The long-simmering standoff between Runyon Canyon rivals has turned into a real dogfight. Faced off against each other over issues of park use and parking are local residents, park users and city officials.
The current teeth gnashing is over preferential parking. Residents representing nine blocks adjacent to Runyon Canyon, which attracts over 1,000 dog owners and hikers every weekend, want a restricted-parking area from Hollywood Boulevard to the south, Sierra Bonita to the west, Fuller Avenue to the east and Runyon Canyon Park to the north. They say the parking, dog feces, trespassing and litter from park users have become a nightmare. It has gotten even worse, they say, since homeowners on the 1800 block of Vista Street successfully lobbied for permit-only parking last year.
“We all got together because we were wondering how arbitrary it was that one block could get restricted parking and drive everyone down to our streets,” said Brad West, who lives on the 1700 block of Vista Street. “It didn’t seem fair.” Presently, there are restricted-parking districts on Vista Street, Hillside Avenue west of Vista, Camino Palmero, and Runyon Canyon east of Vista, meaning visitors’ parking is either prohibited or limited to certain hours.
In order to get a permit-only parking designation, 67 percent of affected residents in a six-block radius must sign a petition. A Department of Motor Vehicles check is then conducted to determine whether more than 25 percent of parked cars belong to non-locals. If that’s the case, a public hearing is then scheduled. Currently, neighborhoods adjacent to upper Runyon Canyon, Petit Park in Granada Hills and Elysian Park all have preferential parking around parks.
Park users who traverse the 133-acre stretch of canyons, hills and trails from Mulholland Drive in the north to just north of Franklin Avenue in Hollywood see Runyon Canyon as relief from the concrete jungle and believe preferential parking would impede the public’s ability to use the park. They want street parking to remain accessible during daylight hours.
“It reeks of the L.A. trend of entitlement and trying to be exclusive to keep the little masses out,” said park user Philip Mondello. “The whole reason we come here is to escape.”
In November, a small group of park users armed with more than 2,000 signatures asked the city to allow daytime parking between 8 a.m. and 6 p.m. in preferential parking districts around all city parks (which is how it works at the beaches). In January, Councilman Tom La Bonge presented the motion, and council adopted it. Park users applauded the move. Some residents did not.
“He is just making people angry,” said Fuller resident Eric Schlissel, who started a Web site dedicated to park issues called Saverunyon.org. “He is trying to appease everyone and make everyone feel like they are being heard. What he is doing is damage control and not management.”
For his part, La Bonge said he had no choice. “It is a collision on course that I am trying to figure out. I know people are very upset. I just want to do the right thing. We have a wonderful park. I am trying to find the right combination to relieve the problem.”
Relations between the warring parties and city officials began to deteriorate last year when city officials unveiled a plan to build a parking lot inside the Fuller gate at lower Runyon Canyon. It was a scaled-down version of a 1996 master plan, which included a statue of Hollywood actor Errol Flynn (Flynn lived in the pool house on the estate during the late ’50s, having lost his home in an alimony fight), reflecting pools and an onsite ranger. The new revised plan called for 85 parking spaces, sidewalk lighting as well as two-hour metered parking.
The idea was a bust. Residents and park users argued that a parking lot would attract more people and destroy precious green space. In April 2003, city officials formed the Runyon Canyon Park Advisory Board, made up of residents and park users, to get input from the community. Five months later, the nine-member group came back with a list of eight recommendations, including closing Vista gate and possibly charging dog owners a $40 to $50 annual fee. They also recommended that a parking lot not be built in lower Runyon Canyon.
Not long after, city officials disbanded the community advisory board and replaced it with council representatives and city employees. Board members said it was because they were opposed to La Bonge’s goal of building a parking lot.
“There was a long, thoughtful, carefully tended, painfully democratic process that good people participated in for months and months, and damn if the city ain’t just gonna do what it always wanted to do,” said park user Kimberly Fox. A year earlier, La Bonge rattled more cages when he backed a plan by wealthy homeowners on Vista Street to close the Vista Street gate. Homeowners complained that their pristine street was fast becoming a health hazard and parking lot. One resident said that 300 cars pull in and out of his driveway daily.
Park users argued that the closure of the Vista gate would worsen the traffic on already congested Fuller and make Runyon Canyon Park accessible only to people who live on the surrounding streets, including the handful of wealthy mansion owners on Vista. City officials backed down.
La Bonge’s proposal to open up preferential parking areas around city parks to daytime users is likely to go before City Council as early as next month, following a Department of Transportation report on the impact on local traffic.
“In September we will know what direction it is going, and we can schedule a hearing for preferential parking around the same time,” said Alan Willis, chief engineer with the transportation department. “I would like to be able to tell the residents that — by the way — the city has adopted the policy, or not. It is not required, but it is good customer service. They have been waiting a long time. There are two opposing views, so someone will not be happy.”