By Joseph Tsidulko
By Patrick Range McDonald
By David Futch
By Hillel Aron
By Dennis Romero
By Jill Stewart
By Dennis Romero
By Dennis Romero
If commissioners grant a preliminary thumbs-up to the historic designation next week, they will likely conduct an exhaustive tour of the park before a final vote, probably in October. But after that hurdle, the whole enterprise then goes before the Los Angeles City Council.
MOST MEMBERS OF THE PUBLIC are unaware that crucial decisions made by the 15-member council — even one affecting the 10 million visitors to Griffith Park each year — tend to be quietly deferred to just one person, the local council member in whose district the project or battle is centered.
Barring a public outcry, once the fate of Griffith Park goes before the City Council, the decision will be made by City Councilman Tom LaBonge — and rubber-stamped by the majority of the other 14 council members.
LaBonge professes a great love of Griffith Park and often leads hikes there. But he’s sounding vague about giving the park protected status. He wants to be sure the city’s Department of Recreation and Parks — the same folks who devised the unworkable car ban that kept the public away from the observatory for years — isn’t saddled with red tape if it tries to modernize the park’s golf courses and other assets. LaBonge wonders, “Does the city have the ability to create more space for soccer fields or camping? Does making it a monument impede that?”
Almost unable to help himself, LaBonge then shows off the controversial “fiefdom” power that he, a relatively obscure elected official, holds over Griffith Park: The Melendrez Master Plan was rife with “outside-the-box-type ideas that didn’t make sense,” he tells L.A. Weekly. So now, “Those are all dead. Those are never going to happen.” Not the public at large, not the 15-member City Council, but “I rejected all those [ideas].”
LaBonge instead formed a new task force to devise a master plan, and that 11-member committee, made up of various community groups, is nearly finished. LaBonge thinks it might be better to protect only certain areas that are mountainous wildlands. The question is a prickly one, because if LaBonge decides to oppose the fight for historic-monument protection, he will find himself at odds with members of the committee he helped to put in place.
Some of his committee members are far less concerned about LaBonge’s worry — streamlining the steps needed to improve campgrounds or golf courses — than they are about the Villaraigosa administration’s ceaseless determination to build, build, build. Sooner or later, if adequate safeguards are not adopted, bureaucrats, developers and elected officials will succeed in twisting the Griffith family’s original vision in order to bring in more bucks, worried residents say.
Already, that has occurred at the observatory, renovated for $93 million. A couple of months ago, this august building owned by taxpayers was closed to the public to host a swanky movie-premiere “after-party” for Hollywood insiders, says committee member Bernadette Soter, a Los Feliz resident.
Soter was one of hundreds of residents who fought back when Wolfgang Puck bizarrely sought a liquor license for his fussy eatery at the crest of the park’s twisting, poorly lit, carefully negotiated roads — an application later withdrawn.
“What lurks behind everything is a repurposing of the park,” Soter says. “That’s what people reacted to. The park was being repurposed as an engine for revenue.”
The kicker is that the observatory itself is “protected” as a historic cultural monument, yet Puck somehow got in the door. If such profit-wringing can occur at the safeguarded observatory, what might City Hall’s commercialization hawks do to the vast amount of acreage that requires no historical review?
“This is a citywide concern,” Soter says. “I think people need to wake up and realize that.”