A proposal to reconfigure one of the largest parks in the Los Angeles City Council’s 11th District was unanimously approved by the Westchester Park Advisory Board Dec. 2.

The centerpiece of the planned renovation of Westchester Park is a skateboard plaza, which young skaters and some of their parents who attended the community meeting said has been on their wish list for quite some time.

The advisory board’s unanimous vote is the first step towards another round of proposed improvements at the park and what some hope will help attract more residents from Westchester and Playa del Rey, many of whom no longer visit their local park, for a variety of reasons.

The park renovations would include parking area and tennis court lighting improvements, playground replacement, the relocation of the outdoor basketball courts and new batting cages for baseball and softball.

Skateboarders who addressed the board told the members that they must often travel miles away from home to practice their chosen sport and have been turned away or chased out of parks and other places. They said they were thrilled with the possibility of having a local skating plaza.

Elliott Wright said he has been skateboarding practically all of his life. “Growing up, in my class, all of us skated,” said Wright, a Westchester resident. “I’m glad that I stuck with it and I’ve gotten a lot out of it.”

Ethan Singleton, who lives in Playa del Rey, said he often has to travel to the Venice Beach Skate Park and would like to take part in the activity locally.

“I think a skate park would be perfect (for Westchester,)” the teen told the advisory board.

Gary Gonzalez said he skated as a youth and would like a place to skate with his young sons. “I’m 100 percent behind the skate park,” Gonzalez said.

Michael Shull, city Department of Recreation and Parks local superintendent, said there would be no requirement to wear a helmet while skating, but there would be signs that head protection is recommended. Shull also said a combination of public money and private funding would be used to finance the park enhancements.

City Councilman Bill Rosendahl, who represents Westchester, is enthusiastic about the prospects of the proposed park enhancements, including the skate park.

“The park is a beautiful spot, and I’m very excited about having the skating plaza at Westchester,” Rosendahl, who helped bring two other Westside skate parks, including a state of the art facility in Venice, told The Argonaut. “It’s large enough to be able to do some of these wonderful improvements along with the skate plaza.”

The park had a facelift earlier this year. The pool, which had been closed for several years, reopened in July and the baseball diamonds and soccer fields were also redone.

Rosendahl sees the planned improvements as a continuation of an attempt to reactivate the park for local residents and his efforts to bring skate parks to those who enjoy the sport.

“We started with the pool and ball field enhancements, so this is the next step to reinvigorating Westchester Park,” he said.

The park’s basketball and tennis courts and soccer fields see heavy use throughout the week. On the weekends, families frequently gather to picnic, host birthday parties or play games at the 22-acre park. Though many local residents have abandoned it, sports clubs, weekend warriors and residents from outside Westchester have come to take advantage of the spacious recreational area.

Throughout the discussion of how the skate park would transform the park, some members of the audience claimed that while they live locally, they have made a deliberate choice not to visit the park, calling the newly renovated recreation area “sketchy and iffy,” despite the improvements that have taken place. One woman, Hillary Adams, claimed both her real estate agent and a mothers group that she has recently joined warned her “not to go the park,” even during daylight hours.

When pressed by park advisory committee member Frances Strong, Adams seemed perplexed and repeated her earlier statements.

Officer Anthony Ramos of the Pacific division of the Los Angeles Police Department questioned whether there would be more discussion on the design of the park, which will not have fencing, according to Shull.

“Basically, we won’t be able to police this place,” Ramos told the board. “Is there going to be security here?”

Ramos said the officers who patrol Westchester have to be conscious of burglaries and residential crimes in the nearby neighborhoods, and those crimes could occur with more people coming to the planned skate park.

“I’m asking because we’re going to be responding to a lot of this stuff,” Ramos explained. “Has this stuff been looked at already, or is this going to be addressed further?”

Shull said there will be will two more community meetings before the plan goes before city planning officials.

Nora MacLellan, who said that she supported the concept of a skate park, questioned Shull about how the improvements and the skate park plaza would be paid for. She also questioned Shull about the tenor of the meeting, which focused largely on the purported benefits of the skate park but was ostensibly about all of the planned improvements.

“I’m confused,” said MacLellan, a member of the Neighborhood Council of Westchester-Playa and a Playa del Rey homeowner. “I was invited to come here to hear a presentation about the skate park and now you’re saying that it’s about everything.

“I think the skate park idea is a great idea, but it seems that other ideas have been shut down.”

Shull then told MacLellan that private funds would be generated to build the skate park but the other improvements would be paid for with Quimby funds, which is revenue that developers contribute to the council district where they are building projects. Quimby funds can only be used for recreational enhancements.

“We wanted to go through and budget everything across the board to see what money was going where,” Shull explained.

Rosendahl confirmed that the Annenberg Foundation has pledged $125,000 towards the construction of the skate park and Quimby funds would be used for the other improvements. “I’m absolutely thrilled that the Annenberg Foundation is helping to fund the skate park,” he said.

The councilman also touched on the comments regarding park safety and some residents’ perceptions about people who use the park and their reluctance to visit the recreation area, even during the day.

“The fact is that we live in the real world, and this park is a public place,” Rosendahl asserted. “We’re a community of people in Southern California, of all ethnicities, and this park is for everyone.”

Steve Berra, a professional skateboarder who repeatedly gave his beliefs about how skateboarding would be a benefit to Westchester, seemed surprised that MacLellan questioned Shull about how the park renovations would be paid for and that Ramos asked questions regarding safety. He lamented that he did not know how the tone of the meeting had “turned so sour.”

Ramos said he did not oppose the concept of a skate park, but the safety of the residents who use the entire park was the responsibility of the police force.

“I’m only here as an observer,” Ramos repeated. “I’m not saying that (crimes) are going to happen; I’m just telling you what I’ve seen. I’ve been around long enough to know, that’s all.”

On Tuesday, Dec. 14, the Neighborhood Council of Westchester-Playa’s Planning and Land Use Committee will review the proposed park enhancements and additions.

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