Los Angeles Police Department officials apparently thought they had found an ideal location for training horses and officers for their mounted patrol unit when they received word two years ago that they could use part of Griffith Park.
The 75 officers of the unit quickly began renovating the site, building a corral and clearing weeds and debris from what once was the clubhouse area and first tee of Coolidge Golf Course. The course had been closed a few years earlier because of declining business.
But the Los Angeles Recreation and Parks Department, which originally gave police permission to use the four acres, now is saying that officers abused the area and that the mounted unit will have to find another home.
Sheldon Jensen, assistant general manager of the Recreation and Parks Department, said this week that police "were a little too ambitious" in their rehabilitation of the site, which is called the Clyde Kennedy Center and is just off Griffith Park Drive near the park's Los Feliz Boulevard entrance. Jensen said that, without city permission, officers graded and paved four small parking lots on a hillside that, according to the park's master plan, were supposed to be a picnic area.
"The police had to get approval from us for any kind of construction they wanted to do out there," Jensen said. "When we found out they had built (the lots), we just went right through the ceiling. They had no authorization to do that."
Since police moved in and began intensive training for crowd control at sites used during last summer's Olympics, Jensen said, he has received many complaints from area residents. He said they are angry about the clamor caused by the once-a-week training sessions, in which police create loud noises to train horses to deal with crises.
The Last Straw
But construction of the parking lots "was really the straw that broke the camel's back," Jensen said.
Police admitted that they made a mistake in building the parking lots but blame the error on "misunderstandings over what we could and couldn't do" with the site, said Capt. John Higgins, a top police official in charge of the mounted unit.
"We didn't do anything purposefully that would interfere with the park's plans," said Higgins, who has ordered mounted-unit officers not to comment on the matter. "We might have made some changes that the Recreation and Parks Department didn't anticipate. And, if it's their belief that we were wrong, that's their decision and we will respect it."
The mounted unit will be allowed to continue training at the site through April. But, until a new location can be found, police will have to receive month-to-month approval from the Recreation and Parks Department to use the facility, Jensen said.
Officers Own Horses
Officers in the mounted unit own their horses and pay for the horses' stabling and general training. The only money they receive from the city is to reimburse them for traveling expenses they incur while transporting the horses from their stables to Griffith Park.
Jim Hadaway, general manager of the Recreation and Parks Department, said that, when he granted police permission to use Clyde Kennedy Center, he thought that officers would relocate after the Summer Olympics and did not expect the site to become a permanent training facility.
"It has reached the point of our seeing the writing on the wall that they were trying to turn it into a regular training center" Hadaway said. "There's a tremendous need for picnic areas in Griffith Park, and now we're going to have to rework the whole area so it can be used by the public."
Lots to Be Removed
Hadaway said that city crews will probably begin tearing up the parking lots sometime next year and will allocate about $100,000 to turn the area into a recreation site.
Meanwhile, the Police Department is looking elsewhere for a site to train its mounted unit. The Recreation and Parks Department has offered police three alternative sites--Martinez Arena on the north side of the park near Travel Town, the Hansen Dam area in Lake View Terrace and Stetson Ranch in the northern San Fernando Valley.
Higgins would not comment on the three locations, saying only that the department needs a site that is centrally located and has functional water and lighting systems.
But equestrian officials and residents near Griffith Park said finding a new site for the mounted unit may not be easy because training sessions with police horses can be rather noisy.
The officers' horses have to be trained to stay calm during situations such as police pursuits and street riots. So, while the horses train, officers frequently hover over the corral in helicopters and simulate gunshots and other explosions on the ground.
"It might be a tough search because, when they start exploding things and having helicopters swooping in, it can get quite loud and very disconcerting to other horses in the area," said Albert Garcia. Garcia is in charge of the Los Angeles Equestrian Center in Griffith Park, where more than 600 stables are available for rent. "We'd love to accommodate them, but something would have to be worked out about the noise."
Homeowners who live along Shannon Road in the wealthly Los Feliz District and whose houses overlook the mounted unit's training grounds are pleased that police have been ordered out, saying that the noise was a constant bother.
'It's Like There's a Riot'
"I don't know where they're going to go because, when they train, it's like there's a riot going on, and anybody within a quarter-mile of them is going to be in an uproar," said Cecil Bandy, whose home is closest to the training grounds. "It got so bad that I'd have to close all my windows and doors just to talk on the telephone. It's like having your home right next to a manufacturing plant."
Some residents said they also are bitter because they fear the presence of the Police Department facility has lowered the value of their homes.
View Now Eysore
"When we bought this house back in 1974, we had a beautiful view of a golf course right below us," said Jan Boinus, who lives near Bandy. "Now it's just an eyesore. I look out and see dirt. First they let the golf course die and then they bring in the horses. I've even thought of selling the house because of what's going on."
Jensen said he and police are working closely on finding another training site and he believes the mounted unit will have a new home by summer.
"We're sorry it had to come to this because we understand the importance of the mounted unit, but when they start grading land and putting in parking lots, we've got to step in," Jensen said.