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"Parks and Wreck": Reporter's Wide-Open Spaces?

Parks Space

Your cover piece “Parks and Wreck: L.A.’s Fight for Public Green Space” [July 18-24] is a misleading and distorted view of the park and recreation situation in Los Angeles. How can it be otherwise when your author failed to even talk to any of the more than 10,000 employees of the City of Los Angeles Department of Recreation and Parks? Instead, you adopted a characterization of all of them as “round-shouldered ticket punchers.” As volunteer commissioners of the Recreation and Parks Department, we are proud to be counted among these devoted civil servants.

Our department administers an enormous range of parks and recreational opportunities, and more than 3 million Angelenos take advantage of them every year. We maintain more than 15,000 acres of parkland with some 400 neighborhood and regional parks, 11 lakes and more than 180 recreation and community centers. The department operates two beaches plus the Venice Beach Ocean Front Walk. Our great Griffith Park, which you list among alleged “detritus,” includes the Observatory, the Greek Theatre, three superb golf courses, the Eques­trian Center, Travel Town, the Zoo, the Autry Museum, the carousel, pony trail rides, the Friend­ship Auditorium and a multitude of other facilities.

The department has — in addition to its parkland and numerous facilities — programs, classes and activities. In addition to adult classes, sports leagues and the country’s largest municipal golf program, the department is a premier provider of children’s programs. The department serves more than 1,000 children in its afterschool programs and more than 60,000 youths in its sports leagues.

We are aware of our challenges and we work hard to improve and enlarge what we offer the people of Los Angeles. We acknowledge the need for more parkland. We have been working to expand joint-use agreements with the Los Angeles Unified School District, create more neighborhood/pocket parks using surplus city property, and aggressively pursue federal, state and local funding for additional park acquisition. In fact, since July 2004, 18 parks and 394 acres have been added to the city’s park inventory. The city’s plan to add 45 new parks by 2011 is ahead of schedule, with 15 parks added since Mayor Villaraigosa assumed office.

There is a story to tell about our parks — but not the erroneous, insulting picture you present. We would be happy to contribute to any report that fairly and objectively informs the public on the state of our parks, the opportunities for enjoyment and recreation that they offer and the difficulties that are encountered in establishing and maintaining them. You chose not to write such a story.

Barry A. Sanders, Luis Sanchez, Maria Casillas, Candy Spelling, Jonathan WilliamsBoard of Recreation and Parks commissioners

Editor’s Note: Fleischer spoke to many people in L.A.’s Department of Recreation and Parks. In fact, he attended the City Council subcommittee hearing addressing Laura Chick’s Quimby Audit at the suggestion of Rec and Parks spokesperson Jane Kolb, who talked with Fleischer several times and met him at Park Mesa Heights. Others in the department weren’t quoted because they either were afraid to go on the record (we use anonymous sources only when absolutely necessary) or they had little to add to the story.

 

Ratted Out

As a private citizen and longtime resident of Pacific Palisades, I am appalled by the sensationalized and misleading treatment of the rat-feeding issue at the center of “Rathouse of Pacific Palisades” [Aug. 1-7] . Why read the National Enquirer when I can get it right here: false and unverified informationdiscrediting an organization for the sake of sensationalism. I was present at the October 25, 2007, Pacific Palisades Community Council (PPCC) board meeting. The board and the public agreed that the conditions described by the Denhams were deplorable. Taves did not mention that the board members and the many guests that evening were shocked at the disclosure of the rats and discussed the issue along with the councilman’s representative in the parking lot outside the library for quite some time after the library closed. Taves did not mention that the city’s Neighborhood Councils were modeled after the PPCC and that the PPCC is self-funded by the residents. Therefore, the $50,000 it would receive annually as a certified council is available for other city services. Taves did not mention that the primary reasons for the PPCC to remain uncertified have nothing to do with money but rather with the continued ability to potentially oppose the city of Los Angeles’ “broken” bureaucracy as well as the ability to negotiate with surrounding communities. Such actions are disallowed as part of the certification. Taves did not mention that the PPCC operates under Brown Act guidelines, even though it is not mandated to do so with its uncertified status. According to the Brown Act and the PPCC bylaws, the board is prevented from acting on any item that is not on its published agenda 72 hours prior to the meeting. Taves did not mention that the Denhams never contacted the PPCC to ask that the item be placed on the agenda. Taves did not mention that the PPCC chair encouraged the Denhams to contact him to place the item on the agenda if they [didn’t] get resolution from the city. Taves did not mention that the PPCC is a liaison with the local government’s enforcement agencies and does not have enforcement powers in itself. It can therefore not enter the twins’ residence and collect the rats. The one thing that Taves did get right is that “much of local government is broken.” And that is exactly what the PPCC is trying to address.

Haldis ToppelPacific Palisades

In response to Max Taves’ article: I’ve never petted a rat in my entire life, nor have I ever considered rats as pets! Dogs and cats make wonderful pets, this I do know! And those are the only pets that I have had. Trying to defame my character through half-truths and distortion of information is unconscionable! This is who I am: a 32-year retired schoolteacher. These letters from some of my former students will help to identify Margaret Barthel.

