Before the parade passes by

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After their practice schedule was delayed for weeks because renovations to the ballfields at Bluffs Park weren’t complete, local Little League players, coaches and officials received another blow this week.

The city notified Commissioner Rick Holben the permit for the annual Opening Day Parade, scheduled for Saturday, was being rescinded. The mailed notice cited a conflict with an event at Our Lady of Malibu Church set to begin at 10 a.m., the time when the parade would be passing Winter Canyon Road and Civic Center Way, the only access to the church.

“There was a conflict with OLM’s First Communion celebration, which involves more than 100 kids,” said Jed Ireland, the city’s civil engineering assistant. “Closure of Winter Canyon would delay that by an hour. They were scheduled to start at 10 a.m.”

Little League was also notified the fields at Bluffs Park were not ready, although the sod was laid in the two main baseball diamonds on Feb. 20.

“They said that we can’t have the ceremonies and games because the fields are unplayable,” said Holben. “We’re already a month behind. Usually, the practice games start the first week in February.” The time line matches post season games with other districts, he said.

The city awarded the contract in September and predicted the season would open on time. Money was donated to lay sod on the fields instead of seeding so the fields would be ready. Then, when the city saw delays looming, it offered incentives to the contractor to work double shifts and appropriated $30,000 to sod the soccer field to accommodate two small, practice fields.

“We really appreciate all the city has done. We were initially heartened that the city would allocate extra funds and $30,000 more to sod the soccer field,” said Holben. “But first they said we would need an extra week. About two weeks later, we were told around the 13th. Then about a week later, it was the 20th.”

Catherine Walter, Parks and Recreation director, did not return calls on Tuesday.

Little League scheduled an emergency board meeting for Wednesday at 7 p.m. at the home of Malibu Little League President Stan Berk.

Ireland said the city is willing to help solve at least the parade and opening ceremonies problem.

“The Little League committee will make a decision on the options,” said Ireland. “They could do the parade as planned [from Cross Creek to Civic Center Way and Malibu Canyon Road to Bluffs Park], but then have the opening-day ceremony [sans games] at City Hall. OLM will try to be flexible to do what they can to make it work. We would work with the sheriffs to help direct people to queue safely.” Or, they may opt not to do the event.

“I believe we can work this out,” said Holben. “We’re going to try to have practices and maybe a few minor games at Juan Cabrillo and at the high school softball field.”

Softball diamonds, however, have no mound and are all dirt, no grass. “We had several bloody lips playing on dirt, one last Sunday,” Holben said. The teams practice in space not even meant for baseball, and the two little playgrounds [at Juan Cabrillo] are only good for the minor minor division, mostly 8- and 9-year-olds, and softball, which is all girls this year. We’re all dependent on each other for fields even when Bluffs Park is up and running.”

Other options might be open for practice games, Holben said. “We’re calling everybody. The city says it will be two weeks, but we’re not counting on that. Agoura might be an alternative site, but they have a full schedule at Lupin Hills, so that’s a long shot. Maybe we could use another park in Agoura.”

Another problem with playing games away from Bluffs Park is that Little League loses the revenue from the sale of hot dogs and snacks, Holben said. “The more we have to play away from the snack shack, the more revenue we lose.”

Malibu plays in District 25 which includes Playa Vista, West Los Angeles, Culver City, Santa Monica, Beverly Hills and Pacific Palisades, but no teams in the Valley.