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Wachs Rejects Plan to Allow Park to Become Permanent Dog Haven

TIMES STAFF WRITER

A Los Angeles city councilman on Monday rejected a proposal to make permanent Laurel Canyon Park’s unique status as a haven where dogs can run free, drawing howls of protest by saying the council should keep pet owners on a short leash to make sure they continue to keep the park clean.

Under a plan offered by Councilman Joel Wachs, the grant of leash-free privileges at Laurel Canyon Park would need to be renewed each year by the City Council.

Wachs was sitting as the lone member present of the arts, health and humanities committee. His plan, which next goes to the full City Council, was not good news for dog owners, who want the city to take over more of the responsibility and cost of operating the four-acre park.

“We want more meat on our plate for our work,” said Jane Purse, founder of ParkWatch, a private group that has worked with recreation officials to make Laurel Canyon Park the city’s first--and to date only--park in which dogs can run free of leashes.

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Purse’s group has contributed time and money to make Laurel Canyon Park successful as a dog park, expecting that as a reward the city would make the leash-free privilege permanent.

ParkWatch has extensively educated dog owners on their legal duties to clean up their animals’ feces, pays $65 per day to have a ranger patrol the park on weekends and holidays when patronage is highest, and conducted cleanup campaigns.

The park has operated as a leash-free zone on a pilot basis since August, 1988, with dogs permitted to run free from 7 to 10 a.m. and from 3 p.m. to sundown each day.

The initial exemption from the city’s leash law for park users was for six months. Since then, the exemption has been extended every six months.

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Dog owners recently sought permanent leash-free status and an environmental review by the city OKd the proposal.

But the plans hit a snag with Wachs, who said he feared that a permanent exemption would cause the ParkWatch group to allow conditions at Laurel Canyon to deteriorate.

“Some people feel that the reason you are doing such a good job is that you have something to gain,” Wachs told Purse. “You have an incentive. I want to make sure you keep doing your share.”

Wachs also won an important endorsement for his plan from Diana Brueggemann, an aide to Councilman Michael Woo. Woo represents the area and his views are likely to be influential when the plan comes to a vote by the full council.

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Wachs repeatedly called the dog park a “partnership” between the city and ParkWatch, saying that in return for use of the park, the dog owners’ responsibility was to help with its upkeep.

But Purse and Cathy Doyle, another community activist, argued that Wachs’ plan for keeping dog owners on a six-month leash and requiring them to help with upkeep makes them second-class park users.

Doyle noted that other park users, like soccer and basketball players, have no responsibility for keeping up the recreational facilities they use. “The dog park needs to be embraced as a city program,” Doyle said.

Purse added that ParkWatch wants the city to help defray the cost of a park ranger on a daily basis and wants the city to prevent illegal parking by dog owners on Mulholland Drive. On weekends, the area is clogged with cars.

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