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Charter Amendment Urged : Finn Wins Ally in Bid for Council Voice on Parks

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Times Staff Writer

San Fernando Valley Councilman Howard Finn won key backing Wednesday for a renewed effort to shift some control of Los Angeles city parks from the Recreation and Parks Commission to the City Council. The proposal requires a public vote.

Contending the citizen-run commission has “thumbed its nose” at council members by taking actions contrary to their wishes, Finn persuaded Councilwoman Peggy Stevenson, who serves with him on the three-member Charter and Elections Committee, to join him in recommending a City Charter amendment. Councilman Gilbert Lindsay, the other committee member, opposed the proposal, which requires council approval by Feb. 13 to be put on the June ballot.

The proposed amendment would return to the council the power to set fees and determine the uses of recreation and park areas in the city. Similar measures were defeated by voters in 1959 and 1977.

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The City Charter, as far back as 1889, gave the five-member commission appointed by the mayor the power to operate virtually independently of the council.

Council members have privately complained about having to bear the brunt of public criticism for unpopular decisions over which they have no control.

Finn a year ago resurrected a proposal to give the council greater power over parks after the commission took a series of actions contrary to the wishes of the council, including establishing an entrance fee to Griffith Park and allowing video games at recreational facilities. The Griffith Park fee has since been dropped.

“I think parks are supposed to provide recreation for people who don’t have recreation in their own backyards. It should be free,” Finn said Wednesday.

Finn said he was particularly incensed by a commission action that drove last summer’s Watermelon Festival from Sunland Park, where it had been held for 18 years, to unincorporated La Crescenta. The festival is a popular event held in Finn’s district by the Sunland-Tujunga Lion’s Club to raise funds for community programs.

The council asked the commission to waive a $1,800 fee for the group to use the park. “Instead,” Finn said, “the commission thumbed its nose at us,” denying the council’s request.

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Finn said his proposal is different from the previous measures because it would only allow the council to act on the types of fees and uses that would be permitted in parks. The appointed commission would retain control over the acquisition and maintenance of parkland. This, Finn said, would ensure preservation of parkland, which he contended was the intent of the 1925 charter provision giving the department independent status.

Recreation and Parks Commissioner J. Stanley Sanders, an appointee of Mayor Tom Bradley, spoke out against the proposed charter change at Wednesday’s committee meeting, contending it would subject park operations to political pressures.

“It would be difficult for a body, subject to election every four years, to take the kind of action necessary (such as establishing fees) to keep the parks in good condition in the face of budget cutbacks,” Sanders said.

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