Defending Runyon Canyon: Why FORC Must Go
“If you want to lead the people, you must learn how to follow them.” ― Lao Tzu, Tao Te Ching
The disturbing story of how a group of politically-connected opportunists calling themselves “Friends of Runyon Canyon” (FORC) almost succeeded in hijacking one of Los Angeles’s greatest natural treasures will eventually come to a happy ending. To restore public trust, Councilmember David E. Ryu, in whose District 4 Runyon is located, must dissolve the flawed Memo of Understanding between the City and FORC, removing them from any position of authority over Runyon Canyon. If not, he’ll face another reputation-ruining inquiry from aggrieved constituents. His phone number: 213-473-7004.
The FORC agreement, which was approved with no meaningful public oversight, was a suspect deal made by Ryu’s predecessor, Tom LaBonge. We’re betting Councilmember Ryu acts in the best interests of the voters, thereby preserving some chance of serving out his term and getting re-elected. It’s time for him to thank FORC for their service and ask them to exit Runyon Canyon gracefully, without costly litigation.
Since their secret basketball court scheme was exposed, the damage to FORC’s standing in the Runyon Canyon community has been comprehensive and irreparable. Advocacy organizations can’t guide a community that doesn’t support them; when false leaders persist, it’s called “dictatorship.” Eventually, the people revolt.
No matter what outreach activities they promise in the future, no matter how many times in their press releases they use nice words like “inclusiveness,” no matter how much they pledge that your opinion is important to them, it’s in everyone’s best interest for FORC to step aside and leave Runyon Canyon alone.
After repeatedly violating the terms of their public service and betraying the community, FORC will never be trusted.
FORC is a 501 (c)(3) non-profit, incorporated in 2014, allegedly in the business of preserving and protecting Runyon Canyon. In the best tradition of Orwellian doublespeak, they claim to be “against commercialization of the park,” yet their first major act – after erecting a 14-foot vinyl banner memorializing their sovereign reign — was to usher in a heavy construction project, in the middle of a nature area, featuring the phallic logo of a corporate sponsor whose owner is a FORC board member. The project was kept quiet and scheduled to be completed while the park was closed for unrelated water main repairs. In direct violation of their MOU with the City, FORC failed to notify the public through the Hollywood Hills West Neighborhood Council; an Environmental Impact Report was not performed; a Sound Study was not performed; a lawsuit was filed by outraged residents; on April 21, Councilmember Ryu, who called the process a “travesty,” asked the Department of Parks and Recreation (RAP) to immediately halt construction and reconsider the prior approval wrongly granted to this destructive and probably illegal project.
FORC can no longer fulfill their stated mission to fund-raise for Runyon Canyon. Why would anyone donate to an organization that has demonstrated contempt for transparency and due process? Who would give money to a group that disrespects an environmentally-sensitive local treasure? Who will financially support a group that’s shown nothing but obliviousness to the concerns of local stakeholders? And nesting owls?
FORC can no longer fulfill their stated mission to “obtain consensus” among stakeholders. They are unwanted. FORC has no moral authority. FORC has no special expertise. FORC has no credibility. They’ve destroyed the public’s confidence in them; the taint of illegitimacy surrounds their work. Indeed, FORC is widely reviled by the constituents they represent, save for those who have bought into the power structure. According to Chip Proser, a resident of the neighborhood for more than 30 years, joining FORC isn’t cheap. “I happened to attend an early fund-raising meeting,” Proser said. “It was strongly suggested that, in order to join the Friends, we should all donate a minimum of $15,000 and commit to a like sum on a yearly basis.”
Multiple sources tell us the asking price is down to $5,000, and falling.
Their current campaign to buy $10 million+ worth of land to “save the West Trail” is a political red herring, and Councilmember Ryu’s name is on the preliminary approval for FORC’s land grab. (Prediction: big trouble ahead.) Should mansions be built on the ridge in question, it would have minimal impact on park users, most of whom would never notice the eyesore. Significant impact, however, would be felt by Ms. Julie Anderson, whose spectacular view down the canyon from 2451 Solar Drive would be obstructed. Ms. Anderson is a FORC board member.
No official has yet explained why the City, represented by RAP’s Vicki Israel and Joel Alvarez, entered into discussions with FORC three months before the City had an agreement with the recently incorporated group. What makes FORC worth all the trouble and unrest they’ve caused in District 4? For one, their President, John Gile, is a fundraiser for politicians and exudes the attractive aroma of campaign donations. He comes from a world where hypocrites like Councilmember Mitch O’Farrell, a Gile client, simultaneously cry poor for our public parks while refurbishing their District 13 field office at a cost of $375,000, using public funds slated for “community redevelopment.”
David Ryu’s political brand, he asserts, is built on a higher standard. “For too long discretionary funds have been treated as a Councilmember’s personal ‘slush fund’ with their uses closely guarded and protected by City Hall insiders,” Ryu said during his campaign.
Now he has a marvelous opportunity to honor his intentions and fix the large problem for which he provided “positive support.” Ryu has never explained how and why he supported the basketball court, and until he does those questions will haunt him. But after relieving FORC of their duties, Ryu can make everything all better by using money from his swollen discretionary account — more than $1 million — to repair and reinforce the allegedly “hazardous” retaining wall and then return to nature the destruction already caused by FORC and RAP’s bulldozers. It shouldn’t cost more than $100,000 – especially if, unlike the sweetheart basketball deal, competitive bids are sought.
