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LB Parks: Iron Bulldozers, Rubber Words

(February 24, 2002) -- What happened at Scherer Park is a fire bell in the night. It could jeopardize existing park land in every other LB park and it's crucial to remain focused on what must be done about it.

A Superior Court ruled there's no legal barrier preventing City Hall from doing what it did. That includes rezoning park land as non-park institutional. A Court of Appeal declined to stop the NLB police station expansion while an appeal proceeds. The lower court ruled City Hall met minimal requirements allowing it to do what the City Council (with one dissent) approved.

This is not just a squabble about what to do at the southwest corner of Del Amo Blvd. and Atlantic Ave. City Hall's actions mean no LB park land is safe. If City Hall can erase part of Scherer Park by rezoning it institutional, it can do so in any LB park, including your neighborhood park.

That's because of a paradox: currently, the public doesn't control our public parks. The City Council does...and you've seen how they operate.

This cannot be stopped with "strategic plans" or "open space elements" that the Council (or future Councils) can waive, circumvent or change on any given Tuesday.

It can be stopped with a Charter Amendment, enacted by LB voters, that forbids current and future city management and politicians from taking park land without a vote of the people.

Anything less -- even the most grandiose sounding "plan" -- is not binding on current or future city management or Councils. We should not invest any more energy trying to stop City Hall's bulldozers by relying on City Hall's rubber words.

Some of the things LB City Hall boasts about would be considered embarrassments elsewhere, like chopping off roughly two acres from a half century old, large open space park and offering to "replace" it with a chunk of (now polluted) land elsewhere.

No respectable New Yorker would tolerate that in Central Park, even if crime were a problem. And Rudy Giuliani handled crime by hiring police, not destroying parks.

Councilmember Ray Grabinski has dissented from his colleagues on Scherer Park. reported this and provided extended transcript excerpts of Mr. Grabinski's statements.

But when the spotlight was off, so was he. Nearly two years ago, when park protection advocates favored a substantive Charter Amendment, he offered a limp wick: a Muni Code scheme that wouldn't bind future Councils and was mislabeled "parks in perpetuity." He arrogantly lectured LB park protection advocates, including Ann Cantrell, about it:

I would like us to put into the Municipal Code that park land is for parks and recreation use, and that if we want to change that, we would have to take the ordinance that we have and amend it, which means there'd be two notices to the public before any of that took place. ...

So this is not going to be what some people wanted, and Ann Cantrell and I are good friends. Ann Cantrell would love to have all the voters decide once and for all what goes into parks. And that may happen. That may happen. It's not gonna happen this week, or this month."

Thanks a load, Ray. The last thing LB residents need are more "opportunities" to be "heard" while City Hall retains the power to say no. That keeps politicians talking about parks while bulldozers roll.

Mr. Grabinski (termed out as a Council incumbent and running for Mayor for the second time) recently showed up at a City Hall run meeting on a new "open space plan" and indicated he supports having the public decide on parks.

Thanks a second load, Ray. Councilmembers can make motions and cast Council votes. A Mayor can't make motions or cast Council votes. A Council incumbent who didn't even make a motion to give the public power over parks when he could vote shouldn't be trusted to do more when he can't vote. Councilman Grabinski's record on this actually provides a very good reason why he should not be Mayor.

After the bruising Scherer Park vote, 5th district Councilwoman Jackie Kell vowed never to repeat the trainwreck in another park. That's good thinking, since her constituents cherish park land and her district could be the worst impacted.

Councilwoman Kell agendized discussion of a ballot measure to stop non park uses in parks, but left specifics vague and yanked it off the agenda on the night it was to be heard. It hasn't returned since.

This is the right time for Councilwoman Kell to reagendize the item...and invite park protection advocates to submit their draft proposal to the Charter Amendment committee for action.

(If 4th district Councilman Dennis Carroll opposes this, he will further annoy some of his already annoyed constituents.)

Meanwhile, City Hall's Recreation Commission (Mayor chosen, Council approved) is fermenting its own proposed Charter Amendment. We haven't seen the final version but we assume it focuses on giving non-elected Recreation Commissioners some role in park matters.

This is backwards. City Hall's hand selected Commissioners shouldn't be given more power; the public should.

City Hall is backing another losing strategy. A Rec. Commission Charter Amendment won't fool voters into approving what City Hall really wants: a tax increase ("bond") giving the same people who engineered the erasure of part of Scherer Park more money to spend on "parks" as they see fit.

The only way LB voters might support a local park bond is if City Hall puts a Charter Amendment on the ballot, drafted by park protection advocates, giving LB voters the legal right to prevent replays of Scherer Park in other LB parks.

If bulldozers roll at Scherer Park, leaving mangled, uprooted and sawed off trees in their wake, the lesson must be made clear in every LB neighborhood:

City Hall can do this to any LB park as long as we don't have a Charter Amendment preventing it.

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