The Grassroots Effort to Save Plummer Park
By Stephanie J. Harker
Protect Plummer Park
In the small City of West Hollywood, the council has seen fit, even in these difficult times, with California on the brink of bankruptcy, to push forward with a $41.3M renovation of historic Plummer Park. The plan includes gutting the park to install a $10Million underground parking structure, netting 69 extra spaces and necessitating the demolition of Great Hall/Long Hall, the only two WPA (President Roosevelt's Works Progress Administration) structures in the city and decimation of Fiesta Hall designed by noted architect, Henry L. Gogerty.
In the DEIR (Draft Environmental Impact Report), CEQA (California Environmental Quality Act) stated the destruction or alteration of these three structures posed nothing short of "a significant adverse impact” for which there could be no mitigation. The plan includes the destruction of 54 old growth and heritage trees, some over 125 year old olive trees brought from the San Diego Mission in the late 1800s and a heritage ash tree now habitat to the recent returned Cooper's Hawks. Unsurprisingly, the proposal has angered many residents in the 1.9 square mile city with a population of a scant 34,000.
Despite the City of West Hollywood's claims it performed the "legal amount" of outreach to the community over the past several years, a majority of the neighbors and constituents were unaware - and many still are - of the extent of the project. Protect Plummer Park, a grassroots group, arranged a meeting with the design team and city staff on October 11, where approximately 175 distraught and outraged people showed up to express their opposition, only to be told their input would be passed on to the City Council at a future date. The complaints range from a majority of the park being fenced off for almost two years for heavy construction to the destruction of heritage trees and historic buildings that are eligible for local and California State historic preservation.
The exorbitant price tag of $41.3M for renovation of a neighborhood park, during this country's worst economic crisis, is raising questions surrounding the reported $125M worth of bonds that were sold by the city to pay for its three redevelopment projects; West Hollywood Park & Library: $64M, Plummer Park: $41M and the already approved $15M, four-story Automated Parking Structure behind the three-story City Hall.
The opponents of the project seek to have the City unwind and stop the current plan set to begin in January or February of 2012. They also seek to alter any redesign plans by omitting the underground parking structure, which would prevent the destruction of the history and the trees? Their plea is to repurpose and reuse the current buildings by restoring the structures according to the Secretary of the Interior's Standards for Rehabilitation and have those structures registered as historic landmarks. They further seek to have the heritage trees registered and maintained as historic trees rather than replacing them with new trees, which by the city’s own admission, will not produce the same shade canopy for a minimum of fifteen years, 2027.
To date, some council members have met with a few of the protesters, but their actions have shown no indication of slowing down or unwinding the project. On the contrary, the RFQ (Request for Qualifications) deadline for builders to submit qualifications has been issued and closed. The city staff has been issuing updates on the project that expound upon the changes in their mitigation plans with some blatant spin, i.e. listing the number of new trees they will be providing but omitting the number of trees (54) they are destroying and, stating, under the heading of The Facts, “It was never the City’s intention to close the entire park for 2 years”, when, in reality it is there plan to close the usable park area for 22 months. The City’s objective with updates appears to be to appease rather than mitigate.
Protect Plummer Park has gathered over 1,000 signatures on their petition opposing the project. It seems curious that when citizens are asking to have the city reduce the project thereby saving millions of dollars, that the city would press on insisting underground parking is necessary when there were several other viable location options when the project was in the early stages.
Cathy Blaivas, co organizer of Protect Plummer Park, is urging the community and other interested parties to keep the pressure on the West Hollywood City Council by emailing demands to stop the project and by attending the last three regular council meetings this year, as well as meetings of the Public Facilities and Planning Commission meetings and voice their opposition to the Phase I Plummer Park Master Plan.
Stephanie J. Harker is a member of Protect Plummer Park, a small grassroots group of neighbors and local residents in West Hollywood, CA dedicated to saving historic Plummer Park.