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Man Wins Green in Suit Over Grass

TIMES STAFF WRITER

A court has stepped into a growing dispute between authorities and free-wheeling locals over grass at Venice Beach.

No, not the kind they smoke in the funky beach-side artists’ hangout. The kind they walk on.

A small claims court is ordering the Los Angeles Department of Recreation and Parks to reimburse Venice resident Steve Mozena for grass seed he purchased last year to help beautify the community’s famed boardwalk area.

Mozena contends that officials wasted the 500 pounds of seed by not properly planting it on bare patches of a footworn greenbelt that separates the boardwalk from the beach bike and skate path.

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The city was ordered to repay him $276 after a West Los Angeles judge agreed that what little that was planted by parks workers failed to germinate because seeded areas were not fenced off.

“I even went to Home Depot and bought $50 worth of stakes and tape to cordon it off and they didn’t use it,” said Mozena, a 39-year-old online publisher and aspiring actor.

Parks officials deny that they did anything wrong. They contend that it was the grass seeds’ fault that they didn’t take root.

Mozena said he decided to help beautify the beachfront a year ago in hopes of sprucing it up before last summer’s tourist season.

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“People who come to Los Angeles to visit and go to the beach deserve to see something nice,” he said. “So I decided to work through government channels and help.”

He got officials’ permission to buy paint and hire some of Venice’s homeless to repaint several of the boardwalk’s covered rest areas. He persuaded officials to trim dead fronds from some of the 600 palm trees that line the beach.

Mozena went to a Recreation and Parks Commission meeting last March 9 to ask officials to replant barren portions of the greenbelt between Venice Boulevard and Navy Street.

According to Mozena, commission President Steve Soboroff explained that there was no money in the budget for that.

“I said, ‘OK, I’ll purchase the seed. How much will it take?’ and one of his assistants said about $300 worth. I wrote them a check,” Mozena said.

In the weeks that followed, Mozena waited for his seed to be planted. And waited.

“When you spend your own money you want to see it happen,” he said. “I kept calling and they kept procrastinating. There was a litany of excuses. They said they didn’t have gas for their tractor, so I went out and bought them gasoline. I still have the empty can.”

When officials finally started replanting, Mozena says, they wound up using only about half of his seed. And they failed to protect the areas they replanted with stakes and tape--even when he went to the home improvement store and bought some for them.

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Soboroff did not return phone calls seeking comment on the Feb. 18 court judgment. And the parks supervisor who worked on the project was on vacation last week prior to retirement--which became effective Monday. Her replacement was uncertain about when or if Mozena will be reimbursed and said she would look into the matter.

For his part, Mozena joked that he may try to slap a lien on City Hall if his seed money isn’t returned in another 30 days. He pointed out that Soboroff also has his eyes on City Hall: He’s a candidate for mayor.

“Maybe I should run for mayor myself,” Mozena said. “I could start a grass-roots campaign.”


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