The Los Angeles Recreation and Park Commission Friday recommended that the City Council establish the city's first--and, for now, only--dog run in Laurel Canyon Park after an emotional hearing that pitted pet owners against other users of the small park in the mountains above Studio City.
The 4-0 vote rejected a recommendation from the Recreation and Parks Department staff that Laurel Canyon Park be passed over and that dog runs be established instead in Griffith Park and the Sepulveda Basin in the San Fernando Valley, and in two parks elsewhere in the city. The staff, in not recommending Laurel Canyon Park, cited the sparsity of such flat parkland for human use in the mountains.
But commissioners were persuaded by the nearly 75 dog owners who packed the City Hall meeting to urge the establishment of an area in Laurel Canyon Park where dogs could run free legally. Only a handful of opponents showed up. No one spoke for establishing dog runs at other parks.
An aide to Councilman Joel Wachs, in whose district the park is situated, said after the meeting that, despite the recommendation, Wachs wants to study the matter further before committing himself. Wachs' position is crucial because council members generally defer to colleagues on issues that affect only their districts.
Friday's hearing was the latest chapter in a controversy that began in the spring when dog owners who let their animals run free at Laurel Canyon Park clashed with animal control officers sent there to enforce the leash law. Officers were responding to complaints from other parks users that unleashed dogs interfered with their enjoyment of the park.
"The issue is only being discussed because of the people here today," said Eleanor Mondale, former Vice President Walter Mondale's daughter and a canyon resident, who asked the commission to approve the dog run.
Opponents, including the Laurel Hills Homeowners Assn., contended that setting aside an area in the park for dogs would deny children their only play area in the neighborhood.
"We are not against dogs," said Elaine Kohn, representing the Laurel Canyon Parents Assn. "We are against having a small park subdivided for dogs.
Jerry Greenfield, president of the Laurel Hills Homeowners Assn., accused the commission of giving into "lawlessness" by "dignifying people who took over that park" for their unleashed dogs.
Commissioner Richard Riordan responded that Greenfield actually was making an argument in support of a dog run in the park. "If they're going to use the park anyway, why not set aside part of the park and limit it to them?" Riordan asked.
The commission left undecided how much of the park--four acres of which is flat--would be set aside for a dog run, although parks department officials have talked about fencing off about 1 1/2 acres.
Mark Siegel, a deputy to Wachs, said the councilman wants to see whether there is good public access and enough parking space at the park, and whether the community supports the dog run, before making up his mind.
During Friday's hearing, several dog owners castigated Wachs, who was not present, for ordering stepped-up enforcement of the leash law at the park. But one commissioner defended the councilman, pointing out that Wachs sponsored the city ordinance that authorized the establishment of dog runs.