Then, using another $500-or-so from his fund, Ryu can buy t-shirts for an all-volunteer corps dedicated to picking up trash. Unlike FORC, this group will be committed to park preservation, not public-private partnership. They will not seek corporate sponsorship for Runyon Canyon. They will not hire their friends to produce expensive “vision plans.” Unlike FORC, they will never, not for a second, suggest that a parking lot could possibly be built in the yoga meadow, or anywhere else in Runyon. They will not unilaterally appropriate the information kiosks. They will not desecrate the splendor of nature with self-congratulatory banners.
Allowing FORC to retain any power whatsoever in Runyon Canyon will lead to ongoing protests, acts of vandalism and a bitter sense of Us vs. Them. This divisive energy doesn’t belong in a public nature area that has long been a sanctuary for the collective We. The honorable and righteous move at this point is for FORC to resign and let the healing begin. Until then, the rift will grow deeper and more virulent, and additional political careers will be ruined.
Call Councilmember David Ryu: 213-473-7004
Great article!! Thank you for your excellent attention to this issue, so important to those of us who truly love this beautiful undeveloped space…!
Great fiction! Not true. Hearsay. Who’s fact checking there? I guess opinions don’t need to be that check, huh.
Thanks for setting us straight, Judge Wapner. Who knew you moonlighted as a shill for FORC? In case you’re color blind, there are links throughout this piece that will direct you to the sources of this info, many of which are city documents. Now slither back under your rock with your friends on the hill and come up with another con… I’m sure there’s plenty more where this came from.
This article reads like it was written by a schizophrenic person. I still fail to see how renovating the basketball court is a bad thing. It’s been a giant eyesore for so many years. And I’m not sure exactly what land they plan on buying up along the ridge, but if it saves the west trail from being closed, how could that possibly be construed as a negative. I think you seriously need to look into finding a better use of your time.
Real “Friends of Runyon Canyon” would want it left alone. It’s designated as Wilderness Area and doesn’t need a basketball court, let alone one with a corporate logo. There are plenty of places to play basketball in Los Angeles, there are fewer and fewer places to escape the concrete jungle that this city has become. Any development of the canyon would only lead to more people trying to use it and there are already significant traffic and parking issues. The reason John Gile can be so glib about it is that people don’t park their cars on Solar Dr. to hike in Runyon. I suggest we all start doing that and see how he likes it. I’ve heard him speak and unfortunately he comes across as just another lying suit. The fact that his deal was done behind the public’s back is contemptible and shows us exactly who he is.
So, Michael Konik, my question is this: where were you? When FORC was being formed, having its initial meetings, selecting board members… where were you? When the sign announcing their “sovereign rein” was put up, did you even bother to go to their web site? They’ve made no secret of their existence (see the sign they put up announcing it), but you claim to have been completely blindsided by everything to do with them. I met one of the board members at a CD4 debate, and he couldn’t shut up about FORC, the MOU (then freshly signed), or the study that was being done. I don’t live anywhere near Runyon—how did I manage to know about this and you didn’t?
I used to work in city government—not the City of LA, a small one out in the desert—and there were always people like you around. People who never tried to get engaged in their community until they didn’t like something, and then bitched about how no one asked them. The City of Los Angeles is begging people to get involved so public freak outs like this don’t happen, but you didn’t trouble yourself, did you? Not until you didn’t like the decisions made by those who actually did show up.
Let me tell you something else: nobody had to do an Environmental Impact Review on this. Runyon Canyon gets an estimated 1.8 million visitors per year or more. That is a TINY area to have so many people tramping through it. And how many of those people have dogs? You don’t really think that all those people, and all those dogs, don’t have an effect on the wildlife, do you? That this tiny park, which hosts Disneyland-sized crowds, with off-leash dogs, wedged into this dense urban area, is so “wild” that building a retaining wall and resurfacing an already-surfaced area is so untouched and fragile that CEQA requires an environmental review? Also, so you know, noise is not part of the California Environmental Quality Act. Even if an EIR was to be required, the sound of basketballs, while annoying to you, does not have to be taken into account. (Not to mention the immense amount of work being done by the DWP right now.)
Lastly, do you really think that this is going to somehow jeopardize David Ryu’s term in office? That is, perhaps, the most ridiculous thing in your post. You, Michael Konik, doesn’t like what’s happening in a local park, and you think the tens of thousands of people in CD4 are going to rally round your blog and oust him?
tl;dr: You couldn’t be troubled to get involved until the people who actually did take the time and effort to get involved did something you found irritating.
You think it’s OK to make a secret deal with Rec & Parks and stick a logo on a public space without input from the community? It isn’t just Michael…all the people that I talk to in the neighborhood oppose this deal by about 90%. We live here. The fact that RAP just blithely says “we don’t need a EIR” doesn’t make it so. There are nesting owls less than 100 feet from the proposed basketball court. You don’t want a noise report? Those owls control rodents. We’re talking an entire eco-system here. If you want to limit the amount of people that use Runyon Canyon, I’m all for it. What the place can’t take is MORE people, and FORC’s “vision plan” invites many more people. What’s irritating is the way they went about it. FORC proved to be a bunch of sneaky bastards and they don’t speak for anyone except themselves.
If it were designated a Wilderness Area like you say, there would be no dogs, let alone an off-leash dog area in the park. It is not a Wilderness Area. It’s a park. Careful what you wish for . . . if it were to get that Wilderness Area designation that claim it to be, there would be no more dogs allowed at all.
It seemed to be understood at the Rec & Parks meeting on Wednesday that Runyon is actually a “Wilderness Area”. At any rate, the claim was made and no one disputed it.