Plans to add baseball fields to Griffith Park may draw legal challenge

Gerry Hans, left, president of Friends of Griffith Park, Marian Dodge, the group's vice president, and Clare Darden, board member of the Griffith J. Griffith charitable trust, are opposed to plans to transform a portion of the park's picnic grounds into two baseball fields.
(Mel Melcon / Los Angeles Times)

Sports enthusiasts and preservationists are girding for a legal fight over plans to add two baseball fields to the east side of Griffith Park, replacing four acres of picnic area and taking out 44 trees.

Led by Los Angeles City Councilman Tom LaBonge, advocates of the Little League size ball fields say they would address a shortage of baseball diamonds for youth near downtown. The City Council last month approved construction of the ball fields in the Crystal Springs picnic area.


For the Record


Griffith Park: An article in the Sept. 13 LATExtra section about a proposal to build two baseball fields in Griffith Park quoted Mark Mauceri of the Los Feliz Neighborhood Council saying, “Sycamores grow like weeds.” In fact, Mauceri, in responding to complaints that sycamore and oak trees would be felled to make room for the ball fields, had attributed the quote to a member of the Los Angeles Board of Recreation and Parks Commissioners.


LaBonge said children near Hanson Dam, Eagle Rock, Toluca and South Park have similar recreational facilities, and youngsters near Griffith Park deserve the same. “But the opponents have a vision for the park that does not include active recreation,” he said.

Those opponents, led by the historical preservation groups Friends of Griffith Park and the Griffith J. Griffith Charitable Trust, contend the plans would ruin a beautiful green space and invite more commercial ventures into the park’s 5-square-mile expanse of recreational facilities and urban wilderness.


They said they are preparing a lawsuit to challenge an environmental impact report on grounds it did not fully analyze the aesthetic and biological damage from the ball fields or adequately explore alternative sites.

Griffith Van Griffith, great-grandson of Col. Griffith Jenkins Griffith, who donated the land for the park in 1896, said the park was supposed to remain open for anyone to use.

“Locking that land up for a few dozen Little Leaguers is exactly the kind of thing my great-grandfather would have been opposed to,” Griffith said. “It’s part of an effort by the city to commercialize the park, which my great-grandfather envisioned as a place where the people of Los Angeles could get out of the hustle and bustle.”

Col. Griffith offered the park property to the city as “a place of recreation and rest for the masses, a resort for the rank and file.” Over the decades, the park has become home for many popular attractions, including the Griffith Park Observatory, the Los Angeles Zoo, golf courses, pony and train rides, tennis courts, picnic grounds and concessions.


Yet much of the park remains wild, with mountains ranging up to 1,820 feet. Deer rove the high ground. Bobcats prowl its emerald picnic lawns, chaparral-covered slopes and plunging canyons. Cooper’s hawks roost in the boughs of trees that predate the park itself.

The Crystal Springs area includes manicured picnic grounds and shady pockets of solitude for those who would retreat from the clamor of big city life.

The ball fields would go near Park Center between the zoo and the Los Feliz Boulevard park entrance. They would require removal of live oaks and California sycamores, including a sycamore designated by the city as a “heritage tree” because it is a living artifact of Los Angeles history.

The new facilities also would replace the largest picnic area in the park available for large family gatherings, cultural fairs and festivals, reunions and other special occasions.


Critics also worry that the ball fields would invite entrepreneurial development such as those proposed in an unsuccessful 2005 “Griffith Park master plan”: multilevel parking structures, aerial tramways, a hotel, a restaurant, a culinary school and a sports complex.

Mark Mauceri of the Los Feliz Neighborhood Council said the project would improve the lives of many youngsters in the area.

“Nobody likes to pull trees out of the ground,” Mauceri said. “But we do this from time to time for the betterment of our quality of life.”

He dismissed opponents’ fears of environmental disruptions by noting that the park is home to an abundance of trees. “The birds will just move to the next tree up the hill,” he said. “Sycamores grow like weeds.”


Mauceri also questioned Griffith’s understanding of his great-grandfather’s intentions.

“I think Col. Griffith would have welcomed these baseball parks with open arms,” he said. “People who think they can channel Col. Griffith’s wishes are putting their own ideological veneer on it.”

LaBonge said the cost of roughly $1.25 million would be paid for largely from the city’s Proposition K fund for parks and recreation.

On Friday, LaBonge presented a compromise offer: The city would have an independent arborist review the targeted trees to “see if there is a way that we can reposition all of them.” It also would tweak the base lines so that “the fields would not interfere with the heritage sycamore.”


On Saturday, more than 200 opponents of the project are expected to gather beneath the heritage tree sycamore. “It will be one person for each year of the tree’s life,” said Marian Dodge, vice president of Friends of Griffith Park.
Twitter: @LouisSahagun