how to be a climbing activist: the case of stoney point


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Tony Bird

Northridge, CA
Topic Author's Original Post - Aug 19, 2010 - 01:10am PT
since we're hashing around political action on some other threads, i'd like to post a stellar example of the way to do it right. if you live in los angeles and enjoy climbing at stoney point, you have a friend of mine to thank for it. this story, published in climbing, sept-oct 1982, speaks for itself.

things like this don't happen without a lot of hard work, and they don't succeed unless you involve a whole community, not just a climbing community. that was a different day. not much is done that way any more and, consequently, i think, not much is done at all.

Stoney Point, that heap of rock in extreme northwest Los Angeles where Royal Robbins and Yvon Chouinard got hooked on climbing, was ushered into Los Angeles city parkdom June 5 to the delight of local enthusiasts and against the wishes--and veto--of Mayor Tom Bradley.

The popular bouldering area, which also offers some excellent top-roped and one-pitch climbing and even a place to practice big wall technique, had become the focus of more and more frequent rumors of real estate development in recent years, enough to spur climbers and non-climbing friends of the park to political action.

Tom Jeter, a member of the Sierra Club Rock Climbing Section, just happened to be taking an environmental political action course five years ago. He quickly joined forces with the local historical society, which didn't think much of the local landmark becoming a "scenic" restaurant or housing development, among the ideas being mongered in this prime development area at the fringe of the city.

Stoney Point is where the craggy sandstone of the Santa Susanna Mountains juts into the San Fernando Valley, offering easily reached and very challenging climbing for Angelenos who want to improve their ability and style for greater things. The area has its drawbacks--summer heat, graffiti in full bloom, and plenty of broken beer bottles--bit it has played and continues to play an important role in southern California climbing. Robbins once called it "the first step up El Capitan".

Armed with fistloads of petitions, Jeter and company approached the local representatives on the city council and were received cordially enough. However, when the matter was referred to the Los Angeles city attorney, worry about lawsuits became a real issue.

Even though Stoney has been climbed since the 1930s without litigation to its private owners, the city attorney recommended against the purpose on the theory that city ownership would naturally attract lawsuits from those inclined to raid municipal coffers at the least pretext. This, despite Jeter's painstaking gathering of affidavits from owners, municipal and otherwise, of climbing areas around the U.S. who had gone for years without sustaining a lawsuit.

On the pro side, the cities of Riverside and Seattle reported all quiet, as did the New York trust which administers the Shawangunks. On the con, the city of Boulder reported a climbing-related lawsuit in progress. At a crucial moment, the parents of a 15-year-old boy who got hurt at Stoney--whether climbing or otherwise, it was unclear--filed suit against the owner of the land, causing his liability carrier to cancel further insurance.

The park acquisition was passed by the council and promptly vetoed by Mayor Bradley, currently the Democratic candidate for governor of California. He reasoned, as quoted in the Los Angeles Times, that there could be "no enterprise which could afford to remove or otherwise deface this massive outcropping of rock, and I believe Stoney Point will always be there, no matter who might own it."

But the council felt otherwise and voted 14-0 to override the May 1981 veto. Councilman Hal Bernson, who represents the area adjacent to Stoney, reasoned that "self reliance and self protection are integral parts of the sport". Questioned at the dedication he replied, "I think the council acted in response to the overwhelming amount of public support ... (Bradley) may have paid too much attention to concerns of liability. To my mind, these concerns were way overstated."

Jeter put it another way: "The public was shouting at them (the city council). The city attorney's office was whispering in their ear, but they chose to listen to the public that was shouting at them--it's the political process."

