A group of downtown residents and their dogs were romping on a small patch of grass next to the glass edifice that headquarters the Los Angeles Police Department when the playful mood was broken.
“Hey, hey, look out!” someone shouted. A dog off its leash ran into the street, and was causing drivers to swerve.
A similar incident had occurred just hours before, one park visitor said, when another dog escaped its owner and ran into the street, only to be saved by a homeless person.
“The owner had his headphones on so he was unaware that his dog ran off,” explained Gerald Martinez, who was exercising his Chihuahua.
Elizabeth Ishili, who frequents the lawn with her poodle, Moses, thinks that dog owners who bring their pooches to mix, mingle and just be dogs should be more responsible with their pets to ensure the lawn remains available. “There are not many ‘dog parks’ in town. It’s good to have this green space.”
While the grassy area along 2nd Street between Spring and Main streets has for three years been functioning as a doggy playground for nearby loft dwellers, the one-acre area is technically not a park.
“It’s an emergency staging area for the Police Department,” said LAPD Cmdr. Andy Smith. “But we want to be good neighbors and allow the people near here to use this for their benefit.”
The Bermuda grass is a bright shade of emerald. The Police Department doesn’t have the capacity to mow the lawn and water the grass. “But the neighbors of downtown L.A. have done a great job helping us out,” Smith said. “They come here once in a while to help pull weeds and maintain some of the landscaping.”
According to Thom Brennan, commanding officer of the Police Department’s facilities management division, the city’s Recreation and Parks Department mows the lawn every two weeks and takes care of the grounds. He said workers maintain the landscaping at all city buildings.
Downtown open space is in increasing demand because of dramatic population growth since 1999. The number of residents had more than doubled to 45,000 as of last year. According to the Downtown Center Business Improvement District, the area now has 28,861 residential units, up 11% from 2008. Forty-three percent of residents own pets, mostly dogs, according to the group.
Until 2004, when the City Council decided to put a new police headquarters on the site, many residents expected the entire block to become a park. After complaints that the new building would consume too much of the space, officials agreed to leave part of the property open for grass and trees. Now the LAPD lawn serves as a small, community green where residents gather and their dogs run, fetch and yelp with other canines.
Sometimes, however, that playfulness creates a concern.
Some disregard a sign that warns them to keep their dogs on a leash and pick up after them. “We are going to put up more signs,” Smith said. “Police officers typically don’t enforce leash laws. That’s done by the Department of Animal Services, and it is a very low grade infraction. It is not something that calls for throwing handcuffs on someone and throwing them in jail.”
The dog owners are technically in violation of a city code that carries a fine, Smith said. “But the dogs are not hurting anybody. Animal services are strapped with handling other work too and our police officers, well, are also too busy to come around here and write citations for that.” Fines are $25 for a first conviction, $45 for a second conviction and $65 for any subsequent conviction.
Carmen Rodriguez, a business developer and downtown community activist who lives nearby, brings her dog, Prada, almost every day to the LAPD lawn.
“I’m not saying that the lawn should be fenced in, but maybe there should be similar stair barricades, which they have on one side of the lawn. I actually like what they have done here. It is a great place for pet owners to meet too.”
Smith said additional barricades are “not feasible” because they would limit the land’s use as a police staging area. “People are still able to use it as a dog area, walking area or just a place to sit down,” he said.