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Field of Screams: How Building Baseball Fields Became a Political Blood Sport


GUEST COMMENTARY-Some long time locals—and their ideologues—think they’ve earned the right to put a strangle hold on Griffith Park. They say it’s “park preservation” but it’s NIMBYism and nasty obstructionist politics against things like: building a children’s museum near Travel Town; the Autry museum renovation; constructing an outdoor performing arts stage; and even installing way-finding trail signage or improving cellular reception in the park even though hikers are routinely airlifted out, or die, like my friend Sally Menke did when she got lost on the trails. 

Now, there’s the crusade to derail building kids’ baseball fields. 

In 2005, the obstructionist’s stance was: “No new park development.” But as more families populated the area their message softened: “We love baseball, just not here.” “Here” means on our side of the river. 

And anyone challenging this point of view becomes targets for an ugly playbook, including being slandered and libeled. 

They’ve cross-pollinated numerous organizations, groups and committees—from the Los Feliz Improvement Assoc., the Griffith Park Master Plan Working Group and the then-named Greater Griffith Park Neighborhood Council (GGPNC), specifically its Parks, Rivers and Open Space (PROS) committee. In 2010, that group’s leader, Bernadette Soter, was caught lying about a project’s status in order to retain funding. She chose a quiet resignation over a noisy public expulsion. 

With $50,000 of anonymous seed money, Soter formed the non-profit: “Friends of Griffith Park” (FoGP) with all of her ex PROS committee members jumping ship. There’s a lot of common denominators that binds this group, the least of which is not being adverse to spreading misinformation. 

So if you believe the Griffith Park’s Crystal Springs “controversy” is about picnic tables or trees, here’s what’s really going on: 

In 2005, City Councilmember Tom LaBonge released the “Griffith Park Master Plan.”  It proposed various attractions and youth baseball fields; it was not well received, sending out an APB warning of “Park “Disneyification.” 

LaBonge’s political blunder was that the plan carried his imprimatur.  Harshly criticized and in damage control mode, he empaneled a “Working Group” of vocal critics to rewrite the plan, but they squared off for over seven years about whom would manage Griffith Park’s future.  The final tome was reduced to a toothless “vision” document; carrying no weight. 

However, it’s a telling read, saying the park sees “over a million” picnickers annually. That’s a lot of zeros, yet it has zero basis in fact, as it’s mathematically untenable.  FoGP President, Gerry Hans, also says, “There are thousands of picnickers at Crystal Springs on any warm, non-work day.”  Not true. Not even close. 

So what type of zeal propels a group of mostly local middle-aged childless homeowners to go full bore with a disinformation campaign against a relatively innocuous public works project?  Well, both Tom LaBonge and current Los Feliz Neighborhood Council Recreation Representative, Mark F. Mauceri, ardently support it.  And Mauceri is why Soter got her official city influence revoked. What is not generally known is I’m the catalyst for Mauceri’s so-called “neighborhood council odyssey.” 

In 2008, frustrated by drives all over town for kids’ sports, I editorialized “Why Not Ballfields in a 4,200 acre park?” Mauceri, whom I did not know, had just arrived with twin sons and daughter, and emailed a “you’ve-gotta-be kidding” response. 

It just happened to be the same month the GGPNC was holding elections. So, at the last minute, Mauceri ran as a write-in candidate on a pro baseball field platform. And miraculously won, unseating long-time patriarch, Charley Mims. 

About this time, rumors were flying about me: that I was LaBonge’s mistress; that the paper was funded by developers; that I had embezzled money from the now defunct “Taste of Los Feliz.”  You see, I said “ballfields” out loud, and I had to pay. 

Mauceri called me having heard these same stories from then LFIA President, Marian Dodge. She lobbied him to garner a ‘no’ vote on the Autry expansion with a thinly veiled threat that backfired in a big way. 

After some time on the council, both Mauceri and colleague Tomas O’Grady became fed up with the questionable practices they witnessed as boardmembers, and formed a 10-member election slate promising reforms called: “Los Feliz Forward.” 

The Griffith Park Wayist, a blog I would later unearth as being “edited” by the PROS committee’s Kristin Sabo, targeted O’Grady, warning of violent tendencies and implying Mauceri was a pedophile.  

She also dubbed this paper, The Los Feliz Liar.

The slate won by a landslide. When the dust settled, Mauceri, self admittedly was, “The most hated man in Los Feliz” because he had beaten Mims twice, swept an election, and never wavered from thinking kids living next to a 4,200+ park deserved neighborhood baseball fields. 

FoGP retaliates by propagating scare tactics. With seven of 119 picnic tables being moved, Crystal Springs’ will not be “destroyed.” 

Sadly, this manufactured controversy, compelled city project manager, Neil Drucker, to push for a $240K Environmental Impact Report.  Drucker was also in charge of the doomed Children’s Museum project, eventually relocated near Mulholland Fountain. 

No Amazon-esque deforestation will happen and the majority of the site is in an already open clearing. Finally, the idea picnickers and baseball are mutually exclusive is absurd. 

On April 2, the park’s commissioners will decide to either pay heed to a vocal minority skilled in propaganda or side with 200,000 constituents—represented by six elected neighborhood councils—many of whom are new homeowners with families, saddled with tax bills far in excess of these older obstructionists trying to thwart a much needed city service for local children. 

(Allison B. Cohen is the publisher of the Los Feliz Ledger. Views express in this commentary of those of Allison B. Cohen and do not reflect the views of CityWatch.)







Vol 12 Issue 20

Pub: May 7, 2014


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