After years of meetings, arguments and compromises by neighborhood associations and Runyon Canyon Park's advisory board, Los Angeles officials are moving forward with their original plan to create 85 parking spaces at the park.
Those who have led passionate efforts to keep cars out of the city's largest off-leash dog park said they were blindsided by the decision. City officials say this shouldn't come as a surprise -- a parking lot has been part of their plan all along and is the best solution to traffic problems in the area.
At issue are the increasing number of visitors and dogs that come to the 133-acre park, nestled between Mulholland Drive and Franklin Avenue in the Hollywood Hills. Nearby residents on upscale Vista Street say the parking, littering, and dog feces and urine have been a nightmare.
In 2003, the city unveiled a solution to a group of more than 300 homeowners and parkgoers: raze the green space near the park's Fuller Avenue entrance and install parking meters and overhead lighting.
That appeased some residents, who hoped it would divert traffic away from their streets. But it enraged others, who thought the park should not be encroached upon. Some also argued the parking lot would attract more people.
City officials formed the Runyon Canyon Park advisory board in April 2003 -- made up of residents and those who use the park -- to get input from the community. Nearly five months later, members of the panel reached a compromise: They decided against a parking lot. The board's recommendations were then forwarded to the city's Department of Recreation and Parks.
Some members say the city's plan this week to move forward with a parking lot came as a surprise.
"My understanding was that they were open to what we wanted to do," said Betsy Kelley, who served on the defunct advisory board. "Why spend our time discussing a parking lot if the decision had already been made? The whole thing was pretty much a waste of my time."
Far from it, said Councilman Tom LaBonge, whose district includes the park.
"It's very important to get a feel about what people think of these ideas," he said of the advisory board's purpose. "I think it's important for people to participate in the process."
But he said even after the advisory board's alternatives to a parking lot were submitted -- including charging dog owners a fee and creating more dog-friendly parks throughout the city -- a parking lot was still the best solution.
"Many people love Runyon Canyon," he said. "There has to be access for all of Los Angeles."
The project will also fence off the park's Vista Street entrance. The street has already become a restricted parking area.
City officials say the funds do not exist yet to create the parking lot, which they estimate will cost nearly $2 million. Furthermore, the project still needs to be approved by the city's Recreation and Parks Commission.
Some hikers this week said a parking lot would take away from Runyon Canyon's mystique.
"The parking lot is probably going to bring more people with more dogs," Kathleen Dorritie said as she walked downhill on a winding dirt trail. "Each time I see nature being taken away, my heart breaks."