Construction is halted on disputed Runyon Canyon basketball court

Some Runyon Canyon Park regulars said they were particularly angry that the city had approved a basketball court partway up a trail. Others found the corporate logo to be displayed on that court especially offensive.

But many of those who in recent weeks inundated city offices with calls and emails said they were most upset that, when the privately donated court first was proposed, officials hadn't worked hard to inform park users — or asked whether they even wanted it.

On Thursday, their loud protests, as well as a recently filed lawsuit, appeared to pay off when news broke that the court's construction would be stopped and its approval reconsidered.

City Councilman David Ryu, whose district includes the park, issued a statement saying he had made it happen.

"Per my request, the Department of Recreation and Parks will halt construction of the proposed basketball court at Runyon Canyon Park," he said. "The department also agreed with my recommendation to have the Board of Recreation and Parks commissioners reconsider its prior approval of the project."

Ryu pointed out that the court, which was to be paid for by the chief executive of Pink Dolphin, a streetwear company, had gotten its start before he took office. "It is clear that community concern regarding this project needs more robust consideration," he said.

The 136-acre park, which is visited by about 35,000 people each week, closed to the public for four months on April 1 so that the city could repair aging water pipes beneath its trails.

It was just before that closure — about which the public had been well-informed — that word started to spread about a basketball court being built at the same time.

Recreation and Parks commissioners approved the project in November. The city had been working with the nonprofit group Friends of Runyon Canyon, which was providing feedback on behalf of the community.

At a special meeting of the Hollywood Hills West Neighborhood Council on April 4, people angry about the court and what they saw as the branding of a public open space made it hard for city officials and members of the nonprofit to speak.

They demanded officials undo approval of the court, said that the park was fine just the way it was and contended that the Friends of Runyon Canyon did not represent their interests.

The group issued a statement Thursday saying it supported the halting of the project until more community outreach and evaluation could be done. Its efforts, it said, were "grass-roots," its members "volunteers who live in the surrounding neighborhoods and are active park users. We oppose the commercialization of Runyon Canyon Park."

Neima Khaila, the 28-year-old donor of the court, said he had been expecting the public to be pleased. "All I'm trying to do is help," he said in an interview this month.

Khaila had approached officials in 2014 after noticing a sagging retaining wall while hiking up the trail with his business partner, Cena Barhaghi. Beneath the wall was a concrete slab that had once been a tennis court.

Khaila spent a week finding his way to the Department of Recreation and Parks, where he learned there was a partnership division set up to bring in just this kind of private help.

He also learned it would be a hands-on effort, and he spent months wading through red tape, getting all the right approvals.

In the end, he pledged more than $250,000 — with more than $122,000 of it going to replace the retaining wall. He said Recreation and Parks offered the logo placement as an approved form of recognition.

In a statement Thursday night, Khaila described the project construction as "almost 75% done" and said: "I'm shocked it would get to this extent when we haven't even all tried taking a moment collectively to work it out. I'm confident that there is a solution, and I encourage all of the parties involved to get together and arrive at a decision that benefits the community as a whole. This has always been our goal with this donation."

Ryu said in an interview that the retaining wall part of the project would continue since it "is almost done" and necessary for public safety.

Asked what he would do if Khaila balked at paying for the wall with the court potentially nixed, Ryu said, "That's something that we have to resolve at a later date."

During the neighborhood council meeting, Ryu had told angry park-goers that the court project probably was too far along to be undone. At the time, he said Thursday, "I was under the assumption that all the vetting was done properly." He later learned that "while there was some outreach done, it was pretty minimally done," he said.

"All of this revolves around trust or the lack of trust, and when I took office I pledged to restore that trust in local government," he said. "That's what I ran on and that's what I believe in."

nita.lelyveld@latimes.com

Twitter: @latimescitybeat

ALSO

Prince, master of rock, soul, pop and funk, dies at 57

16-year-old girl dead after fight in high school bathroom, police say

Days before her death, wrestling star Chyna posted a rambling YouTube video

Copyright © 2017, Los Angeles Times
A version of this article appeared in print on April 22, 2016, in the News section of the Los Angeles Times with the headline "Runyon Canyon court construction stopped - The city plans to reconsider the controversial basketball project after loud protests and a lawsuit." — Today's paperToday's paper | Subscribe

UPDATES

10:05 p.m.: This article was updated with a statement from Neima Khaila.

This article was originally published at 8:58 p.m.

EDITION: California | U.S. & World
66°