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Council moves L.A. Marathon back to March, shifts route

July 21, 2009 | 12:56 pm

Ending weeks of negotiations, the City Council voted today to move the date of the Los Angeles Marathon from Memorial Day in May back to a Sunday in March -- the month used in 23 of the last 24 years.

On a 12-0 vote, the council scheduled the marathon for March 21 and agreed to alter the location dramatically, allowing for a “Stadium to the Sea” route that begins at Dodger Stadium and ends at the ocean.

“I’m convinced this is the right date and the right route for the race,” said Russ Pillar, president of the Los Angeles Marathon.

The council voted last year to move the marathon to Memorial Day after a series of churches along the race route complained that the event had a significant effect on Sunday worship. That decision upset many of the runners in this year’s race and reduced participation by roughly 5,000 competitors, according to marathon officials.

The L.A. Marathon organization had to reimburse 2,000 runners who thought the event would be held in March, said Howard Sunkin, senior vice president with the McCourt Group, which owns both the marathon and the Los Angeles Dodgers.

City officials also had feared that an excessively hot Memorial Day could dramatically increase the number of medical emergencies among runners, taxing the city’s hospitals and paramedics.

Since then, marathon officials have offered a series of concessions to the city’s religious leaders to win support for a Sunday race. Under an agreement approved by the council, race organizers will move the start time from 7:20 a.m. to 6:55 a.m. The route also will be changed to avoid a greater number of churches.

Although the race will likely move through Hollywood, West Hollywood, Beverly Hills and West Los Angeles, the final route has not been determined, Sunkin said. “It will move from the stadium to the sea. Exactly where at the sea is still up in the air,” he said.

L.A. Marathon also agreed to notify every church affected by the event 90 days before the race and take steps to allow parishioners to gain access to churches along the route.

Church leaders voiced relief with the process used by the city, saying their concerns about the effects of the race were taken more seriously than in previous years. Still, one religious leader warned that church leaders not involved in the talks still might have issues with the event.

“They may not all jump up and say hallelujah,” said the Very Rev. Father John S. Bakas of the Saint Sophia Cathedral Orthodox Community, appearing before the council.

-- David Zahniser at L.A. City Hall