So Stoney Point is in like flint--or would you believe slightly friable sandstone (the popular bouldering holds get plenty of use, although they still break off occasionally). Just for the big day, the city parks department trotted out a fine sign, only to remove it after pictures were taken. Some said the city didn't want the sign vandalized, others that they didn't want word of ownership to spread too far. But among the local climbing community the news is really old news, and even if someone decided to sue, he or she probably wouldn't get too far "because of the assumption of risk doctrine, which is very strong," said attorney Edward E. (Ted) Vaill of Malibu, secretary of the American Alpine Club and chairman of its legal committee, who was also involved in the Stoney Point persuasion efforts. "That's always been the doctine--it's grown from sporting events such as hockey. You know (when you attend such an event) that there's a chance of a hockey puck coming up and hitting you in the head".

The newcomer to Stoney would do well to take a walk around the big rock, especially on a busy day (sometimes up to 200 climbers are at the 22-acre site, but always, it seems, there's a place to work out). Some of the most interesting and challenging feats are on the much-studied coulders at the base of the main rock, along the highway, and immediately to the east. There is a "sloth" climb a mere four inches off the ground, a 5.11 traverse, and overhangs to test the forearm grip to the limit. There's a climb through a beehive (a high-risk proposition except in winter, when the bees are dormant), two "musical" wall climbs named after Beethoven and Mozart, something called Hoof In Mouth to help you get over 5.8 (next to a horse stable), and a devil of a hole named after Yvon Chouinard, a mere 6-1/2 feet off the ground, but impossible to get into (5.9, but I don't believe it).

Stoney climbers found ready friends in the community to save this precious asset from urban development. One argument against the park acquisition was that climbers only represent a fraction of the general public and a finance-strapped city already has plenty of parks anyway. But Stoney's non-climbing fans include historical society members, local women's clubs and Jaycee organizations, students from the nearby high school (some of them are climbers, though), and scouting groups.

"Get with the local people," Jeter advised, "the local civic organizations. Get a decision to go for it and print up petitions. It also helps to establish a personal relationship with those in office. Politicians don't ignore people who talk to them armed with a lot of petitions."

Tony Bird

Northridge, CA
Topic Author's Reply - Aug 19, 2010 - 09:08am PT
speak up, weld. i was a newcomer at the time and i certainly didn't know everyone involved. i myself wasn't involved in all the political action and my reporting was from interviews. it was published in climbing and there wasn't any squawk then about inaccuracies.

um, the current guidebook lists hoof-and-mouth as a V1 with the comment "the yellow book gave it a 5.8!" i've never been able to do that sucker. chouinard's hole, which i've done several times, but not every time, is listed at V2.

i know. stoney point was made a city park because you and the cops you do donuts with decided on it one morning.
Spider Savage

Mountain climber
Aug 19, 2010 - 10:59am PT
Tony - Nice work, then and now. They later added the "North Forty" section of land North of the railroad tracks. We are very fortunate as a community to share this great resource.

Development adjacent to Stoney altered the run off pattern and effectively raised the bar on Boulder 2. In the 1980's I used to do laps on Hoof-n-Mouth because it was only 5.8. Now that it is V1 (actually V0-) I need a TR.

I haven't seen Jeeter since the late '80s.

Jim Henson's Basement
Aug 19, 2010 - 11:09am PT
Nice Tony. Thanks for posting.

Weld_It is just trolling as usual.
Tony Bird

Northridge, CA
Topic Author's Reply - Aug 19, 2010 - 11:46am PT
tom was provocateur extraordinaire of the RCS and i loved his wit and the way he battled with a gnarly babe named kathy crandall, stepping on all her feminist sensibilities as she rose as a trout to the fly. they had a war going in the real men don't eat quiche heyday. they loved to draw blood.

unfortunately they both dropped out of climbing. tom and his girlfriend came back from a south seas excursion, and the last i saw of them was a trip they hosted at idyllwild, both of them wearing grass skirts as they waved climbers into the campsite. i thought kathy was going to be regular partner after i belayed her on her first 10a lead, but i think it was also her last. she turned exclusively to backcountry skiing, where she has been a real force, and about as far away from tropic seas as you can imagine.

Big Wall climber
Aug 19, 2010 - 12:17pm PT
Messages 1 - 6 of total 6 in this topic
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