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Strapped Council Seeks Sponsor for Leash-Free Park

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Should it be dubbed Alpo Acres? Ralston Purina Park? Kal Kan Gardens?

It may come to that before a three-acre, city-owned lot in the Sepulveda Basin can be transformed into a leash-free zone for dogs, Los Angeles city officials indicated Monday.

The problem is finding the $23,000 needed to convert the land into a dog run in this year of budget belt-tightening. Councilwoman Gloria Molina bitterly fought taxpayer funding for the idea Monday, and Councilwoman Joy Picus, in whose district the property is located, also is looking askance at tax dollars being used.

So the solution to creating a little corner of canine heaven in the San Fernando Valley may lie in the city finding private-sector help.

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And who better to be a benefactor for such an enterprise than a dog food manufacturer? And what would the city be willing to do to honor such a philanthropic gesture? It would name the dog park after the sponsor, city officials said.

Naming a Los Angeles city park after any corporate donor would be a first, said Jackie Tatum, assistant chief of the city’s Department of Recreation and Parks. But she also said she was willing to take the plunge if the money were available.

“It would be appropriate to name the park after the donor,” Tatum said. “But I think it would be called something like the Woodley/Kal Kan Park, not just Kal Kan Park.”

That the biggest obstacle to making the three-acre site in Woodley Avenue Park is money became evident during Monday’s meeting of the council’s Arts, Humanities and Health Committee.

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Councilman Joel Wachs, the panel’s chairman, was gung-ho about adding to the experiment begun in 1988 when the city first allowed dogs to run free during certain hours at Laurel Canyon Park. That program would be unaffected by the Woodley proposal. The Woodley plan would dedicate an entire site--equal in size to Laurel Canyon Park--totally to the dogs.

But Molina balked, recalling that the city had had to cut and squeeze a few weeks ago when it adopted a budget that forecast lower revenues in the coming year.

“I’m not going to look at this in isolation,” Molina said. Molina said she has been fighting to get adequate funding for parks in her inner-city district. “I don’t want to deny a dog owner, but if it means denying a child a swing. . . .”

Wachs said the money was a small price to pay to meet the needs of the city’s owners of some 200,000-plus licensed dogs. “This would be something the city can do for a large, large group of people,” Wachs argued.

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The Valley councilman also inquired if dog food companies had been approached to donate the $23,000 needed to fence off the three-acre site just south of the archery field, bring water for drinking and lawn irrigation to the area and provide some picnic tables and other amenities.

“It’s a natural for the adopt-a-park kind of concept,” Wachs said. City officials said they had not explored that option because until recently it looked as if the city’s budget could handle another $23,000 expenditure. But Craig R. Arndt, an attorney and backer of the dog park idea, said he had. So far, Arndt said, he had gotten no nibbles from the companies.

When all was said and done, the committee was unable to agree on a recommendation to fund the park out of the 1990-91 unappropriated balance. (Councilman Gilbert Lindsay, the committee’s third member, was not present). The matter next goes to the council’s budget committee, where gloomy news is common these days.

Although the park would be in her district and she had previously supported it, Picus now believes a “fresh look at the park is needed in light of our budget situation,” the lawmaker’s press secretary said.

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Other bad news for funding: Parks Department General Manager James Hadaway indicated he was not ready to cut his agency’s 1990-91 budget by $23,000 to provide funding for the dog park. Such a park “would not be too high” on the department’s priority list for spending, he said.

The Woodley Avenue Park site has looked like a good one in part because the three-acre site under study is already being used by dog owners, some of whom are illegally letting their dogs run free on the site, said Valley parks department official Rick Sessinghaus.

Cavorting canines also stray occasionally into a wildlife refuge area in the basin, upsetting environmentalists, which fencing the area would prevent, Sessinghaus said.

A second dog park also would relieve strains on the Laurel Canyon site, said Councilman Mike Woo’s legislative aide, Diana Brueggemann. “We draw from the entire city at Laurel Canyon, because we’re the only park of the kind in the area.”

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