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New Name for Stadium Evokes Community Uproar : Buildings: Educators wanted to honor a longtime coach, but opponents say there has been a loss of civic identity.

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TIMES STAFF WRITER

It began simply as a plan for the local school board to honor a veteran teacher for more than three decades of exemplary service.

But the Norwalk-La Mirada Unified School District board’s decision to rename La Mirada Stadium after high school Coach Arvel Goodman has bruised civic pride and triggered a dispute involving educators, high school alumni, public agencies and residents who paid for construction of the stadium.

On one side are educators, boosters and some alumni of La Mirada High School, where the stadium was built in 1973. They persuaded the school board late last month to rename the stadium after the highly regarded Goodman, a tireless coach and athletic administrator who retired in June after 34 years in the district.

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“We figure with all the work he has done for students over the years at La Mirada that this is a small way to pay him back,” said organizer Randy Fox, a 1980 graduate of the school.

But the action angered some residents who voted 20 years ago to raise property taxes to pay for construction of the stadium. These opponents, including the former stadium commissioner, see the 8,800-seat stadium as a community symbol. They also contend that they were not properly notified of plans to rename the stadium. The City Council, Chamber of Commerce and Parks and Recreation Department have expressed similar outrage and the city is examining legal options.

“We wanted an identity for La Mirada when we built it,” said former stadium commissioner Ralph H. Davis. “We didn’t name it after the school, but after the city. This is a slap in the face to the city of La Mirada.”

In the middle of all this is the low-key Goodman, a Huntington Beach resident who continues to volunteer as an offensive line coach for the Matadores despite his retirement.

“I’m real thrilled about having the stadium named after me,” Goodman said. “But I can understand how some of these people (against the change) could feel. This has always been La Mirada Stadium, but to look up there and see your name on it is something.”

Nestled in rolling hills that straddle the border of Los Angeles and Orange counties, La Mirada was a bustling bedroom community in 1966 when Davis, the father of three sons, and members of the high school booster club approached the school district about building a stadium on vacant land at La Mirada High. La Mirada--one of five district high schools at the time--played its football games in Norwalk at the now-closed Excelsior High and fans wanted a place they could call their own.

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“This was a close community,” Davis said. “It was like a small town dropped into a big city.”

Davis, a business forms printer, helped form the La Mirada Stadium Committee, which collected 7,000 signatures in favor of building the stadium. But the proposal languished for years.

“It was very difficult to get anything done,” said retired city clerk Ann Martin, a stadium supporter. “The school district said they didn’t have money to build it.”

In 1968 the stadium committee proposed a special election to create a tax district that would assess homes $5 a year for each $20,000 in valuation. Organizers turned in nearly 12,000 signatures in support of the special election, but the vote was postponed until Oct. 24, 1972, because of a dispute over who would hold title to the stadium.

The measure won by an overwhelming margin, according to Martin.

The stadium opened on Oct. 3, 1973. More than 5,000 people attended the ceremony, which featured a band, parade and speeches. Davis turned down a request by supporters who wanted the facility named after him. Instead, a plaque thanking the residents of La Mirada and specifically Davis for their hard work, was placed at the stadium’s entrance.

The plaque remains, although it is tarnished and in need of repair. But the words “La Mirada Stadium” have been removed from atop the press box.

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Chris Freeman, girls athletic director at the school, supports the name change. “I’m for positive values,” Freeman said. “I don’t see a positive value for leaving this as La Mirada Stadium.”

Opponents say that educators ignored the history of the stadium and don’t care what the community wants.

“The teachers who came up with this idea live in their own little world,” said La Mirada insurance broker Rich Trujillo, whose three daughters graduated from La Mirada High.

They also contend that residents were not properly notified of public hearings after the name change request was first brought before the board last spring. School district officials said they sent notices home last month with students at its three remaining high schools and mailed an announcement to La Mirada City Manager Gary K. Sloan as required by the stadium agreement.

“It was done without really notifying the public,” said Mac Ausbon, president of the La Mirada Chamber of Commerce. “This seems to be something that was rushed through without much regard for history of the stadium.”

School board President Armando Moreno admitted that it might have been better to send notices to all La Mirada residents before the final vote Nov. 2, but he said the district was required only to notify the city manager by mail.

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Moreno said the school board will not budge from the decision. “It’s done,” he said.

Davis said that board members have made a huge blunder. Now they’re “stonewalling” the public until the controversy dies down. “I felt they were either ignorant or just didn’t care what we think,” he said.

Goodman Stadium, its new name glistening in blue and gold letters atop the freshly painted press box, was dedicated Friday at halftime during La Mirada’s 25-17 Suburban League loss to Artesia.

Mayor C. David Peters of La Mirada seems resigned to the fact that the city may have lost a namesake, but he made it clear that residents won’t soon forget La Mirada Stadium.

“We are one of 84 cities in Los Angeles County,” he said. “Any time we can retain our identification it would be helpful.”

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