Residents Fight Plan to Link Parks With Tunnel


O'Melveny Park and Bee Canyon Park, two contiguous recreation areas in Granada Hills, will soon be divided by a four-lane ribbon of concrete and speeding cars when an 800-foot-long segment of Sesnon Boulevard is built between them.

And if that isn't enough, nearby residents are also unhappy because Los Angeles City Councilman Hal Bernson is supporting a 90- to 100-foot-long pedestrian tunnel under the new road for users of the two parks.

The tunnel would become a magnet for criminal activity, said Rona Berger, a North Valley Coalition leader and critic of the plan.

"The city is closing pedestrian tunnels all over because of crime," said Berger, who organized a rally last weekend that drew 50 residents opposed to the tunnel. "Now they want to open a new one. It doesn't make sense."

Berger said the preferred alternative would be a footbridge over Sesnon.

Barbara Bell, who jogs in the two parks regularly, said the "idea of a tunnel just makes everybody who hears it pale."

Bell is also critical of Bernson's handling of the issue.

"He should have known that not involving the community in planning this thing would create this kind of brouhaha," she said.

In an Aug. 30 letter to Berger, Bernson indicated his support for the pedestrian tunnel.

But after receiving numerous complaints prompted by the tunnel opponents' gathering Sunday, Bernson said this week that he is ready to hold discussions with the community about the dispute.

The solution to keeping the two park areas connected must be "reasonable and affordable" to the city and Watt Pacific Inc., Bernson said.

The city and Watt Pacific, a subsidiary of home-building giant Watt Industries, will share the costs of the Sesnon Boulevard extension and whatever pedestrian improvements are involved.

A footbridge over Sesnon would "very definitely" be more costly than a tunnel, said David Wong, project manager for Watt.

Wong said he thought pedestrians ought to "just walk across the street" if they wanted to go from one park to the other.

As a condition of winning city approval of its plans for the 109-unit Cascade Canyon subdivision, Watt was required in 1987 to help pay for connecting the loose ends of Sesnon Boulevard at Bee Canyon.

Sesnon now ends on either side of Bee Canyon, a gulch that runs through rustic O'Melveny Park into the improved Bee Canyon Park area to the south.

Whatever connection is made should also accommodate horseback riders, Bernson said. "You can't build an equestrian bridge over Sesnon," he said.

Making the tunnel accessible to all park users simply amounts to building enough clearance into the structure so horses can negotiate it, said Alonzo Carmichael, a city Recreation and Parks Department executive.

Such clearance is already needed to handle runoff coming down Bee Canyon from rugged O'Melveny Park, he said.

Carmichael said the parks department has no problem with the tunnel.

"We haven't had any criminal problems at O'Melveny or at nearby Porter Ranch," Carmichael said. "It's a potential problem, I guess. But not now."

The problem of tunnels becoming hangouts for vagrants and drug dealers is well documented.

In the past decade, the city of Los Angeles closed approximately 100 tunnels because of such problems, according to a 1989 city budget office report.

The price tag in 1989 to shut down 11 tunnels--by filling them with soil or enclosing them with metal doors--was estimated at $400,000, the report says.

The problem is not new to Bernson. He has introduced a half-dozen separate motions to close as many tunnels in his district under the San Diego Freeway.

His motions were sparked by criminal activity and supported by the Los Angeles Police Department and school authorities.

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