Calling it a “good-neighbor decision,” residents of the Mar Vista community in the City of Los Angeles praised the Santa Monica City Council for abandoning that city’s resident restrictions for use of an off-leash dog area at Airport Park.

The City Council voted unanimously Tuesday, September 11th, to open the off-leash dog park at the 8.3-acre Airport Park to non-Santa Monica residents and their dogs, provided the pets are licensed and have had vaccinations.

Nonresidents will also be required to purchase a recognizable dog tag for an annual fee of $15.50 to take their pets to the off-leash area at Airport Park, at the northwest corner of Bundy Drive and Airport Avenue in Santa Monica.

The move to open up the off-leash site was hailed by Los Angeles residents living near the park who had expressed frustration at the original Santa Monica policy that prohibited nonresidents from accessing the area. Santa Monica rules governing off-leash dog areas in the city require that dogs have a Santa Monica license.

“I think they’ve done the neighborly thing,” Mar Vista Community Council chair Rob Kadota said of the Santa Monica City Council decision. “I’m glad to see that there were Mar Vista residents who got involved and expressed their point of view and I’m more pleased that Santa Monica listened.”

Residents living in Mar Vista had come out against the dog park restrictions, arguing that many of them can walk to the park while Santa Monicans must drive. The Los Angeles neighbors had also noted that their city doesn’t have resident restrictions at its facilities and many of them spend money at Santa Monica businesses.

Mar Vista Community Council vice chair Tom Ponton said he was pleased to see that the Santa Monica neighbors paid attention to his community’s concerns, noting that the two communities are “not two separate groups of people.”

“We do appreciate your consideration of Mar Vista residents and their dogs,” Ponton told the Santa Monica City Council, adding that many Mar Vistans are Santa Monica employees or business owners. “We’re all one people.”

Santa Monica Mayor Richard Bloom said he understood why some people were upset that they couldn’t use the dog park but he was impressed at how his city resolved the issue.

“This was a contentious issue and there were a number of reasons for that,” Bloom said. “I am extremely pleased with the responsible manner in which the city handled this issue from the beginning.”

While the .88-acre off-leash area at Airport Park has been opened to dogs from outside Santa Monica, the three other off-leash sites in the city can be used only by Santa Monica-licensed dogs of residents of the city. If usage patterns change at Airport Park, the city can reexamine the policy.

The City Council vote that officially dropped the resident restrictions at Airport Park came more than a month after the Santa Monica Recreation and Parks Commission recommended that nonresidents be allowed to use the site for six months without having to pay a fee.

The commission made the recommendation after usage patterns, which had been monitored since Airport Park opened in late April, indicated that the off-leash site had never reached its capacity of 45 dogs, maxing out at 24 dogs at any one time.

Although Community and Cultural Services Department staff recommended that the City Council charge an annual $15.50 fee to nonresidents to help cover maintenance costs, Mar Vista residents said they don’t find the fee to be a problem.

“If you look at it on an annual basis, it’s not that much to use a nice dog park,” Ponton said of the fee.

The City Council also voted September 11th to clarify hours of operation at the city’s four off-leash dog parks, setting the hours at 7:30 a.m. to 8:30 p.m. weekdays, and 8:30 a.m. to 8:30 p.m. weekends at Joslyn Park, Pacific Street and Airport Park. The Memorial Park site is open from 6 a.m. to 8:30 p.m. both weekdays and weekends.

In addition, the council made a change to the staff recommendation limiting the number of dogs one person can bring to the off-leash areas, increasing the limit from three to four.

Now that Mar Vista residents are welcome to bring their dogs to play at the nearby Airport Park, Ponton said they are continuing to work on getting more off-leash sites for the community.

“I’d like to see more dog parks open up,” he said.

Referring to the newly non- restricted site at Airport Park, Ponton commended his fellow residents for working together to see that they, too, can have access to the community resource.

“I think it shows that activism can be successful if it’s handled right,” Ponton said.

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