In El Monte : Neighbors Fear Park Proposal

Times Staff Writer

City officials are hoping to transform a strip of littered, vacant land between Arroyo High School and the Rio Hondo Wash on the city's north side into a park, complete with a nature trail, tennis courts and picnic areas.

But neighbors--who say they are already besieged by spillover traffic from the school, where parking lots fill up fast, especially during special events--are campaigning to stop the 5-year-old effort to turn the land into a park.

"They're going to be dumping their beer cans, dirty diapers and all their fast-food trash, and we're going to have to put up with it," said J. Howard Rigdon, whose backyard on Cherrylee Drive almost touches the proposed site. Rigdon is leading the effort to stop the plans for Park Arroyo.

Brian D. Ogden, director of recreation and parks for the city, said neighborhood concerns will be addressed in the design plans. He said parking would be available on the west side of the park, away from the neighborhood. Recreation leaders would staff the area and the park would be well lighted, Ogden added.

The City Council is scheduled to decide Tuesday whether to go ahead with the plan, which would bring the number of parks in the city to nine.

Mayor Don McMillen said he is not sure the plan will be approved.

"There are a lot of things to take into consideration," he said. "It's going to put a financial burden on the city. We'd have to maintain the park and staff it." He estimated maintenance costs at a minimum of $100,000 a year.

Three Designs Considered

If the project is approved, the council will discuss which of three park designs to adopt.

The council has already rejected one design that was approved by the Recreation and Parks Commission. Under that plan, the entrance would have been on the east side of the park on Cedar Avenue, near the homes of those who are objecting. The three new plans the council will consider Tuesday all place the main entrance on the west side of the park on Tyler Avenue, well away from the nearest homes.

Under one plan, the entire 10.4-acre site would be improved and include tennis courts, nature trails, picnic tables and pedestrian walkways. Under another, only 6.4 acres would be improved, and the remaining land, which is closest to the neighborhood, would be planted with grass. The third plan calls for merely planting grass on the entire site.

"There has been considerable controversy in this part of town" over the park, said Jack E. Quinn, principal of Arroyo High School.

"The school itself has not taken any strong position for or against the park," Quinn said. "Whatever the city does with that property, we're going to have to live with it."

Quinn, however, has insisted that the city install a seven-foot wrought-iron fence to replace a chain-link fence that separates the high school property from the proposed park site. In return, a parking lot next to the school's football stadium could be used by those at the park.

Illegal Activities Feared

"The fear is that there are people who are not in school that have no business on the campus during the school day," Quinn said.

He said that some people who use the park "may be there just loitering, but sometimes they would be involved in other types of (illegal) activities, and I don't want that kind of stuff spilling over on my campus."

Three gates in the fence would normally be locked but would be opened before and after school to allow students who cross Rio Hondo Wash more direct access to the campus, thereby cutting as much as a mile off the distance some walk to school, Quinn said.

"If it wasn't for that, (the gates) would be locked all the time," Quinn said.

Despite concerns about security, Police Chief Wayne Clayton said he does not expect any problems at the proposed park.

"Parks attract everybody, and we would certainly be aware of that," Clayton said.

Other schools in the city, such as Frank M. Wright School, El Monte High School and Rio Vista School, have campuses next to or close to parks. Clayton said there are no particular problems in policing those areas.

"I think (the Park Arroyo site) is a very good location and good usage of the land," Clayton said.

But Thomas A. Bynum, who lives on Cedar Circle across the street from the proposed park, disagrees.

"I think there will be so many transients and dope and bums, it will be hard to keep security there," Bynum said.

"If I lived a couple of miles away from it, I probably wouldn't object," he said. "But for the people who live here, I think it's going to be a headache."

The city bought the site from the Los Angeles County Flood Control District in 1981 for $700,000. Ogden said there had been talk of developing the land for housing or light industry, but the council decided that the site should be used for parkland in early 1982.

The city has raised $700,000 through state grants to pay for the park development, Ogden said. If the council approves design plans, the project would go out to bid and construction could begin by July 1.

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