The city of West Hollywood has spared no expense in a lavish makeover of its central park. First came a chic library and rooftop tennis courts, to the tune of $61 million. Just approved is an additional $86 million in amenities, including two rooftop swimming pools, a $3-million "grand staircase" and a landscaped rooftop "respite deck."
West Hollywood Park, officials say, will be an urban oasis the likes of which has never been seen. So why does the city's mayor object to the new plans so much that he wants to see them revised?
FOR THE RECORD
An earlier version of this story said there are about 1,300 children ages 14 and under in West Hollywood. There are about 1,100.
The answer: too much room for children and not enough for dogs.
Why should a city famous for its fairness have a showplace park with three children's play areas but nowhere for its dogs to run free? Mayor John D'Amico calls it a "sort of institutional fetishization of kids."
"We love our children here," he said recently. "But … this is an adult city."
The city's statistics bear this out. Its 34,000 residents include only about 1,100 children ages 14 and under, on par percentagewise with the retirement village of Laguna Woods, according to census data. Dogs probably outnumber kids. About 1,000 dogs are licensed, and officials assume there are many more that aren't.
Meanwhile, just one small off-leash dog park can be found within city limits.
And this is in a city that loves its dogs enough to officially designate the humans who live with them as "guardians," not owners. (The mayor is the guardian of two rescues, Cody and Dodger.)
Dogs roam freely at outdoor cafe patios and sometimes attend City Council meetings. The city's tourism agency boasts pet-friendly shopping and dining as well as a canine country club that allows "LA's most powerful dogs" to enjoy workouts and Jacuzzi soaks. Fido can then get a bite to eat at JustFoodForDogs, a gourmet dog food kitchen where the chef cooks up options like beef liver sprinkles and frozen "pupsicle" treats.
"We have found West Hollywood to be an extremely dog-friendly city," said Kristen Pollock, a spokeswoman for the company. "Pets are treated as a member of the family more and more these days."
West Hollywood's residents live mostly in apartments and condos, with little private space for kids or dogs to frolic. So public green space is in high demand.
In West Hollywood Park last week, Bridget Klotz and girlfriend Jenna Mormelo lay on towels on the grass. Ignoring park rules, they allowed their five Yorkshire terrier-mix dogs — Bodhi, Ella, Zoe, Chet and Sunny — to play off their leashes nearby.
But Klotz complained, "The kids kind of rule the park." It's tricky to let the dogs off leash with them around, she said. "The weekends are really hard."
But there are few other options, said the women, who bring their dogs several times a week.
"They're our kids," Mormelo said. "I think a lot of people who have dogs feel that way."
Nearby, Angela Solorzano, a nanny from Echo Park, was watching two West Hollywood children as they ran around the park's existing playground.
The area, she said, doesn't have enough playgrounds for children, and they should not be the underdogs in this fight.
"We don't have many parks around here," Solorzano said. "There are people who don't live here who will drive to this park because it's a safe neighborhood."
D'Amico said that's part of the problem.
"I've spoken to many, many people who come [to the park] with children, and they're typically nannies from nowhere nearby," he said.
Plans for Phase 2 of the park renovation include $100,000 each for new adult fitness equipment and a free-standing park restroom with two toilets. Under the plans, the existing auditorium, pool facilities and other structures would be demolished to create more open space.
The park will also include a new national AIDS monument, funded by a private nonprofit, to recognize the lives lost to the disease.
Construction on the park is expected to begin in June and be completed by January 2018.
At the urging of the mayor and others, the City Council, which approved the $86-million budget last month, has asked the architects — LPA Inc. and Rios Clementi Hale Studios, which designed downtown's Grand Park — to come up with options for a dog park. A final design will be voted upon later.
Resident Manny Rodriguez was one of those who spoke out for dogs at the City Council meeting in which the park budget was approved. He noted the city's bans on the retail sale of fur garments and of cats and dogs. He also mentioned that the city does not allow circuses or the declawing of cats.
Having a dog park on the grounds would maintain West Hollywood's place as a leader for animal advocacy, Rodriguez said.
"We're a city that's really a fantastic advocate for animals," he added. "So the next logical thing to do, I think, is to have a dog park in this beautiful new park."