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City Seeks Input on Dog Park at Runyon Canyon

Officials plan more public hearings before making a decision on the off-leash area, but say that the park belongs to everyone.

June 14, 2003|Nita Lelyveld | Times Staff Writer

A day after the city unveiled a plan for Runyon Canyon Park that instantly got dog owners growling, Los Angeles officials said they wanted to hear more from the public before shrinking the area where dogs can roam without leashes. But they said the park needs to be a welcoming place for everyone.

The city also needs to control environmental damage from overuse of the 134-acre urban oasis, stretching from Mulholland Drive in the north to just north of Franklin Avenue in Hollywood, that attracts dog owners from all over Los Angeles. "We're literally wearing our parks out," Manuel A. Mollinedo, general manager of the city's Department of Recreation and Parks, said Thursday night as his agency presented the tentative plan for a $1-million Runyon Canyon makeover.

Key features include reducing the off-leash area from 90 acres to five and putting an unpaved parking lot at the southern end of the park in an attempt to reduce pressure on neighboring streets.

Most of the more than 300 people who packed a Hollywood school auditorium to hear the plan signaled their feelings with stickers showing a cartoon dog next to the words "OFF LEASH!"

Dog owners dominated more than two hours of public comment. Some booed when people who live next to the park complained about dog urine and feces and the lack of street parking on their blocks.

Unsympathetic dog owners suggested that the homeowners move.

But City Councilman Tom LaBonge, who tried to keep the meeting civil, said the park is a public place.

"It's a lot of people's mecca," said LaBonge, whose district includes the park, which he calls a "natural StairMaster" because of its steep trails.

"Everybody knows that dogs have an important stake in Runyon Canyon, and I think the meeting last night proved it," he said Friday.

But the councilman added that the park's popularity has created problems for homeowners who live near the entrances and has spawned a need for on-site parking.

The proposal also suggests creating more interpretive programs and encouraging activities for children and senior citizens.

Some dog owners said Thursday that the city should let Runyon Canyon go to the dogs and their owners, instead of trying to please others, including hikers, children and naturalists.

"At the end of every leash is a vote," warned comedian Elayne Boosler, who said she's seen the city over the years "completely marginalize and cut out dog owners."

"This is what keeps us sane," she said of Runyon Canyon, the city's largest off-leash dog park.

The next largest, in Sepulveda Basin, is five acres and has 100 parking spaces.

Funds to refurbish Runyon Canyon Park come from Proposition A, which voters passed in 1992, said Bill Lukehart, Recreation and Parks superintendent for planning and construction.

He said much of the proposal unveiled Thursday seeks to reinforce the park's first master plan, created in 1986. That document emphasized protection of natural resources and stated that the park should be "safe for all users."

Lukehart said he expects a newly created Runyon Canyon Park advisory board, made up of a variety of park users and neighbors, to present the city with a recommendation about the proposal.

He added that there was no timetable for park improvements and that the city would hold more public meetings.

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