DEEGAN ON LA--Dreams of “ballin" in Runyon Canyon Park faded away Wednesday, when the Board of Recreation and Parks Commissioners rescinded their prior decision to allow for construction of a basketball court at the center of a very heated controversy involving the Friends of Runyon Canyon (FORC) support group, Council District 4, the Department of Recreation and Parks (RAP), the Hollywood Hills West Neighborhood Council, and the surrounding community.
Councilmember David Ryu (CD4) stepped in and asked the RAP commissioners to reconsider their prior approval of the basketball court in the urban wilderness park, and that led to their decision to pull the plug on the project. The Friends of Runyon Canyon supported his request.
The slam dunk that FORC thought would have been a welcome improvement as part of their plans for the park—-the installation of a basketball court in the rough terrain of the very popular urban wilderness park—turns out to have been defeated by a full-court press from the surrounding community that was too deafening for David Ryu and the Rec and Parks commissioners to ignore. Ryu ran for office on a pledge to listen to the community before making a decision and, on this matter, he got an earful, and a lawsuit.
The dispute has not been without its moments, and there may be more, as some in the community have begun to mobilize a push to revoke the Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) between RAP and the Friends of Runyon Canyon, on the grounds that FORC has “lost the trust of the community”. At a meeting of the RAP Commissioners on June 1, several community speakers made public comments asking that the revocation of FORC’s MOU be placed on an upcoming commission agenda. It’s now up the commissioners to deal with that request, since they are the ones that made the deal with FORC to begin with. The spotlight now shifts to them, waiting to see what they will do.
Losing their license, right now, is not a solution until FORC proves that they did not learn from their very significant mistakes, and have taken advantage of their second chance, by turning their program around and becoming a fully transparent team player, and reaching out to and reconciling with their opponents.
The chips have now fallen, and the consequences for FORC, RAP and CD4 going it alone without having included the community in the decisions of what to do in the park, for which they have each apologized, are now clear.
At FORC, the controversy has caused a change in their leadership. They now have a new president, and the organization may have a new attitude. In their May 17 letter to David Ryu they acknowledged that “the project was far more divisive than anyone ever imagined”.
FORC’s leap-before-you-look approach, that tried to force the basketball court into reality without any public comment, seriously backfired and damaged their credibility and standing in the community.
At Rec and Parks, the cancellation puts them in the awkward position of losing a significant donation to their program of public-private partnerships that would help bring revenue into their program. It may also make potential donors wary of becoming embroiled in a controversy if a community doesn’t “like” their gift.
For David Ryu, this has been an affirmation of his stressing that extensive community outreach and buy-in is critical before taking action. He came late to this project that was launched by his predecessor, and may have been caught by surprise by what he inherited, but quickly responded to his constituents and got into action. In a few weeks he will complete his first year in office, and this could be a fitting way for him to close out the year with an accomplishment that delivers on his campaign pledge that what communities and neighborhoods think about projects matters, and they must, and will be, heard by him.
Anastasia Mann, President of the Hollywood Hills West Neighborhood Council, captured the sentiment that many should be sharing, when she said “Thanks to David Ryu and his staff for throwing themselves in the middle of the bullring. Very admirable, and also RAP for coming to the table. It’s a very rare occurrence to get a “mea culpa” from city government. We need to be very grateful to David Ryu and his team for taking the high road, and to RAP for supporting the cancellation”.
The FORC support group, a public entity doing business as a proxy for the Rec and Parks department, has now revealed some of their finances on their website, but has not published their donor agreements, or the minutes of their board meetings. While they ask for donations, they do not say how many they have received, or who they were from or their individual value, leaving too many unanswered questions about who FORC is.
Changing this, and becoming 100% transparent about their operations, could go a long way to helping them regain the trust of the community. They need to diffuse the strong opposition against their existence from certain parts the community that have already created the firestorm that led to the cancellation of the basketball court.
The “community” is just one of the constituencies that FORC must satisfy. They must also maintain the backing of the RAP commissioners and Councilmember David Ryu.
A requirement by Ryu and RAP for them to be more transparent and to populate their website with more data might help bring FORC into the sunlight. Channeled properly, FORC may wind up as a benefit to the community, and return them to their service mission that could help to restore the communities’ faith and trust in them, and help make Runyon Canyon Park sustainable for the future.
(Tim Deegan is a long-time resident and community leader in the Miracle Mile, who has served as board chair at the Mid City West Community Council and on the board of the Miracle Mile Civic Coalition. Tim can be reached at [email protected].)
Previous columns in the Runyon Canyon Park series:
- Backroom Plan for Basketball in Runyon Canyon Park Continues to Unravel … Tension Mounts
- LA Councilman Puts the Brakes on Runyon Canyon Basketball Court … as the Growing Pains Continue
- Lessons Learned from the Runyon Canyon Dispute? Time will Tell!