GRIFFITH PARK—Plans for a permanent performance stage in Griffith Park have been granted by a Los Angeles County Superior Court Judge. The judge ruled against the lawsuit filed by the non-profit organization Friends of Griffith Park.

The stage project includes new 400-amp electrical switchboards, a backstage, a storage area, lighted pathways, and a set of modular bridges leading to the Old Zoo to improve accessibility for disabled patrons.

The use for the stage came about when two performance groups, Independent Shakespeare Co. and Symphony of the Glen, wanted to perform in the summer without having to build a temporary stage each year. Both groups coordinated with the Recreation and Parks Department each year, but having to build and tear down a new stage became costly.

Friends of Griffith Park went on record opposing a permanent stage to be constructed in the Old Zoo Picnic Area. Gerry Hans, President of Friends of Griffith Park, informed Canyon News that the lawsuit was not out of a sense of animus toward performance groups Independent Shakespeare Co. or Symphony in the Glen, but was done out of concerns that lie with the environmental impact on habitat, wildlife and the historic grottos as well as the possibility of over-use and commercialization that could happen for the Old Zoo Area.

“The reality is that a $5 million-dollar project is planned, which means all sorts of activities that could be much larger than Shakespeare and Symphony,” Hans said. Three million of those funds are currently allocated from Proposition K funds, which are used for helping parks and recreation improve its facilities.

One of the larger events that could make use of the stage is the Los Angeles Haunted Hayride, a Halloween attraction held at Griffith Park for the past 7 years that attracts thousands of visitors. Hans has questioned whether the Old Zoo would be an appropriate choice for the LA Haunted Hayride.

“The Haunted Hayride lasts until 1 a.m. on weekends with bright light beaming and noise echoing into two significant, adjacent canyons,” said Hans. “There is no doubt that these activities are impacting wildlife in the Griffith Park. Scientific studies have determined that wildlife can be negatively impacted by sonic disturbance, including diminished reproductive success and avoidance behavior, as well as migration interruptions.”

Friends of Griffith Park wanted to reach a settlement with the city that would set conditions for the stage, such as keeping sound and light at low levels to minimize the impact of wildlife, making all performances end before the park closes at 10:30 p.m., and to cap the attendance at 2,500 people to reduce the impact and risk of brush fires in the area which is surrounded by volatile habitat. When these conditions were not, Friends of Griffith Park filed an appeal with the city and a petition in Superior Court based upon provisions of the California Environmental Quality Act. Both actions were taken with the Griffith J. Griffith Charitable Trust.

The city was unwilling to set operational limitations for the stage. To argue against the new stage project, Friends of Griffith park focused on the aesthetic, historical and biological impacts the stage would interfere with. Superior Court Judge Richard Fruin issued a decision in favor of the defendant, the City of Los Angeles, citing lack of evidence that the project itself will harm wildlife or impact historic resources. The judge stated there were already many events being held there, including the Haunted Hayride event, and that the meadow area where the performance stage would be was intended to serve park users rather than wilderness area.