The first golfer has yet to take a swing, but some in Hollywood are teeing off against a huge private driving range that has popped up at Los Angeles City College.
Nearby residents and students at the Vermont Avenue campus grumble that the towering facility is unsightly and that its proposed round-the-clock use by as many as 70 golfers at a time may be unsafe.
Construction so far has included placement of the range’s 27 fencing poles -- some of which tower as high as 160 feet over adjoining campus buildings. Thick protective netting will be suspended from the poles to keep errant balls from flying into classrooms and nearby homes and the adjacent Braille Institute headquarters.
The $5-million range will include a three-level platform structure that will allow groups of golfers to practice their swings. The facility is expected to be completed in August.
But construction is far enough along to cause jaws to drop in the busy low-rise Vermont Avenue corridor between Sunset Boulevard and the Hollywood Freeway. Even without the safety netting, the towering poles dominate the landscape.
Many in the working-class immigrant neighborhood figured the college was expanding when they saw heavy equipment move in and the huge steel poles go up.
“We thought it was for new classes. But then we thought, ‘Seventeen stories tall is too tall for a classroom,’ ” said Apetnakum Avetisyan, an ambulance company dispatcher who has lived on nearby Heliotrope Drive since 1994.
“They didn’t tell us anything about this in advance. We’re not going to be able to sit out at night anymore and have a view; we’re going to be looking at a driving range wall. This may be OK for a commercial area. But it’s different to put it smack in the middle of a school.”
City College Vice President Jackie Ireland defended the driving range. She said it is “something that will be used by the community and will be beneficial to the college.”
“It may really be ugly right now, but I haven’t seen the finished project,” she said, adding that the range will also “help us in-house with the instruction we give in golf.”
Not everyone is convinced.
City College students also were puzzled when they watched construction workers erect the poles in a dog-leg pattern around the campus child-care center. And they were jolted when a crane hoisting one of the poles collapsed last month and fell into the entryway of the campus financial aid office.
Several students waiting under a canopy outside the office jumped out of the way when a project inspector noticed the crane tipping and shouted a warning.
“It looks dangerous. It’ll be heads-up when the golf balls start flying,” freshman Johanna Cortes predicted Friday as she surveyed the driving range.
“It’s ugly. It detracts from the school. If they wanted to build something there, they should have built more classrooms or parking,” said sophomore Jesse de Jesus.
Child-care center Director Jane Melton said parents of some of the 80 preschoolers who attend the campus facility have “reacted strongly” to seeing the driving range poles above children’s classrooms and play areas. Some are talking of pulling out their children, she said.
“I don’t know that I’m particularly confident” myself that golf balls won’t come flying into the play area, Melton said Friday. She said state child-care licensing inspectors may have questions of their own when they see that the center extends into the driving range area.
At the neighboring Braille Institute, facilities foreman Everett Ratliff stood Friday beneath a reception lobby skylight that is only a slice shot away from the driving range as he explained how people do double takes over the towers.
“You’ll be able to find the Braille building from the freeway from now on. Just look for the poles,” he said with a laugh.
City College alumnus Duke Russell, who for years has criticized the driving range proposal, said he was nonetheless “shocked to see such a monstrosity on public school property” when the poles went up. “Nobody expected it to be this ugly. It looks like a Barnum & Bailey Circus,” he said.
According to Russell, a private appraisal of the site done for him suggests that a $120,000-per-year lease for the land negotiated by the Los Angeles Community College District is only about a third of what the property is worth.
District Chancellor Mark Drummond did not return phone calls seeking comment Friday. But officials previously defended the lease by explaining that it was ratified in 1999, three years before voters approved a $1.24-billion bond issue that provided City College with money that could now be used to develop the empty lot for classrooms.
Developer Hee Cho of CK Realty & Management said free buckets of balls will be given to members of City College golf classes. He said district officials got a good deal from the lease -- which runs 10 years but can be extended to 35.
“It’s going to be a bridge between the community and the college,” he said.
One nearby resident agreed. “A golf range there doesn’t bother me. I like golf. I’d be over there every night if it was open,” said Mike McMurry, a student at a chiropractic college.