Last fall, my office joined forces with dozens of community members to help North Hollywood’s Whitnall Off-Leash Dog Park win the Beneful Dream Dog Park competition. Together we succeeded due to a strong, united social media push by many North Hollywood residents, dog park users and my office.
As the winning park, the City of Los Angeles Department of Recreation and Parks received $20,000 from Beneful to improve the park. Whitnall is widely used by dog owners in the area but lacks basic amenities like shade structures, ADA compliant access gates and adequate seating. So, in order to really transform Whitnall into a place the community can better use and enjoy, I matched the prize money with $20,000 in additional funding from my own office budget, creating a grand total of $40,000 earmarked for park improvements. That announcement happened at a community ceremony in early December 2016.
Some of you have expressed concerns about the length of time it has taken for improvements to begin, and this delay has been a great aggravation to me as well. The primary complicating factor in this project has been the presence of high voltage power lines both above and below the Whitnall Off-Leash Dog Park. These power lines raise very real safety concerns and trigger multiple layers of federal and state restrictions governing construction at the park. Because of where the park is located and out of concern for the safety of park users and their pets, the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power (LADWP) has required the Department of Recreation and Parks (RAP) to adhere strictly to all the rules governing improvements on land underneath, and containing active high voltage power transmission lines.
After many meetings between my office and LADWP and RAP, I am pleased to inform you that we are now making real progress on the upgrades. RAP is now set to break ground on phase one of the construction before the end of 2017, and there is a clear commitment to multiple important improvements.
A Year of Work
Before I go into the details, I’d like to give you a brief rundown of the work that’s been done this year. Despite enormous bureaucratic complications, my office has consistently and forcefully pushed to keep the project moving forward:
- In January 2017, community members submitted some preliminary ideas for improvements to the park. My office forwarded all of those ideas to RAP for review and analysis and requested they meet with LADWP to get the process started.
- In February, RAP met with LADWP staff to get guidance on what improvements would be both feasible and legally permitted underneath the high voltage power lines.
- In March, RAP met with my office to discuss preliminary plans and ideas that could be shared with the community. My office invited representatives from the community and the North Hollywood Neighborhood Council to the meeting.
- On May 8, my office organized a community meeting open to the public at the North Hollywood Recreation Center where RAP staff shared preliminary concepts of some of the improvement options, including required Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) compliant gates. It is important to note that none of the other improvements sought for the park could go forward without also ensuring ADA compliance.
- RAP then submitted plans to LADWP and requested approval for the first phase of improvements to the park, the ADA compliant gates. Even as these plans were submitted, my office continued to press both RAP and LADWP to come to agreement on plans for an acceptable shade structure and seating improvements.
- In August, my staff met with RAP and LADWP staff to get an update on the projects and to express to both departments my extreme displeasure at the unnecessary delay on park improvements as well as my insistence that this important project get moving.
- In September, at my urging, LADWP and RAP staffers stepped up their communications about what more needed to happen to allow us to break ground on the first phase of the project before the end of the year and other improvements immediately thereafter.
- On October 26, I personally met with the General Managers of LADWP and RAP to get everyone on the same page and map out the first phase of construction. At the meeting, the departments pledged to work with my office on implementing the additional improvements we requested on behalf of the community, including installation of shade structures, seating and other amenities.
- Earlier this month, my office then met with LADWP and RAP leaders on-site at Whitnall to show the park to prospective contractors who would later bid to do the upgrades on the park. Bids for the work came in early this week. After thoroughly reviewing the bids, RAP will select a contractor to commence work on the project in December.
Improvements Coming Soon
We now have an overall design that reflects the community’s needs and consensus wishes, based on input from calls, emails and the community meeting that took place in May. Below is a snapshot of the important upgrades that will happen over the course of the next few months:
- For the small dog area, RAP will install an ADA compliant gated vestibule entry on concrete paving, a decomposed granite pathway with recycled plastic edge material and a concrete pad with a fiberglass shade pergola over a concrete bench.
- For the big dog area, RAP will install a new concrete access approach, an ADA compliant gated vestibule entry on concrete paving, a decomposed granite pathway with recycled plastic edge material and a concrete pad with a fiberglass shade pergola over a concrete bench.
The above list of upgrades exceeds the $40,000 in funding we secured for park improvements through Beneful and my office, and it contains nearly every improvement that the community and I have called for. Because these upgrades will greatly enhance the park, I am going to work with RAP to ensure they can secure the additional money to make them.
Some of you expressed a desire for additional grass and irrigation at the park as well; however, the price tag for those two items would put the cost of the project out of reach at this time. Installing grass in both areas would cost over a quarter million dollars, and it would quickly die and need to be replaced due to dog urine and constant use, which is why the City does not commonly install grass in its dog parks. I hope you agree that we need to focus on the important upgrades we both want and can afford to make right now.
You now know some of the challenges we’ve encountered and the work that’s been done in our quest to make the Whitnall Off-Lease Dog Park a better place for dog owners and pets. Although the process wasn’t fast or easy, we are nearing the end of the planning phase and will break ground on construction soon.