An undercover city commissioner, a mayor's son and a modest basketballhoop have sparked the latest hoopla in South Pasadena.
Reports of foul language, frequent fights and unseemly behavior on the basketball court at Duryea Park led City Commissioner Al Friend on a secretive Sunday morning mission recently to covertly observe the daily basketball game.
What he saw there prompted him to write a memo to fellow Commissioner Fred Held. Friend described "loud and boisterous activity" and language "that was, to say the least, well below acceptable contemporary standards."
Friend asked Held, in his capacity as head of the Public Works
Department, to take down the backboards. Within a few days, the backboards were gone.
That's when A. J. Gilberg, 26, entered the fray. A. J., who plays
basketball there five or six times a week, arrived at the court Feb. 3 to find poles where the backboards used to be.
He took it up with his mother, Barbara, who happens to be the mayor of South Pasadena.
A. J. Gilberg contends Held acted too quickly and what Friend saw is not representative of what goes on there. His mother agreed.
"Al Friend went down on a Sunday morning and watched for an hour and based his whole perception of what was happening on that," A. J. Gilberg said. "The language is nothing out of the ordinary. Maybe someone blurts something out in frustration, but it's not to the extent he's making it out."
A. J. Gilberg wants the basketball backboard back. Mayor Gilberg says she'll present a motion at today's commission workshop, asking the commission to approve putting the basketball nets back up.
She says the city commission ers overreacted.
"It's like throwing the baby out with the bath water," she said. "I think it's an appropriate activity in the park, and if there is a problem with the behavior of the players, I believe our sheriff's department is well-qualified to handle it."
Commissioners Held and Friend say the players' behavior, many of whom are not even from South Pasadena, is interfering with the residents enjoying the park.
"Seventy-two percent of the people in South Pasadena are over 65, and I don't know anyone except the mayor's son who plays basketball," Friend said. "I have to be concerned about the people in Pasadena."
But some of the players say they are professionals who work in South Pasadena, and they should have the right to use the park.
"I think it's absolutely ridiculous that they took the baskets down," said Dr. Arthur Melich, 49, an oncologist who has a private practice in the town and who joins the game several times a week for exercise. "I think it's a park and has to be used as a park. I'd rather see kids playing basketball than selling drugs."
He also said that most of the players are students and young professionals and are "a pretty clean gang."
Several players said that if the city posted rules about noise and obscene language, everyone would try to comply.
Michael Schroeder, a junior at the University of South Florida who has been playing basketball there for years, says that the players often replace the basketball nets themselves and work to keep the court clean.
"If they want to, they can put some new court rules up," he said. "The people that play down there are willing to cooperate."