What was initially excitement for Mar Vista resident John Lafferty in hearing of a new neighborhood park with an area where he could let his two dogs roam unleashed has turned into frustration.

Laffertyís frustration came after he learned that rules prohibit him and his fellow Los Angeles neighbors from taking their dogs into the off-leash area of the park closest to their homes.

Thatís because the dog area is part of the newly opened Airport Park, which is a City of Santa Monica park within Santa Monica city limits, at the northwest corner of Bundy Drive and Airport Avenue, on the south side of Santa Monica Airport.

Existing Santa Monica rules governing off-leash dog areas in the city require that dogs have a Santa Monica dog license, thus preventing Lafferty and his Mar Vista neighbors from accessing the area with their pets.

The .88-acre off-leash dog area at the 8.3-acre Airport Park — Santa Monicaís first new city-built park in 24 years — is among four off-leash areas in Santa Monica.

Each of the areas is restricted to Santa Monica-licensed dogs, a rule city officials say was enacted to balance the limited amount of off-leash space available in Santa Monica with the popularity of off-leash areas.

With dog areas, such as at Airport Park, which covers less than an acre of land and is limited to accommodate 45 dogs at a time, city officials need a way to be able to control usage, said Barbara Stinchfield, Community and Cultural Services Department director.

“Thereís so much demand from Santa Monica residents that our first obligation is to ensure that they can be accommodated,” Stinchfield said.

But some non-Santa Monica residents such as Lafferty say that those restrictions are preventing them from accessing one of the few local dog areas and, even more important, one thatís right near their homes.

“There are very few dog parks on the Westside and it seems the neighbors who live closest to the dog park are the very same ones who are banned from using it,” said Lafferty, who lives two blocks from Santa Monica Airport.

Tom Ponton, Mar Vista Community Council vice chair, echoed Laffertyís complaint, saying that while few Santa Monica residents live within a half-mile of the Airport Park, many Mar Vista residents can get to the park on foot.

“For Mar Vista residents, we can walk to this park,” Ponton said.

As Santa Monica dog owners drive to get to the new off-leash area, it could create increased traffic in the Los Angeles neighborhoods close to the park, Ponton said.

“It has been put in a location where, if itís only used by Santa Monica residents, it will create a lot of traffic,” Ponton said.

A small section of the park near the corner of Airport Avenue and Bundy Drive, where the street name changes to Centinela Avenue, is within Los Angeles city limits, he added.

Some Los Angeles residents frustrated with the Santa Monica dog park restriction expressed their opposition with handmade signs saying “no LA dogs” and “shame on Santa Monica” at the grand opening for Airport Park Sunday, April 29th.

Santa Monica city officials hailed the opening of the $8.3 million Airport Park, the first new city-built park to open since Ocean View Park in 1983.

In addition to the dog area, Airport Park, built on a site that was originally part of Santa Monica Airport, features a synthetic-turf sports field, picnic tables and barbecues, restroom and storage facilities, a childrenís playground, and a .66-mile walking loop.

“This will be a huge addition to our park inventory,” said Brett Horner, senior analyst with Santa Monicaís Parks and Community Facility Planning Division. “We are under-parked here in Santa Monica and this will add a lot of new acreage.”

Stinchfield called the parkís opening a “landmark event” and said it was the culmination of efforts by community members who advocated for its creation.

Residents of both Santa Monica and Los Angeles descended on the new park to test out its various features, and while dog area restrictions were lifted at the opening celebration, some Los Angeles residents said they are fighting for the opportunity to share the off-leash site.

“[Santa Monica] impacts us with traffic and noise and pollution from the airport — it would only be fair to allow us to share in the community assets,” Lafferty said.

Another argument of Pontonís is that Los Angeles does not restrict Santa Monicans from using its facilities and many Los Angeles residents are the ones who spend money at Santa Monica businesses.

Lafferty and some other Los Angeles residents have also expressed frustration with a Santa Monica policy for sports fields that gives priority to teams with a majority of resident-based players.

Stinchfield said Santa Monica officials understand the concerns of their Los Angeles neighbors with the dog park restrictions, but 90 percent of the parkís facilities are open to everyone.

“We want to be good park neighbors,” Stinchfield said. “It wasnít the intent to be exclusionary. The intent was to have an open park.”

In response to the debate regarding the off-leash area, Santa Monica City Councilman Kevin McKeown said he has pushed for more areas to let dogs roam free.

“We donít need dog wars, we need more parks,” McKeown said.

Santa Monica staff has been working with staff from Los Angeles City Councilman Bill Rosendahlís office to come up with potential solutions that would provide fair access to Los Angeles dog owners, he said.

Rosendahl noted that he was disappointed with Santa Monicaís policy on off-leash dog areas, saying parks “should not be determined by municipal borders.”

“It is only fair that Santa Monica, which is located in the heart of the 11th District, practice nondiscriminatory park use policies,” Rosendahl said.

Some solutions discussed included allowing some dog owners who live in surrounding areas of the park to have access, as well as developing a pilot program that would provide Santa Monica dog tags to 15 Los Angeles dogs.

Rosendahl is currently reviewing proposals, and officials from both cities say they hope to come to a mutually agreeable solution for dog park access.

“In conversations with Santa Monica officials, I have discussed ways in which we can work together to provide equal access for Los Angeles residents,” Rosendahl said. “I look forward to a successful partnership on this issue.”

Ponton suggested that one solution could be that L.A. residents are charged a little higher license fee to allow their dogs to play in the park.

The Mar Vista Community Council is expected to address a proposed motion in opposition to the Santa Monica dog park resident restrictions at its next meeting scheduled Tuesday, May 8th.

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