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Commentary: LeBard needs open space, not a parking lot

For the past seven years, the Huntington Beach City School District, the local community and Seaview Little League have hashed out various development options for the closed LeBard Elementary School site.

Most were detrimental to the adjacent Suburbia Park and Meredith Gardens neighborhoods and were ultimately eliminated. However, the most recent proposal has garnered solid support from the parties involved.

The LeBard development plan calls for 15 new homes to be built solely on the old school site. Moreover, the city of Huntington Beach would acquire the remaining 6.2 acres to preserve as open space and baseball fields. The school district initially proposed the plan — which has gained broad acceptance in the community as well as from Seaview. On June 9, the Planning Commission approved it, minus the proposed 17 additional parking spaces.

Sounds like a great compromise that would benefit the entire community, right? Not according to some Meredith Gardens residents who think that parking lot could be built on the west corner of the LeBard site — a 2-acre grassy area of open space popular with families, people walking their dogs, kids playing, adults exercising, as well as hundreds of youth baseball players practicing.

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A wasteland? An ideal location for a parking lot? Many people would strongly disagree.

In fact, more than 60 Suburbia Park residents recently signed a petition adamantly opposing the last-minute proposed parking lot. The school district is against it. Little League representatives are against it.

Plain and simple, the parking lot is a terrible idea. The additional parking would be required only about three months of the year during baseball season. The remaining time, any new parking lot would be a vacant asphalt wasteland, a paved eyesore that could attract illegal nighttime activities.

Suburbia Park has just one entrance leading to the tract from Brookhurst Street. As every local resident knows, the left-turn stacking lane into the tract can be dangerous. The turn lane can safely accommodate only three cars at a time. With vehicles traveling 45 mph or faster along Brookhurst, any car sticking out is vulnerable to being badly rear-ended. Add 80 to 90 vehicles solely accessing Suburbia Park during baseball season, and would be only a matter of time before someone is seriously hurt or killed from the increased traffic.

Recommendations to alleviate traffic problems need to address safety concerns for both Meredith Gardens and Suburbia Park. Some Meredith Gardens residents feel they bear the brunt of parking problems. However, as one who lives near the baseball fields, I can attest that Suburbia Park absorbs its fair share of baseball-related traffic. In fact, Cynthia Drive, which abuts the LeBard site, provides about 80 street-based parking spaces. And this doesn’t include the parking available on adjacent streets. So no, one community does not bear the brunt.

Possible solutions to the traffic issues:

• Seaview can encourage teams to carpool for games.

• Baseball season could be expanded a few weeks to spread out the games, reducing traffic.

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• Limited use of the Southern California Edison easement could be sought to help alleviate congestion.

Permanently destroying irreplaceable and much-needed open space to cater to the whims of a select few does not benefit the community as a whole. Our kids, families, seniors and others in the area need and deserve the grassy areas of LeBard to remain open space.

STEVE VASQUEZ lives in Huntington Beach.


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