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District still on the fence

October 01, 2004

Andrew Edwards

Like a baseball game that went into extra innings, more meetings have

been scheduled as part of an effort to resolve a dispute over the

height of a fence being built around Laguna Beach High School's

baseball field.

The Laguna Beach Unified School District's board presented a

possible compromise at its meeting on Tuesday, but did not vote.

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Under the proposal, 30-foot poles that have been installed around the

field would be lowered to 20 feet with a retractable net installed as

the leftfield fence to prevent home runs from flying into houses

along St. Ann's Drive.

Other ideas in the eight-point proposal include a guarantee that

no lights will be installed at the baseball field, a rule preventing

banners from being hung above four feet and painting the poles black

or green, according to neighbors' preference.

The school board will vote on the ideas at a special meeting this

Tuesday, school board president El Hathaway said. The meeting is set

to be preceded on Monday by a meeting with Hathaway, school board

member Robert Whalen, neighbors and baseball boosters.

The proposal received greater support from baseball supporters

than neighbors living along St. Ann's drive and other streets near

the high school.

"It's a compromise we could live with," baseball boosters

President Daniel Bolar said. Boosters were let down by the proposed

rule limiting banners, which have been traditionally used by the team

as a revenue builder.

Neighbors had hoped the poles could be lowered even more.

At the meeting, Stephen Crawford, who lives across from the field

on St. Ann's Drive, showed diagrams for a high-tech telescoping fence

that he said would allow netting to be extended up to 40 feet, and

lowered down to 10 when the field is not in use.

The estimated cost for telescoping poles ranges from $100,000 to

$200,000, Crawford said. He suggested neighbors could hold a

fundraising drive to pay for the poles, and said he would pledge

$10,000 for the project.

"It is possible, and it just takes money," Crawford said.

The school district will consider Crawford's idea along with other

designs for a retractable fencing before Tuesday's vote, Hathaway

said. However, neighbors worry there will not be enough time to fully

consider Crawford's idea by Tuesday.

"The time simply isn't there," neighbor David Smith said. Though

Smith and other neighbors had been encouraged by earlier discussions

with Hathaway and Whalen, Smith was disappointed by the likelihood

that poles will be 20 feet tall, instead of 10-footers.

"We thought we were getting there, then we took a step backward,"

Smith said.

Plans for the field called for construction to be over at latest

by around Oct. 8, said Carl Neuhausen, the district's construction

projects administrator. School officials have been in talks with

neighbors since August, and much construction has been put on hold.

"There's two things that are critical, getting the fence up and

getting the lawn planted," Neuhausen said.

Because of the delay, the field will have to be sodded, and it is

less than certain that the grass will be ready when the season starts

in February.

Though neighbors want a lower fence, school board member Jan

Vickers said the district has an obligation to make sure the Breakers

have a field by next season.

"If we were to not finish our commitment to the baseball program

to finish that project, we could be accused of violation of that

trust," she said.

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