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Yanking the Welcome Mat

Photo by Ted Soqui

LAST SATURDAY AFTERNOON A STREAM OF HIKERS, joggers and dog walkers made their way through the Vista Street gate into Runyon Canyon, a popular Hollywood park. For more than 10 years, hikers have used this entrance to reach their scenic path, which stretches from just above Franklin Avenue to Mulholland Drive.

All that will come to an end on September 9, when the big brown steel gate will be closed, leaving the public with what many deem to be two unacceptable options: parking on Fuller Street two blocks away or on Mulholland, a few miles away, and using one of the two remaining gates into the park.

Hikers say the closure of the Vista gate will worsen the traffic on already congested Fuller and make Runyon Canyon park accessible only to people who live on the surrounding streets. "It is virtually impossible to find parking on [Fuller]," says Glen Van Houten, who owns a condo just off Fuller and has been coming to Runyon Canyon for more than 12 years. "A lot of the overflow comes to Vista."

The City's Recreation and Parks Department insists that the closure is necessary for public health and safety. "It is a very narrow street, and so often it is parked so full you can't get emergency equipment up and down the street," said Jane Colb, director of development and marketing. "And with public health, dogs jump out of cars and defecate all over the neighborhood." Colb says the decision to close the gate was made by Councilman Tom LaBonge's office. LaBonge said it was a joint decision with Recreation and Parks.

"Runyon Canyon is an extremely popular spot. Unfortunately, because it is so popular, it has overburdened the neighborhood," said LaBonge. "If you live next to a city facility, it becomes a higher-intense use that becomes a burden on the neighborhood adjacent to it. It is like people who live on the beach, people near the Greek -- all of them are great facilities, but when they overwhelm the community, it makes us look at ways of mitigating the problem."

The hikers don't buy it. They say that it comes down to a handful of wealthy mansion owners who just don't want the extra people and cars on their pristine street. "It is typical of the couple of rich people around that are blocking what is advantageous to us common folk," said longtime hiker Ken Glassing. "Every one of those homes has a driveway, so I don't know why parking is a burden for them. There is always parking there. It is not that people block them in. Closing this gate might help a dozen people on the street, but how many thousands of people are going to be affected who use the park?"

Sam Henry, whose mother owns a home on Vista, says that hikers ignore the leash laws and don't clean up after their dogs. "Two or three dogs are okay, but 50 dogs a day? It is too much," he said. Henry blames the city for the problems. "We are terribly unhappy," he said. "The city never did anything to provide for parking. Fuller residents will start to suffer from what we have been suffering from."

LaBonge says the city plans to build a parking area on Fuller to accommodate the overflow, but he has no idea when it will be built. Hikers are skeptical.

"Where do they plan on putting it? Have you been there? It's all apartments. There is no space available," said a cynical Glassing. "Okay, build a parking lot on Fuller, but keep the gate open until it happens."