MAILANDER’S LA - At times, Sunland-Tujunga aspires to be LA’s Alps—and at times, it’s recognizably our Appalachia. Which side will show up for the next battle?
The community has recently seen Sunland Skate Park, a small but venerable skateboarder, skater, and scooter facility on Foothill Boulevard termed a “small ramp park” in skate lingo, shuttered for an indefinite time. The facility was locked up over a month ago, and some thought the City was soon to demolish the site.
But a new crop of activists is in place to manage the fallout from the closure, and now even has good hopes of re-opening the 10,000 square foot fenced off skating area.
It’s a small issue but it is catching a lot of community traction as people tired of old-style Sunland-Tujunga politics are taking an interest.
The City of Los Angeles maintains it can shutter Sunland Skate Park without much consequence to the community because of the nearby skate park at Hansen Dam, a park that is not fenced in and has what Sunland-Tujunga community members occasionally call “sketchy” security. The activists disagree that the park at Hansen Dam offers everything the Sunland Skate Park offers.
But in a late development, Andrea Epstein of the Rec and Parks Department says that the city is actually “working on doing repairs” to the Sunland Skate Park. “The bids came in for construction just this morning,” she told me over the phone late Thursday. When asked if there is any danger of the skate park shutting down permanently, Epstein said resolutely “No.”
Rumor has been known to fly in Sunland-Tujunga, where the top organizations have been known to filter vital civic information to the community in a stingy manner.
“We’re a bunch of mothers,” Yvonne David, new to the activist scene but not to the skate park, told me about the effort to force the city’s hand with an online petition, now signed by at least 500 people even if you discount occasional Russian Federation entry.
The interest in keeping the Skate Park open or reopening it as soon as possible is indeed largely home-grown, grass-roots, and spurred by moms (and also by local business Fly Scooter, run by Irene Anderson, a skateboarder’s mom herself), some of whom have already been battle-hardened by the community’s various efforts on behalf of better public schooling.
But the cause is also attracting interest from people who don’t have children at all, as the apparently small community setback fits a larger context: it is but the latest of a long string of civic disappointments that have beleaguered the community since the mid-zeroes, when the ever-ambitious Wendy Greuel ditched the district to set herself up in the citywide Controller’s Office in the hopes of eventually bagging the Mayoralty itself.
If the skate park remains closed for a protracted period, it may have an impact on other businesses servicing teens too. That doesn’t seem to bother present Councilmember Richard Alarcon’s office, as Sunland skateboarders who go to the Hansen Dam facility, necessarily by car, still might spend spare allowance dollars in the district. But it takes a key adolescent outlet out of a community that despite its bucolic setting is under-serviced by park space and city-hosted recreational opportunities.
And the Hansen Dam facility, originally pitched as a facility of regional dimension—large enough to draw patrons from all over the east Valley—is only 6,000 square feet, nearly 30,000 square feet smaller than true regional skate parks. Alarcon, who forced the project through when he was not representing Sunland-Tujunga, settled for a skate park at Hansen Dam that was regional in name only.
[Councilman Alarcon’s office did not respond to requests for information on the City’s decision to shutter Sunland Skate Park.]
Alarcon showed abundant sensitivity to Sunland-Tujunga when he first became its Councilmember—a time coincident with his failed run for State Assembly. His term on Council ends June 30. The man who will replace him, Felipe Fuentes, has little to no legacy or tie to the community.
But the bedroom community of 60,000 doesn’t need any outside provocation—it also hasn’t been able to overcome its own various internal battles. It remains considerably more combustible than other outspoken parts of town, even more so than other contentious activist-rich hotspots like Glassell Park, Venice and El Sereno, all of which have shown signs of political maturity in recent years.
As demonstrated by the recent round of concern over the sudden closure of the skate park, rumor and distrust fly in Sunland-Tujunga, causing the community to work at cross-purposes with itself too often.
