Two neighborhood groups have sued the California Science Center over its plans to build a parking structure on land that museum officials had previously set aside for a park. The 2,100-space, $23 million structure would be located adjacent to the main entrance of the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum in Exposition Park. Construction is set to begin early next year.

The legal fracas is a classic dispute between parties that can each claim to be serving the community‘s best interests. The neighborhood groups want to hold the Science Center to its 1993 master plan, which specifies that the asphalt parking lot atop the 6-acre parcel would eventually be torn out and replaced by grass and trees. This “greening” is part of a larger, ongoing effort at Exposition Park to replace asphalt with attractive outdoor recreation areas. Although the master plan allows for a parking lot, it specifies that the parking would be underground, with green space on top.

In fact, the Science Center intends to put all but one level of parking underground. But to put the whole thing below surface level would simply cost too much money, funds that the Science Center does not have, according to museum director Jeff Rudolph. Rudolph adds that the parking garage would consolidate in one area parking that is now spread across lots all over 160-acre Exposition Park. The proposed parking structure, he said, would free other parcels for greening.

“It is a great project that will help improve the park and serve our whole community,” he said. “It will allow the park to turn back into a park.” He added that the Science Center intends to plant native California species, including chaparral and new trees, to make the site more attractive.

But critics dismiss Rudolph’s reasoning as a 70 percent solution. “This new plan is completely inappropriate,” said Jim Childs, president of the Adams Dockweiler Heritage Organizing Committee, a nonprofit, locally based historic-preservation group. “The idea of the master plan was to make the park more of a park and less of a parking lot. It called for the replacement of surface parking lots. What you want to see is grassland and trees.”

Childs‘ organization is one of two neighborhood groups suing to stop the parking-structure proposal. Besides the green-space issue, their lawsuit contends that the project would mar the appearance and historic value of the Coliseum environs. A settlement conference is scheduled in court for August 16.

“Their legacy is a surface parking lot,” said Childs. “I want them to do it right.”

LA Weekly