The Los Angeles Department of Recreation and Parks has pulled the plug on a controversial pilot program that allowed off-leash dogs to run in Oakwood Park during limited morning hours.

During a series of public meetings about potential park upgrades, the off-leash program emerged as a flashpoint for tensions between legacy residents of the historically working class African-American neighborhood and wealthier newcomers often accused of trying to remake Oakwood in their own image.

Longtime residents have worried openly that the last large public gathering space in Oakwood would at least partially become a dog park. Many perceive a sense of entitlement among newcomers and suspected the program was a camel’s nose under the tent for displacing African-Americans from the park.

“Historically that park has always been an open field for large community events, so there’s also an attempt to break up that open space there,” said social justice advocate Mike Bravo, a native of Venice.

Recreation and Parks spokeswoman Rose Watson told The Argonaut the department ended the pilot effective Aug. 31 and “has no future plans to convert any portion of Oakwood Recreation Center into a dog facility,” she said. “Dogs are required to be on a leash at all times. There are signs posted in the park.”

Pilot program advocates say responsible dog owners have been characterized unfairly and only want to use the park when hardly anyone else is around.

Panos Stoumpos, who has lived in the neighborhood for six years, said he preferred exercising his small dog at Oakwood Park in the morning due to a prevalence of large off-leash dogs at Westminster Dog Park.

“Dogs should be left to run free as long as the owners are responsible,” he said. “If the park was used more frequently [in the early morning], I would understand why people wouldn’t want dogs in the park.”

A change.org petition to allow “safe, supervised dog training/socialization classes during limited hours” at the park has garnered more than 1,200 signatures; a competing petition to keep dogs out of Oakwood Park has about 600.

— Gary Walker

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