Sunland-Tujunga doesn’t have a single Internet community message board, for instance—it has at least a dozen, many of which are run as sanctuaries from other message boards. It doesn’t have a single print newspaper, it has had three it can call its own, two of which have intermittent publishing schedules, and including one published with support from Scientology, and another run by a irascible septuagenarian with a fascination for documenting Sunland-Tujunga’s horrific boulevard and highway accidents, of which there are a stunning surfeit.
That danger surfeit also concerns the moms who are now facing the prospect of turning their wheeling adolescents loose on Sunland-Tujunga’s mad streets, filled with off-road enthusiasts.
The community is also lip-serviced by a Diaspora of often surly blogs that on their best days serve as community bulletin boards and on their worst as conduits of misinformation run by entrenched activists rather than responsible journalists.
And through all this, Sunland-Tujunga maintains one of the city’s highest-profile Neighborhood Councils, but also the one that is often criticized as most beholden to the whims of the city’s projections for the community, rather than the community’s hopes for itself.
Its Neighborhood Council doesn’t post agendas or minutes in a timely manner, leading many to believe it works against them rather than for them. The body’s leadership also overlaps the Chamber of Commerce considerably, making both orgs easy game for outside interests.
With all these and more community kerfuffle’s, Sunland-Tujunga has had abundant problems putting forward a solid front since its battle against Home Depot from the middle of the past decade—to which activists there now look back on with the kind of sadly insistent glory-days pathos so well caught on stage in Jason Miller’s Pulitzer Prize winning play That Championship Season.
And it gets worse when you look at the representation at the top. Through political opportunism and gerrymandering, come July 1 it will have had its fourth representative in five years—its present Councilmember, Richard Alarcon, as well as its two former Councilmembers, Paul Krekorian and Wendy Greuel, all nominated to the City’s Redistricting Commission the kind of people who weren’t at all concerned about the ramifications of shoehorning the largely Anglo and often angry community into a Latino-majority district.
Three of Sunland-Tujunga’s four revolving-door Councilmembers, in fact, have worked to slam home various affordable housing projects there that other gentrified parts of the city wouldn’t be likely to tolerate, even while quality development has been sparse. And the fourth Councilmember, the incoming Fuentes, was simply called “disingenuous” and “ridiculous” on SB 1818, a notorious affordable housing law, by LA Times columnist Robert Greene when Fuentes responded in a candidate debate that he didn’t know to which SB 1818 the questioner was referring.
Through all the gaming and political paralysis, Foothill Boulevard remains blighted in many spots and certainly has seen none of the sparkly retail redevelopment that commercial strips in the adjacent cities of La Canada Flintridge and Glendale have enjoyed over the past decade.
LA’s Rec & Parks Department doesn’t seem to favor the place much of late either: according to community activist and realtor Tomi Bowling, the city's most cash-strapped department tried to assess such a hefty fee for the annual Watermelon Festival that the sponsoring Lion’s Club—which has stood studiously apart from the community’s internecine politics—will host the festival in the Rose Bowl for the first time this August.
The Lion’s Club, in a rare expression of Sunland-Tujunga subtlety, says it’s simply outgrown the Sunland Park site. Rec & Parks says that their fees are set by their commission and that they were never contacted by the Lion’s Club regarding coming back this year.
Since the heady but now distant days of the Home Depot fight, the community has been, in a phrase, beaten up by the city at nearly every turn, almost even punished by it, and often with its own community organizations serving as willful accomplices.
But the people opposing the Sunland Skate Park indefinite closure, who gathered a lot of steam as they spread word about their petition, will present their petition and their concerns over the closure to Sunland-Tujunga Neighborhood Council on May 8.
Their expectations are not high, but they may represent a new kind of hope for a community that for want of strong leadership did not experience the kind of growth, gentrification and unity that many other up-and-coming pockets of LA enjoyed through the zeroes.
(Joseph Mailander is a writer, an LA observer and a contributor to CityWatch. He is also the author of Days Change at Night: LA's Decade of Decline, 2003-2013. Mailander blogs at www.josephmailander.com.)
Vol 11 Issue 34
Pub: Apr 26, 2013