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Blast in the Park : Explosives Experts Will Demolish 4 Cracked, Dangerous Cliffs Near Griffith Observatory

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Times Staff Writer

There will be more than a whimper but less than a big bang today when explosives experts blow up four dangerously cracked granite cliffs in Griffith Park that have become hazards to hikers and motorists.

Rainwater has badly eroded the rocks, leaving large boulders teetering 50 feet above Vista del Valle Drive, the scenic park road from Commonwealth Avenue up to Mt. Hollywood, and along a popular woodlands trail near the Griffith Observatory.

“It is a very dangerous situation,” said Ron Andrews, a construction and maintenance supervisor for the city Department of Recreation and Parks. “We have to demolish them.”

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Park officials said the scheduled blasting is a rare event but nothing to get alarmed about. They said the work will create no sonic boom and no landslides, just hefty piles of rubble--about 250 tons--to cart away and an estimated $12,000 bill for the city to pay.

The rocks, however, have already had some sociosexual fallout. Three of the cliffs are on Vista del Valle, considered one of the busiest homosexual trysting areas in the city. On warm weekend days, the road is jammed with male motorists looking more at other drivers than at the spectacular hilltop views of the Los Angeles Basin. The nearby woods are used for sexual liaisons, rangers say.

Because of the crumbling rocks, nearly five miles of the road have been closed for four months. Some homosexuals have protested, suspecting harassment.

“We’ve gotten a lot of calls from gays saying that we’ve done that because we don’t want them in there,” said Sheldon Jensen, who stressed that the closing had nothing to do with homosexual activity.

Officials expect the cruising to resume after the rubble is removed and the road reopened within a week or two.

Road Closed

“This is pretty much their territory,” Park Ranger Al Gonzalez said of the homosexuals, adding that he thinks the gay community understands why the road is closed.

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In the past, vandals have cut gate chains and locks when the road was closed because of fire danger during droughts. This time the gates have not been broken.

“I think that’s because we have an honest rapport with them and explain that we are not just trying to single them out. We want everybody to enjoy the park and have a pleasant experience here,” Gonzalez said.

Pointing to a huge boulder resting precariously near the Bee Rock promontory on the drive, he said: “If that fell, I don’t think it would stop until it touched the golf course.”

The Wilson golf course sits below, a roll of at least 500 feet downhill.

Malibu Action

Because of their relative isolation, the Griffith Park rocks have not attracted the public attention that the infamous Malibu boulder did in 1979. The 116-ton sandstone behemoth threatened to roll onto the Pacific Coast Highway and nearby homes until, after much tugging, a huge skiploader hired by the state managed to pull it down with a cable.

Cables will not work in Griffith Park because, besides the individual boulders, the vertical cliff faces themselves are unstable and have to be blasted back to more gentle slopes, officials said.

So the city has hired California Drilling & Blasting Co. of El Monte for the job.

“I’ve told them we don’t want anything spectacular,” Andrews said. “They’ve assured me that it’s just kind of splitting the rock. We are counting on that.”

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Residents in the Los Feliz area probably will not hear any noise from the blasting, he said.

Park Rangers

To keep the public away today, park rangers in jeeps, mounted patrols and a helicopter will be searching for hikers, as well as for the homeless people who sometimes camp in the park.

In addition, the crew will be using a gas detonator, rather than an electrical system, to avoid any accidental interference by signals from the radio tower behind the Hollywood sign.

Holes were drilled into the rocks earlier this week for placement of the explosives, which will include dynamite.

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