Oh, really Tom? Come up with that all by yerself now didja? Of course he didn’t. He gives credit — and rightly so — to the LAPD’s Reserve Officers and Explorer Scouts programs as his inspiration. But who he shoulda been inspired by was… yeah, that’s right: me. Or at least the me that suggested a similar proposal when the both of us were some 1,278 days younger.
Fast-backward with me to summer 2005. Waaaay back then I was a member of the Mountain Bike Unit, an all-volunteer group whose members, after successful completion of a pretty intensive training, go out and patrol many of the popular hiking and biking trails in the Santa Monica Mountains. Serving essentially as extended eyes/ears for the few state rangers responsible for upholding the law out there, more often than not we weren’t required to do much more than ride our bikes around in our mustard yellow jerseys pointing out if someone was sitting in poison oak or asking people to leash up their lose dogs or put out their fucking cigarettes, but occasionally we’d have to radio in an injury or a misplaced person.
Anyway, at that time, given the ongoing sadness of mountainbiking being a crime in the hills of Griffith and Elysian parks I thought to myself what a good idea it might be to develop some sort of similar corps for those areas. Not only could a city-supported mountain bike corps pilot program be a helpful presence on the trails in support of and in communication with the various law enforcement personnel, but we could liaison with the community and shit, showing them that not all mountainbikers are the assholes a lot of people like to think we are. All, that and I’d be able to ride again on the dirt around the Hollywood Hills like I last did legally when I was a pre-teen and Jimmy Carter was president.
So on August 23, 2005, when the Griffith Park masterplan was being updated and debated and LaBonge predictably came out and said “Over my dead political career will I ever let some dirty commie mountainbikers filthy up my park and scare my constituents,” I sat down and crafted an extensive and diplomatic letter (entiiiiiire text after the jump) explaining just what I was thinking to the councilman whose district includes Griffith Park and who legend has it was born in its Bronson Canyon quarry caves and raised, depending on who you talk to, either by coyotes or the cloistered nuns who make the pumpkin bread at the nearby Monastery of the Angels.
Dear Councilman LaBonge,
As a lifelong Los Angeles resident I feel your stewardship regarding Griffith Park is to be commended and I applaud your efforts to protect such treasured open space as a recreational and educational natural resource now and for the future.
But as an L.A. native who is also a mountain cyclist, I was disheartened to learn yesterday that you are ready to sustain the lack of access I should rightfully have to Gritffith Park’s network of trails.
When I was a young boy living below the Hollywood Hills I spent many a weekend and summer’s day pedaling my singlespeed BMX bike up and down the access trails all over the area on journeys of adventure and discovery that took me up to the observatory and the Hollywood Sign, down to the Bronson Canyon caves and much more. But as an adult in my 15 years of enthusiasm for off-road cycling I have long encountered the negative perception for the activity that prevails throughout our communities. It’s a narrow and disparaging point of view that has resulted in me being unfairly blocked from riding in the hills closest to my home and heart yet pushed the farthest away by such blanket discrimination.
I am not some sort of daredevil who carelessly wreaks havoc upon the terrain and risks injuring himself and others in some thoughtless pursuit of high-speed thrills. And I contend that rather than being the minority of mountain cyclists, I am in the majority who are conscientious and responsible in our off-road recreational pursuits. We respect all others on the trail, we maintain consideration for the natural environment, and we practice the highest standards of trail etiquette and preservation.
Obviously there are those that don’t. But it’s also obvious that those unfortunate trail encounters between inconsiderate cyclists and equestrians and hikers can be cultivated and insidiously exaggerated to a point where everyone of us in a mountain bike saddle must suffer condemnation and banishment from participation in public recreational areas because of the danger we all purportedly pose to other trail users and the destruction we allegedly inflict upon the topography.
I’m not sure what input, if any, led you to support the perpetuation of the ban on mountain cycling from Griffith Park, but I would be very interested in hearing your justification of it — specifically, any agencies you had discussions with and any formal impact studies that may have been conducted.
In return I hope you will be interested and consider the following opportunities and suggestions:
First, I would encourage you to visit the nearby Verdugo Mountains directly north of Glendale only a few miles from Griffith Park. Open to both mountain cyclists and hikers, the Verdugos are a model of urban open space that does not exclude one type of trail user over another.
Second, I would recommend acquainting yourself with the good people over at the Mountain Bike Unit (MBU) website (http://www.mountainbikeunit.com). The dedicated volunteers with the MBU team work in partnership with the authorized law enforcement agencies to patrol public parklands throughout the Santa Monica Mountains with an aim to provide public assistance and resource protection.
I suggest getting to know that organization because I can envision the establishment of a city-supported MBU-style unit in Griffith Park as a tremendous first-step opportunity to ultimately reopening it to mountain biking — and I would most certainly be the first to sign up. Trained by and working in conjunction with the park’s rangers and the LAPD, I can see a volunteer bike patrol team being an invaluable asset for improving the quality of the natural and recreational experience and supporting compliance and enforcement of the park’s rules for all — not just some — who wish to enjoy what Griffith Park has to offer.
Councilman LaBonge, opening the trails of the public parklands of our city to mountain cyclists is a dream of mine that has not and will not easily fade. I appreciate you taking the time to read my opinions and suggestions and I hope you’ll give them more than just passing consideration and work towards a compromise that will promote inclusion, not exclusion.
Now, I’m not so naive as to think the skies would open and angels would sing and LaBonge would be banging on my front door with a bag full of cash yelling at me to make my dream happen! Thus it would have been no real surprise if i’d gotten a thanks-but-no response. Trouble was instead the reply I got from LaBonge’s Field Deputy Matthew Levy was just so suprisingly and ludicrously pat and null. Levy, who may be the nicest motherfucking guy in the world, either couldn’t be troubled to read the damn letter or lacked even the basics of comprehension:
Thank you for writing to councilmember LaBonge. I certainly talk better than I type and I welcome your phone call to speak on the issue of mounatin [sic] biking in city parks at further length. Please know that mountain biking is prohibited by ordinance citywide not just in Griffith Park. I look forward to speaking with you. I can be reached best at 818-XXX-XXXX.
I won’t waste any more pixels copying and pasting the terse response I had to the dumbfounding Levy. After all, the past is the past and here we are 3.5 years later with LaBonge finally catching a ball similar to the one I tossed to him back then. Will it mean a city-sponsored mountain bike unit patroling the parklands of Griffith? Doubt it, but who knows? So in the meantime, I’ll be watching to see where he runs with the idea… whoever’s it is.