griffith Park that were removed in the mid-1950s to make way for construction of Interstate 5.

LaBonge initially explored using the flattened top of the former Toyon Canyon landfill in the middle of the park for baseball fields. He dropped that proposal when hikers and the Sierra Club protested.

He turned to Crystal Springs Drive after that. "This is in the active area of the park. It's what this city should do," LaBonge said.

The Sierra Club is opposed to ball fields there as well. A recent issue of the group's Griffith Park Section, Angeles Chapter newsletter pointed out that it uses the site for its monthly potlucks and that the diamonds would be within a few feet of the historic De Anza Trail. It also suggested that baseball could endanger horses and riders "with screaming kids and their parents and flying balls."

Mark Mauceri disputes that. He's a Silver Lake TV and media consultant who also coaches a youth baseball team named the Pirates. For the last five years he has promoted development of the two diamonds.

He said ball field opponents have used diversionary tactics to stall the project. "Suddenly, it wasn't 'How do we correctly plan the fields?,' but 'Why do we need them to go here?'" Mauceri said.

No one is certain of the precise route that Spanish explorer Juan Bautista de Anza took on his 1775-76 expedition, except that it followed the Los Angeles River through the Griffith Park area, he said, adding that the Sierra Club potlucks could easily relocate to where the picnic tables will be moved, 75 yards away.

The issue confronted the Greater Griffith Park Neighborhood Council in 2008, when Mauceri unseated the panel's president by running as a write-in candidate promising to increase recreational opportunities in the area.

Mauceri and Adams — who acknowledged their own children will probably never play on the ball fields they support — suggested that a group called Friends of Griffith Park was formed to fight any new diamonds. But Bernadette Soter, the organization's vice president, said that "our group hasn't taken a position yet. We're waiting to see the options. The Bureau of Engineering facilitator is looking for some alternatives. It might end up creating a win-win situation."

Soter said one option might be to fit the two new fields on the east side of the Los Angeles River on Atwater Village parkland that is technically considered part of Griffith Park. "I've said very clearly I didn't oppose … Little League," she said.

A spokeswoman for the city's Bureau of Engineering said it will be up to the Department of Recreation and Parks to pick the site for the fields.

But Joaquin Grey has no reservations. Last week, the Silver Lake art director was conducting batting practice at the potential Griffith Park site with his 8-year-old son, Lucas, who plays on a youth team called the Marlins.

"I think the idea of ball fields here is important. I'd certainly support it," Grey said.

bob.pool@latimes.com

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