Three weeks before the 2014 season’s opening day, the LA Dodgers announced that they would be opening the Scott Avenue gates both for entering and exiting, after two decades of having it closed. There are 81 home games this season, and the Dodgers anticipate an increase in attendance due to the team’s improved roster and successful season last year.
So when approximately 200 people showed up Wednesday from 6 to 8p.m. for a public forum at Barlow Hospital’s Williams Hall, the Dodgers’ new Senior Vice President of External Affairs, Renata Simril, walked the tightrope as she addressed the concerned Echo Park/Elysian Park community.
While at times taking responsibility for the Dodgers by saying they are “looking into” issues, she also placed responsibility of public safety and transportation on the LAPD, Metro, Department of Transportation, and the local residents themselves. She said the Dodgers will depend upon the residents to inform and report trouble to the organization.
Simril began by grouping Solano Canyon, Sunset Blvd. business owners, and Scott Avenue area residents into a you’re-not-the-only-victims defense.
She said the opening of the Scott Avenue gate helps the flow of traffic and gets fans off the street and into the stadium as quickly as possible.
Those in attendance were also invited to a private tour of the stadium next week to see all the improvements the Dodgers have made, such as new restaurants, a special aerial viewing place, retail shops, and more.
Surprisingly, none in attendance asked for the date and time of the private tour, or accepted the invite publicly, during the two hour session.
The message seemed clear: the Dodgers are thriving, and it was hoped that excitement would rub off on the crowd of disgruntled residents.
And it almost seemed there was nothing left to say about the matter.
As was pointed out by LA City Councilman Mitch O’Farrell (who was in attendance, perhaps due to pressure from local constituents), that although he opposes the opening of the Scott Avenue gate, it is private property and the decision is the Dodgers’ and not the community’s to make.
O’Farrell added that Renata has been great to work with through all of it.
The Dodgers maybe expected to have the home team advantage at the meeting. With a 20 page, stapled and colored brochure, attendees sat staring down at the plans that Simril said had taken the Dodgers 20 months to create.
Yet Simril never got past page two.
Someone asked, if they had been planning the season’s logistics for 20 months, why did local residents find out about it all just two weeks ago?
And it seemed that at that 25 minute mark of the meeting, the game shifted.
McDuff Street resident, Costa Singer stole third base and slid home, reminding everyone in attendance why they were all gathered.
With his wife and young daughter seated next to him, Singer stood up and said that when he bought his home on McDuff, the Scott Avenue gate had been closed for 12 years. Then five years ago, it was reopened, for exit only and for 40,000 + crowds.
Singer added, “And we agreed to that on several promises. That there would be traffic control. That there would be neighborhood parking permits. That there would be extended police patrols. That there would be Dodgers security. These were all promises made at the time.”
But these promises were not kept, Singer told Simril. Yes, the first year, these things were in place. After that, however, on the next year, the DOT was gone.
“And the year after that, there were four police explorers–kids, under 17 years old–trying to control Dodger fans,” Singer explained.
There was slight laughter for the first time since the meeting began.
Singer went on, “And then the parking passes stopped coming. And then the neighborhood passes stopped coming. And this last year, they weren’t even putting up the A-frames.
“And so you’re saying all this as promises, and I get that you mean it…But the fact is, we’ve all heard this before.”
He said he knew Simril’s new with the community, and she’s coming in with the new ownership group, and Singer even admitted he loves the Dodgers and is a Dodger fan.
“But last year, I had trouble rootin’ for ‘em,” Singer said. “They made the play-offs and it made me sick to my stomach. And I’ve never felt like that about a baseball team in my hometown before.
“And part of it is, because on opening day last year, I had a drunken Dodger fan stall in front of my house, who could not get their huge truck through, making terrorists threats, threatening to burn down our home and shoot us.”
“At midnight,” Singer’s wife spoke up.
“Honestly, I hate to admit this to myself,” Singer said, “Opening the gate at Scott Ave from Stadium Way makes a lot of sense. But we need more than what you are all giving right now.” This met with the first loud round of applause at the meeting.
LA City Councilman Mitch O’Farrell tried to step up to the plate and take a swing, but the residents were not there to listen.
James Osburn of Boylston Street told O’Farrell that he’s someone who gets to make speeches often, and this meeting was for the people to speak up and not keep quiet.
Another resident asked Simril why no one from the Dodgers organization was at the Greater Echo Park Elysian Neighborhood Council meeting the night before. Didn’t the Dodgers think it was important to be there?
Simril held up the 20 page brochure in her hand and explained that she was at the LAPD and Department of Transportation trying to finalize her plans. And she pointed to a man, who wore an LA Dodgers blue lanyard around his neck, and said he was in Washington.
A lady in the crowd shouted, “You don’t have any interns?”
And over the next two hours, the debate that seems in a way very futile and not, continued.
When one resident asked when to expect the blue parking placards (those who even knew about these) that have yet to arrive, Simril said “by the end of next week.”
When then asked, how they would arrive? She responded that the residents were welcome to come by and pick them up.
Dana Starfield, an affected resident, then raised several key questions, one of which was, “Why is a multi-billion dollar organization asking residents to ‘come by and pick up’ their placards, a week before opening day?
“Why can’t you come door-to-door, the way the news crews came to our doors this morning?” Starfield asked Simril. Simril agreed that the placards will be delivered.
Simril also tried to pacify the group by reporting that there will be patrolling of the streets surrounding the Scott Avenue gate. How many off-duty police officers on bikes will there be? Starfield asked.
One, Simril replied.
“You have 200 officers inside the stadium and we get one?” And Starfield also asked later, what about having sobriety stations near the gates, to prevent drunk drivers from hitting pedestrians and other drivers, let alone the children who will be getting out of school and walking home at precisely the same time on day games?
Sobriety checkpoints would slow down traffic, an LAPD officer explained.
Simril continued to state the Dodgers would be constantly communicating with the various agencies, including the LAPD, in an attempt to prevent, correct, and enforce the onslaught that is coming to the area in just one short week on opening day.
LA City Councilman Mitch O’Farrell returned to the mic to admit that he was changing his original statement (that he stood by the Dodgers’ decision).
“After hearing this meeting, I am going to ask the Dodgers to consider postponing the opening of the gate,” O’Farrell said.
The loudest round of applause came, and it seemed the residents had achieved something after all.
“With all due respect, I’m not saying that for an applause line,” O’Farrell said. “Because Renata has been terrific to work with, and I admire and respect the Dodger organization.“
He admitted he’s a Dodger fan and thinks they have been good partners in Echo Park.
“But I think with the knowledge that we don’t have the placards in place yet, and the game is a week from Friday, and there’s no system to distribute them–that leaves me a little concerned.”
O’Farrell then directly asked Simril to consider postponing the action for 30 days, at least until they could work on the placard system and getting the preferential parking district in place. And he asked if they could hold another meeting, which he said seemed necessary. She never directly replied to this request.
President of the Greater Echo Park Elysian Neighborhood Council Ari Bessendorf told the Dodgers’ representative, “What you have here is a community of fans. We’re all fans of the Dodgers.” But, he added, “These meetings should have been happening earlier.”
Nearing the end of the meeting, one resident summed it up best. In true LA spirit, 20-year Everett Street resident, Mike Conley, used entertainment as a metaphor when he told Simril, “We’re not your back-up singers. The Dodgers are not the band.” Applause erupted.
Conley continued, “Stop referring to your ‘fans’. You are a business.” He explained, “And the people are your patrons.”
Perhaps it’s true.