Westchester resident Lara McGlashan has for years used her morning walks on Cabora Road along the bluffs near Playa Vista not just for exercise but as a form of meditation and to be with nature.
The area has been equally as useful for another Westchester resident, Brad Kurtz, who has explored and hiked the hillside bluffs with his children for years.
“It’s a bit of open space that is at times really pretty,” said Kurtz, who has lived by the Westchester bluffs for over four years.
McGlashan and Kurtz say they and their neighbors have enjoyed exploring the bluffs for decades, but that has been threatened ever since Playa Vista recently installed a six-foot chain link fence along the southern side of Cabora Road to help protect the bluff area.
Playa Vista officials and Los Angeles police announced in late November that they have increased patrol around the unpaved Cabora Road, east of Lincoln Boulevard, to help keep people and off-leash dogs away from the bluffs. The path has become an access point for pedestrians and their pets to go on to the private bluff property, leading to damage of the vegetation and an increased potential for erosion, Playa Vista officials have said.
The incidents have led to the need to step up enforcement of existing trespassing and dog-leash laws in the area, officials said.
But frustrated residents claim that there is no need for a fence and increased patrol by the bluffs because they have been accessing the area for many years without any problems.
“People have been using the bluffs and canyon for decades and there has never been a problem,” said McGlashan, who lives close to the bluffs.
She called the new fence an “eyesore” and said the stepped-up patrol has spoiled her walks along the bluffs, making her feel as though she is being spied on.
“It’s not the same anymore,” she said of her experience.
Kurtz agreed, saying that the beefed-up security has made him think twice about hiking by the bluffs and “wrecked” his practice of going there.
“It’s a real loss for the community and anyone who has been down there to enjoy the open space,” Kurtz said.
The frustrations have reached beyond the immediate bluff neighborhood to residents in surrounding communities who have also come to hike the bluff area over the years. Venice resident Karen Jones said she used to walk her dog along Cabora Road for a “morning out” but was disappointed to learn that a fence had been installed.
“I think the whole encroachment is unfair,” Jones said. “Blocking off the canyon doesn’t serve anyone. I find it to be an offense and it won’t help the situation at all.”
Playa Vista officials beg to differ, saying that the fence will help them enforce the city’s trespassing and dog leash laws. The fence, which includes signage warning of the existing laws, will also help prevent damage to the vegetation and drainage devices, which have been marked by graffiti, Playa Vista officials said.
“This is the most effective way to enforce the laws of the city,” Playa Vista spokesman Steve Sugerman said.
Sugerman reiterated that although residents may have been accessing the bluffs for years, they are not allowed to trespass there.
“The reality is that the bluffs are off limits to hiking and dogs off leash,” Sugerman said.
Some bluff neighborhood residents have claimed that Playa Vista is not being a good neighbor because there was no discussion about the changes and the fence was put up suddenly.
Sugerman said Playa Vista had sent letters to residents over the years notifying them that the bluffs are not to be used for hiking. Officials had tried to warn people and put up signs in the past, but they were ignored and the incidents continued, he said.
Another point of contention for the bluff neighbors is that the complaints of people trespassing on the bluffs and allowing their dogs to roam off-leash are coming from a small number of people. They claim that Playa Vista is also unable to quantify the complaints.
“It’s very surprising that the complaints of a few should outweigh the greater population,” McGlashan said.
Kurtz added, “They’re denying access to a real valuable neighborhood resource for what might be a couple of people.”
Sugerman countered that Playa Vista has received “dozens” of complaints, not just a few, and they needed to take action to resolve the problem. Complaints have come in from security personnel, as well as from e-mails and phone calls, he said.
Residents who oppose the bluff patrol say they would like to see the area again be the non-restrictive place that it used to be.
They have formed a Web site at www.freethebluffs.org/ and they aired their frustrations at a meeting earlier this month that was attended by representatives from both Playa Vista and staff from City Councilman Bill Rosendahl’s office.
Sugerman noted that Playa Vista values the Westchester residents as neighbors and will continue to meet with them to discuss their concerns, but officials believe that the increased enforcement is the most workable solution.
Some residents said they were disappointed to see support for the enforcement by Rosendahl, who called it a “win-win solution” for both residents and visitors.
The councilman admitted that he was “torn” because the bluff situation is a very difficult issue with a lot of emotion involved for people who enjoy going to the area and walking with their dogs. But he added that the law prohibits people from allowing their pets to roam unleashed by the bluffs.
“Dog lovers like myself have to appreciate the fact that there are laws out there that limit the ability to run our dogs,” Rosendahl said.
He pointed out that dog owners in his 11th Council District are challenged to find enough places to let their dogs run off-leash. While Playa Vista has provided two off-leash dog parks in the community, Rosendahl said he plans to continue exploring ways to provide more dog parks for the local communities.