Sunland-Tujunga residents have a bandit in their midst. A man who calls himself El Bandito steals weeds, trash and debris from other people's property — community eyesores — and replaces them with artistic creations.
Don't worry, Sunland-Tujunga is not experiencing a crime wave, more like an outbreak of literally off-the-wall public art.
The man in question is Richard Stewart, a local painting contractor and president of the Sunland-Tujunga Rotary Club. He saw a weed- and trash-filled property on Tujunga Canyon Boulevard and, not knowing who owned it, decided to take it upon himself in October to clean it up. Once it was cleared, he noticed all the interesting rocks and starting stacking them up, and "Bandito Park" was born.
At the edge of the park next to Tujunga Canyon Boulevard sit four old fence posts, or as Richard calls them, "The Four Horsemen." He tried to pull them up, but they wouldn't budge, so he piled up some rocks around them and, as a nod to his Texas roots, he put cowboy hats on them.
After he finished his work, he went home to his then-girlfriend Susan and brought her to see it because he did not expect it to stay up for long. The cowboy hats were later stolen, but other than that, there's since been no vandalism at the park whatsoever.
As the seasons changed, Richard decorated the park. At Christmas he hung gold balls from the oak trees and placed others on top of the posts, and for Valentine's Day, he hung red balls and hearts. The decorations continued to change throughout the spring and into summer.
Richard and Susan were even married in the park three months ago under a big oak, christened "The Wedding Tree" by their Pastor Bill Manning, who officiated the ceremony.
Then last week, four "No Trespassing" signs were found nailed to the oak trees. Richard was devastated. He felt like he'd lost a friend. He went home depressed and told Susan, "It's over."
I was sad when I read on thefoothillsforum.com, a local online bulletin board, that Richard would have to stop beautifying the site. Even though I don't drive on Tujunga Canyon Boulevard often, his clever creations always made me smile.
Richard said he sulked for two days and was then blown away by the community outcry and protest. E-mails to the owners of the property and posts to the online forum brought an immediate response from one of the partners of Snowball West Investors, owners of the Verdugo Hills Golf Course, of which the park is a part. He sent Richard an e-mail giving him permission to "go on the property to continue your efforts to make 'Bandito Park' more attractive."
His hope now is to make the space so attractive that the cities of Glendale and Los Angeles will see the value of it and team up with Los Angeles County, which has pledged $1.7 million to buy the golf course and make Bandito Park a real park.
To see a video about Richard's work at Bandito Park, visit his website at http://www.richardstewartpainting.com and scroll down to community service.
SHARON RAGHAVACHARY is a former Crescenta Valley Town Council member and on the steering committee for Crescenta Valley Community Assn. She may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.