Serving Larchmont Village, Hancock Park, and the Greater Wilshire neighborhoods of Los Angeles since 2011.

Ryu’s Hold on Larchmont Playground Resulted from Constituent Phone Calls

Telephone briefing conducted by CD4 Councilmember David Ryu at Marlborough School on March 14, 2020

On Saturday, April 4, City Council Member David Ryu announced he is postponing the construction of the Larchmont Playground indefinitely. The announcement came less than a month after Ryu held a community briefing by telephone, at which he re-affirmed his support for the playground and announced a plan that would allow both the Sunday Farmers Market and the playground to co-exist in the 34-space city parking lot at 209 N. Larchmont Blvd.

Initially scheduled as an in-person community meeting to address growing opposition to the playground, and concerns about the fate of the Larchmont Farmers Market, the meeting was converted to a telephone briefing after restrictions on large public gatherings were imposed because of COVID-19.  And because the briefing was changed to a listen-in format only, with questions read by Ryu’s staff, he offered to speak later with anyone who wanted to have a conversation with him, in the days after the meeting. Since that offer, Ryu has participated in more than a dozen conference calls, with as many six constituents on each call, according to his staff.

“Councilmember Ryu is still open to doing a park,” Mark Pampanin, CD4 Press Secretary, told the Buzz. “He ran on a platform of listening to the community, he served as a field deputy at one time, and he really likes hearing directly from people in the community. He prefers to have a dialogue that is two-sided, not just hearing from people by email.”

According to Pampanin, the phone calls after the Town Hall gave Ryu a better understanding of the issues and the opportunity to hear new voices that are really engaged on Larchmont on a range of issues, and offering a  different perspective than that of the traditional “grass tops,” a term he used to refer to the leadership of most organized neighborhood groups that discuss issues with the council office (in contrast to the “grass roots,” which refers to regular citizens whose voice is often assumed to be reflected by the local leadership groups).

“Given the outpouring of engagement of the community, it seemed like this is a good time to step back and pause and reconvene the community now that we have hundreds, potentially thousands, of interested constituents,” said Pampanin.  In addition,  he added, “Playgrounds around the city are closed, so there’s no rush.”

The outpouring of engagement regarding the playground came as the result of efforts by Windsor Square resident Gary Gilbert, who became concerned after hearing reports that construction of the playground might force out the Larchmont Farmers Market. Gilbert began a campaign to raise awareness to save the market, generating hundreds of emails from residents and businesses, as well as more than 2, 300 signatures on an online petition. Those efforts led to further examination of the origin and efficacy of the playground project.

“Obviously, I’m thrilled we came together as a community and successfully halted this ill-conceived project,” Gilbert told the Buzz. “And, like everyone, I look forward to the day this pandemic nightmare ends, so we can safely sit together and talk openly about what’s best for our neighborhood. Until then, we all need to do everything we can to support those local merchants who are struggling to survive.”

Suzanne Buhai, a resident of Windsor Square who has served as a neighborhood block captain for more than thirty years, participated in a constituent conference call with Ryu. She told the Buzz there were six people on her call, and everyone was very articulate and forceful in expressing their opposition to the imminent construction of playground, which they felt had very little community support for many reasons. She said one person also asked about the optics of building a playground in an affluent neighborhood during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“I reminded Councilmember Ryu of the upcoming election, saying this issue could have an impact on that,” said Buhai, who told us she left the call after an hour and ten minutes. “I have lived here for over forty years and never seen anything like this.”

Not surprisingly, those who had opposed the playground were pleased with the announcement.

Heather Duffy Boylston speaking for the Larchmont Village Business Improvement District (BID), a consortium of the property owners told the Buzz they “were opposed to this project for several reasons — safety issues, loss of parking, and the general lack of the need for resources to be spent on a project like this. We are happy the Councilmember took the time to hear the stakeholders and recognized that there is a significant community base that was not represented in the neighborhood groups that were supporting this project.”

But even those who supported the playground were pleased with Ryu’s decision to postpone construction.

Larry Guzin, President of the Windsor Square Association, told the Buzz the playground had the support of local neighborhood associations and the Greater Wilshire Neighborhood Council, but agreed the postponement was a good idea.

“A Larchmont Village park in place of an asphalt parking lot has been a goal of the Windsor Square Association for decades, and the Playground Pilot Project has been supported over the past two years by the Greater Wilshire Neighborhood Council and every local homeowners’ association. However, public health and the mitigation of COVID-19 should be our focus and concern now. The park can wait,” wrote Larry Guzin in a message to the Buzz.

That sentiment was echoed by John Welborne, publisher of the Larchmont Chronicle and the long-serving chair of the Windsor Square Association’s Land Use Committee, where the idea of a park was first proposed years ago.

Councilmember Ryu’s April 4 announcement that he has decided to postpone construction of the playground pilot project makes sense,” Welborne wrote to the Buzz.  But he also challenged the notion that the playground would disrupt the operation of the Farmers Market, and asserted that the project has been widely reported and won the support of the local neighborhoods and businesses. (Welborne’s full statement is available here.) 

Cindy Chvatal-Keane, president of the Hancock Park Homeowners Association, which has supported the playground project, also agreed the postponement was appropriate.

“This is a good thing,” said Chvatal-Keane. “Councilmember Ryu did the right thing; this is a good time to step back and take a breath. We are all focused on more urgent matters at the moment.”

Caroline Moser, President of the Greater Wilshire Neighborhood Council and that body’s representative from Windsor Square, said she hopes the postponement will allow others to weigh in on the design and use of the space. Moser had offered some suggestions for the design before it was presented to the Recreation and Parks Department of the City, which created the final design.
“Speaking just for myself, I am very supportive of David Ryu’s stepping back from construction of the playground project,” Moser wrote the Buzz. “Despite our outreach and work, many neighbors were not aware of the project, and we lost the opportunity to discuss other proposals or opportunities for this lot with their input.”
“I am hopeful, during this difficult isolation period,” said Moser, “that we all recognize the inherent value of a Larchmont gathering place – not just on Sunday mornings. This accessible, active, central space can be better used than for parking – as much as I appreciate the ease of parking on grade. As I designer I am ready to again put pencil to paper – as, I’m sure, are many other talented neighbors. My hope is that we together can find a better solution than just a small playground to use the entire open space for residents and shoppers seven days a week, with a Market, more landscape and engagement for all our neighbors, not just the tiny ones,” said Moser.
In the postponement announcement issued on Saturday,  Ryu said, “I’m thankful for the years of open communication I have had with the community to improve the Larchmont Boulevard’s vibrancy – and I’m even more thankful today to have new voices engaged on the ongoing issues.” He promised “a broader, community-wide discussion so all options and ideas can be brought to the table.”
Proposed children’s playground on Larchmont now on hold indefinitely.
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Patricia Lombard
Patricia Lombard
Patricia Lombard is the publisher of the Larchmont Buzz. Patty lives with her family in Fremont Place. She has been active in neighborhood issues since moving here in 1989. Her pictorial history, "Larchmont" for Arcadia Press is available at Chevalier's Books.

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