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Coming soon -- right of way ballfields

September 23, 2000 -- Foothill Leader

Coming soon -- right of way ball fields

By Anita Susan Brenner

     La Canada Flintridge City Manager Jerry Fulwood has confirmed negotiations are underway for a long-term lease of the Southern California Edison right-of-way north of Foothill Boulevard.
     The purpose: ball fields.
     The Edison property consists of two parcels. One is 7.3 acres between the corner of Foothill and Indiana and Olive Lane. The other is 9.4 acres between Olive Lane and El Vago.
     Last May, the City Council conducted a special breakfast meeting with L.A. County Supervisor Mike Antonovich. According to the minutes, the Edison property was discussed and "the city was asked to survey the property owners living near the power lines regarding the proposed fields."
     Next, The Arroyo Group (TAG) and EPT Landscape Architects analyzed the Edison right-of-way with six other potential ball field sites. On July 11, TAG and EPT issued a written report. Besides Edison, the report addressed the school district offices on Palm Drive, the Flintridge Tennis Club, the Descanso Gardens parking lot, the Foothill Municipal Water District, Cherry Canyon III (above Flintridge) and the Coutin property near the Angeles National Forest.
     The report has never been available on the city's Web site. Finally, City Council member Deborah Orlik, who campaigned on the promise that she would "open up City Hall," posted the report on the Internet. You can read it at
     The report states the Edison property is "undeveloped" with "good accessibility." The two Edison parcels could accommodate between 15 and 28 youth soccer fields. The site is too narrow for a high school field.
     The report concludes: Sports fields on this site would also greatly impact adjacent residences because of the narrowness of the site, especially if lighting is a requirement. The site would also require major grading to accommodate a flat sport field.
     Close reading of closed-session agenda reveals the city has held multiple sessions with real property negotiators to discuss the price and terms of payment for acquisition of several other properties. Fulwood confirmed the Edison right-of-way negotiations were discussed in closed session a few weeks ago. Fulwood also gave an update on all seven properties:
     * Edison property: "It is a possibility." This month, the City Council held a closed session about the lease negotiations.
     * School district offices: The city is not actively pursuing this site.
     * Flintridge Tennis Club: No steps have been taken to pursue this site.
     * Descanso Gardens: Descanso Gardens has other plans for the parking lot.
     * Foothill Municipal Water District: Conference with real property negotiator in a Sept. 5 closed session to discuss price and terms of payment.
     * Cherry Canyon III: The city has had general discussions, but nothing is actively being done.
     * Coutin property: Conference with real property negotiator in a Sept. 5 closed session to discuss price and terms of payment.
     Just as there are two ways to govern, there are two ways to get ball fields.
     Method No. 1 is to keep the public out of it. You've heard the rhetoric -- we are a republic, not a democracy. Keep the residents on a need-to-know basis. Too many cooks spoil the soup.
     Under the first method, it's OK to acquire the property first before you "survey the property owners living near the power lines regarding the proposed fields."
     That's what happened with the Caltrans Lot. The city bought the property and issued a report before it told the neighbors.
     Method No. 2 is called participatory democracy. This method requires that the city share its knowledge with the public. After all, La Canadans are a smart bunch of people. And who knows? Joe Q. Public might come up with a good idea. Maybe none of the homeowners will mind the erection of 28 youth soccer fields on the right-of-way. But wouldn't it be good manners to ask?
     Good manners and good sense. Take the Jesuits, for example. In his treatise on participatory decision-making, Michael J. Sheeran, S.J., explored the roots of participatory democracy: "The Jesuit Order, of which the writer is a member, discovered in its earliest documents a forgotten decision-making procedure called Communal Discernment. Members of the community were expected to share in decisions by praying about the issues the community faced, sharing with each other the outcomes of the prayer and moving through discussion and further prayer to virtually unanimous conclusions."
     The Religious Society of Friends (Quakers), uses a similar method to go "beyond majority rule" to reach unanimous decisions. "The central idea was the complete elimination of majorities and minorities; it became the Quaker custom to reach all decisions in unity."
     Unanimity might be a pipe dream, but a little bit of participatory democracy could be a good thing. The 1999 Caltrans debacle occurred when the city appointed an advisory committee that did not include residential neighbors. When the committee issued a report outlining plans for a multimillion-dollar sports arena at the onramp of the Glendale (2) Freeway, the neighbors complained.
     The ball field advocates reacted angrily. To their chagrin, four neighbors were added to the committee. The committee was sent back to square one.
     The first several meetings featured juvenile posturing and vitriol. Everyone assumed that the committee would be forced to issue majority and a minority reports.
     But then the magic happened. After awhile, people began to calm down. The committee members began to listen to one another. In the end, the two sides reached an agreement.
     Something will be the litmus test of the next City Council election, but no one knows what it will be. Will it be the ball fields, or will it be the method?
     Does the end justify the means?

copyright September 26, 2000 Anita Susan Brenner