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Youth Groups Unite to Demand Athletic Fields at White Point

Times Staff Writer

San Pedro youth organizations, which unsuccessfully lobbied to keep the Martin J. Bogdanovich Recreation Center from being turned over to the military, have now entered the debate over the future of nearby White Point Park.

Two months after Los Angeles city officials turned over Bogdanovich park to the Air Force for military housing, nine groups representing about 5,000 children are demanding that at least one-third of the undeveloped White Point Park be set aside for athletic fields.

The proposal, if adopted, would kill hopes of environmental groups and some homeowners near White Point that the property be developed as a state park.

Undeveloped Shoreline

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State officials are interested in the land, calling it one of the few remaining undeveloped shoreline properties in Southern California that is geologically stable enough for a state park. But they say they will not consider taking control of White Point if any of it is set aside for other uses.

The 115-acre park, a former Nike missile site that was deeded to the city by the Army in 1978, sits atop bluffs overlooking the Pacific Ocean between Western Avenue and Paseo Del Mar. Except for special occasions, the park is closed to the public, although a citizens advisory committee set up by Los Angeles Mayor Tom Bradley and City Councilwoman Joan Milke Flores recently began studying ways to open it on a regular basis.

The youth groups, calling themselves the San Pedro Youth Coalition, made the demand in letters sent last week to clubs, civic organizations, businesses and elected officials in San Pedro. The coalition, which includes the Mary Star Sports Assn. and the American Youth Soccer Organization (AYSO), has also begun circulating a petition that calls on Flores, who represents San Pedro, to set aside 35 useable acres of the hilly park for athletic fields.

“We finally have to make a stand and make sure that our kids have somewhere to play other than in the streets and at the shopping centers,” the letter said. “White Point is most important because it is the last large piece of unencumbered land that San Pedro will have at its disposal for many, many years.”

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Turned Over to Air Force

Thirteen acres at the northern edge of White Point Park and the entire 22-acre Bogdanovich park, also formerly owned by the military, were turned over to the Air Force in April as part of a deal between the city and the federal government that was designed to preserve the rest of White Point as open space--and, possibly, a state park.

Under the agreement, the federal government gave up its rights to reclaim the remaining 102 acres of White Point, thus ensuring that the land would not be developed for military housing as the Air Force at one time proposed. The federal government’s reversionary rights, retained when the White Point property was given to the city, enabled the military to reclaim the property--even without city approval--for so-called “national defense purposes,” including housing for its officers.

With the possibility of losing the panoramic park to the military eliminated, city officials have begun reviewing options for the land.

The citizens’ group set up by Bradley and Flores is exploring the state-park option as well as the possibility of keeping the land as a city-operated park, which could include softball and soccer fields and other athletic facilities sought by the San Pedro Youth Coalition.

But city officials have said that there is no money to develop the park, while state officials, who would not allow athletic fields, said they can obtain the money.

September Report

Jerry L. Gaines, chairman of the committee, said the group will issue a report in September that will evaluate the state and local options based on four factors: management and law enforcement capabilities; environmental concerns, including traffic projections and the effect on wildlife and sea life; the availability of money, and the ability to meet the recreational needs of the community.

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Gaines is also president of the South Shores Homeowners’ Assn., which represents residents near White Point Park, some of whom have suggested that White Point and adjacent Royal Palms State Beach be joined as a single state park. Gaines said he will not decide which option to support until after a public hearing in October

Some South Shores homeowners believe state park rangers would be better able to control crowds and restrict access to the area than would the city Department of Recreation and Parks, which has only one ranger to patrol parks in San Pedro, Wilmington and Harbor City. According to police, Royal Palms is a favorite hangout for gangs, making it a hotbed for criminal activity and a source of numerous complaints from local residents.

Since 1983, when the idea of developing a state park at White Point gained support in the Legislature, numerous civic and environmental groups have joined some of the local homeowners in supporting the state park proposal. Among them are the League of Women Voters, the American Assn. of University Women of San Pedro, the Audubon Society of the Palos Verdes Peninsula, the Greater Los Angeles Council of Divers, the Izaac Walton League, the San Pedro Historical Society, the San Pedro Garden Club, the Sierra Club of the South Bay and the San Pedro and Peninsula Homeowners Coalition.

State Park Supported

Goldie Otters, a Point Fermin resident and member of the League of Women Voters, said the league supports the state park proposal because it would be “the highest and best use of a rare coastal resource.”

“The possibilities inherent to a state park would be mind boggling, quite spectacular,” said Otters, a member of the citizens advisory committee for White Point. “Many of the groups supporting the state park have similar interests in preserving the land and feel this would serve the widest possible public use. There are other recreational uses that people would want aside from soccer fields.”

But Mike Lansing, director of athletics at Mary Star High School and one of the organizers of the youth coalition, said the immediate needs of children in San Pedro should take priority over “every Tom, Dick and Harry up and down the coast” who would use a state park.

“We are not against state parks, but the problem is that we have a major problem with our own people,” said Lansing, who also serves on the citizens committee with Gaines and Otters. “If we don’t find athletic facilities immediately, the situation is only going to get worse. We are a family-oriented community, with people who are associated with youth activities. But we need space for them.”

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New Fields Promised

Although city officials have promised to replace a soccer field and a softball field that were lost at Bogdanovich park, San Pedro sports coalition members say that is not enough.

In the past 35 years, according to research done by the coalition, San Pedro has lost five playing fields, two gymnasiums and, most recently, one park. Several other fields in the community, located on land leased from the military, private companies and the Harbor Department, are in jeopardy, coalition members say, because the leases can be cancelled at any time.

“Bogdanovich is gone, and there is nothing that we can to do to change that,” said Bob Bryant, regional commissioner for the American Youth Soccer Organization, and a leader in the failed effort to keep Bogdanovich park from the military. “Even a large group like the AYSO didn’t have the muscle or power to sway the politicians, so it is time that all people interested in youth band together. We have to save what we have and work to get more.”

Gaines, chairman of the citizens’ advisory committee, said the panel welcomes proposals about White Point, but called the youth coalition’s letters and petition premature. The coalition would make more headway with the committee, he said, if it presented its ideas within the framework of the committee’s study rather than as a ultimatum.

Other Considerations

“It would be great to propose to the world that we create 40 soccer fields, but if there isn’t any funding, then what’s the point?” Gaines said. “There are other factors to consider in this aside from the scarcity of space.”

But Lansing said that youth groups have to make their move for city-owned land such as White Point Park when it comes up for public review, not when all the pieces, such as financing, are neatly in place.

“We find ourselves in a position where kids must scramble for a place to play . . . ,” Lansing wrote in a letter several months ago inviting youth groups to join the coalition. “We must make a stand now before it’s too late.”


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