Margaret Barthel

Note: Barthel enclosed several handwritten letters from appreciative former students; these can be read at laweekly.com.

Letters written in 1989-1991 and provided to L.A. Weekly by Margaret Barthel, to whom they were sent:

Dear Miss Barthel,

I hope that you will remember me. I was a fourth-grade student of yours several years ago at Beryl Heights School.

The reason that I wanted to write to you was because I am currently studying at Loyola Marymount to become an elementary school teacher. I wanted to let you know that your influence in my life when I was young had a lot to do with my decision to become a teacher. You were my favorite teacher, and I’ve thought of you often over the years. You were caring and understanding at a time in my life when I felt very “cast-out.” Because of you, I gained self-confidence.

Since I’ve been taking education classes, I’ve learned that various types of teaching methods work for different teachers. Because your style worked so well with me (and my classmates), I can’t help but feel that I will be adopting many of your techniques.

I know that the teaching profession is often a thankless job, so I hope that this note of appreciation lets you know that you have had a very positive influence in my life.

Dear Ms. Barthel,

Just in case I don’t get to see you before you leave, I wanted to be sure you know how very much we appreciate all that you have done for and with our Bob this year. The real love and concern that is mutual between the two of you is quite apparent. I will miss seeing you, and I hope that you will stay in touch.

You have made a real difference in our boy and I’m sure it will have a lasting effect. It’s nice to belong to a big group and now he’s “one of yours.” Word can’t express fully my admiration for you.

Dear Ms. Barthel,

I am hoping that you remember me — you made a great impression on me as well as my son. I was a student in your first year of teaching. Years later, you taught my son.

For years I have wanted to thank you for your patience, care and concern. You had a gift of making a child feel cared about and capable of reaching their full potential. There are too few teachers with these abilities.

I just wanted to take the opportunity to thank you for being a positive influence in my life and in my son’s life. He now has 3-year-old twin children. We can only hope that they will have a teacher in their life that has such a positive influence on them.

Thanks for being a great teacher!

Max Taves is a gifted writer who knows how to craft professional, objective work. Regrettably, his recent piece in L.A. Weekly about a so-called Pacific Palisades “rat house” can best be described as a hatchet job of cheap shots and shoddy, gotcha journalism. Taves relishes skewering local Community Council members (I am one) as either clueless, petty, indifferent or, worse, too old. Judgments about character and abilities are better left to those who actually know the persons in question, but as to the “old” charge, I assume even Taves would agree that neither Maria Shriver nor Meryl Street (two examples of persons who are close in age to me and, I believe, others on the Council) should be put out to pasture. Since I strongly believe in enforcement of our zoning ordinances, Specific Plan restrictions and community standards, I regard his mocking sobriquet “code-enforcement fetishist” as a badge of honor. I was present at the particular Council meeting which Taves sophomorically disparages. Here is what really happened (I write this in my individual capacity, not on behalf of the Council):

Unaware of any rat problem in the Palisades when the meeting began, the Council spent the bulk of its time, as always, discussing actual agenda items. Council members first learned about rats at the Fiske Street residence when Scott Denham brought this alarming problem to our attention during the brief public comment period shortly before the meeting’s 9 p.m. closing. Taves outrageously suggests that somehow, the Council should have or could have taken Mr. Denham’s claims seriously, but didn’t, preferring instead to hurriedly close up shop rather than face this disturbing issue in our midst. Nothing could be further from the truth. Having covered Council meetings for some time while he was a reporter for the Palisadian-Post, surely Taves knows that the Council strictly adheres to the closing time as a courtesy to the library staff. Moreover, had Taves actually done a thorough investigation or been interested in getting at the truth, he would have learned that while the Council chooses to forgo “official” status with the City — the better to remain independent from a broken municipal bureaucracy against which members do not hesitate to do battle when necessary — the Council voluntarily follows Brown Act rules requiring 72 hours’ notice of agenda items before public discussion and action can be taken on any issues. (The Fiske Street rat problem would fall within this requirement; since it was not on the agenda the night of the meeting in question, consistent with the Brown Act, the Council could not have conducted a full discussion or taken action at that time.) I was personally appalled to hear of the conditions described by Mr. Denham, and I know other members were as well. Members urged Mr. Denham to request that the matter be placed on the agenda of an upcoming meeting for full public discussion and action by the Council as warranted. For whatever reason, he never did so. Judging from Taves’ article, the rat problem at the Fiske Street residence appears to have been mitigated to some degree by fumigation; however, according to “experts” cited by Taves there could be 500,000 or more of the rats’ progeny now swarming the area. I would note that I have never seen a rat on my property, let alone heard of a rat infestation in my neighborhood (about a mile from Fiske Street) in 17 years of living in the Palisades. Having previously lived in New Orleans, where rats are rampant, I know them when I see them. Perhaps the rats have made a beeline for other Westside areas, finding the rarefied air of such a “rich enclave” no longer hospitable.

Christina SpitzPacific Palisades

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