And what about our dogs? That was the question raised by Mayor John D’Amico and West Hollywood residents Monday night as the City Council was asked to approve the next step in the lengthy process of redeveloping West Hollywood Park.
The Council agreed to add $5.8 million to the $80 million budgeted for the redevelopment of the park. But it also asked the designers working on the project to investigate options for allowing dogs off leash in the park. The Council also asked that the park include an area where teams could play soccer or other outdoor sports. And it asked the designers to consider adding one underground level to parking planned on El Tovar Place or to use a system where cars would be stacked three-high.
In a city known for its love of dogs, the lack of canine facilities got the most attention. D’Amico pointed out that the park redevelopment plan included three play areas for children. Noting what he called the city’s “institutional fetishization of kids,” D’Amico asked why it didn’t also include a dog play area.
“We have 400 kids who live in this city, and we have 30,400 adults who have dogs,” D’Amico said. Children make up roughly five percent of the city’s population of a little more than 34,000 people.
D’Amico’s call for an off-leash dog area was echoed by Manny Rodriguez, a resident of West Hollywood West, who noted that the city has banned the sale of fur, banned circuses and banned puppy mills in an effort to show that it is animal-friendly. “It’s counter-intuitive to me that this wasn’t even studied,” Rodriquez said of failure of planners to include a dog area in the park.
John Bergara, another resident, also argued for a dog area. “We have lots of dogs… they have nowhere to go,” he said. “We’re not talking about a $50 million dog park. We’re talking about carving our some dirt.”
D’Amico was joined by Councilmember Jeffrey Prang in asking that the park include an area where adults could play field sports. Organizers of some local LGBT sports leagues, many of whose members are West Hollywood residents, have complained that there isn’t room for them in the city’s Plummer Park or West Hollywood Park.
D’Amico and Prang didn’t, however, request that a space be designated for a formal soccer or kickball or softball field. West Hollywood Park was home to a baseball field that was paved over for a parking lot in 2009 when construction began on the city’s new library. When the first phase of the park redesign was completed in 2012, that parking lot was eliminated in favor of the open grassy area and the present basketball courts.
Of the additional $5.8 million approved for the park redevelopment last night, $3 million would go toward building a dramatic “grand stair” rising from the park grounds toward the entrance to the recreation center on its south end. The designer, LPA Inc. and Rios Clementi JHale Studios, described the stairs and the plaza at their top as a place where residents could sit and relax. The stairs also could be used as seating for performances in the park below.
The proposed “grand stair” drew praise from Council members and public speakers, with some noting that it would be one of the park’s most distinguishing features.
Another $400,000 was authorized to create an entryway to the park where El Tovar Place intersects with Robertson Boulevard. The Council added $200,000 to create what planners are calling the “San Vicente Gardens” from which visitors can enter the park from San Vicente Boulevard, $100,000 to add outdoor exercise equipment for adults and $100,000 to build a freestanding bathroom with two toilets. The remainder of the $2 million projected increase in costs is attributed mostly to rising market costs for various elements of the park redevelopment.
Councilmembers Abbe Land and John Heilman had reservations about adding a designated off-leash area for dogs to the park, with Heilman asking that the designers also consider other options such as designating a certain time of day when unleashed dogs could be allowed in the park.
“I think we need to be very, very careful as we think about this,” Land said. “I just want to make sure we don’t do something that creates an inability to use the park as intended.”
Land suggested the Council ask the city’s Public Facilities Commission to evaluate the impact on the park of an off-leash area for dogs.
D’Amico rejected that idea. “I am concerned that if we are sending this to the Public Facilities Commission we are sending it to its death,” he said.
With the Council’s approval last night of the proposed park layout, the next step is to actually finalize its design. Construction is expected to begin in June of next year with the park redevelopment completed in 2018.
The redevelopment involves demolishing existing structures in the park so as to expand the open green space. Where once the park had less than two acres of such space, on its completion it will have five acres of open space. A recreation center, which will include two swimming pools on its roof, will be built at the south end of the park.