Residents living near a Southern California Gas Company facility off Manchester Avenue in Playa del Rey have long valued the company’s openness to having a grassy section of its property be accessible for the community.
Many say that for years they’ve been coming to the plot of land near 79th Street and Gulana Avenue to lie in the field, play with their children or walk their dog. The property has become a significant neighborhood resource in a part of Los Angeles with limited open spaces, they say.
“It’s the last green area in upper Playa del Rey,” said Rod Brown, a 34-year resident who says he’s been accessing the land for years and walks his dog there daily.
While neighbors have used the site to give their dogs exercise over the years, some note that the property has seen increasing numbers of dog walkers in recent years since the Gas Company erected a fence around the land, enabling owners to let their dogs roam free. The enclosure has created the sense of a dog park, users say, and with the grassy area being one of few such places in the community, it has invited dog lovers from surrounding areas such as Playa Vista and Culver City.
“There was never a problem until they put up the fence in the first place,” said resident Sean Mahaffey, who says he used to come play on the land and climb trees as a youth and now visits to take his dog out for exercise. “The problem is that it’s gotten overly blown up (with users).”
Representatives of Southern California Gas Company say they’ve liked allowing the community to enjoy the open area over the years, but with the influx of people using the site as an off-leash dog park, they are unable to keep the property accessible.
“We’ve always wanted to be a good neighbor, but it’s just gotten to a point now where the space is not being used as it has been in the past, where the neighborhood can relax and enjoy the lawn, and it’s now being used by people who are letting their dogs roam free,” Gas Company spokeswoman Denise King said.
The company had scheduled to close off the property to the public as of Wednesday, May 20th, King said.
King noted that the company has received comments both from people who hope to keep the lawn accessible and those who believe it should be closed, but said the utility company does not have the resources to maintain the site as a dog park.
“We don’t have the resources to enforce leash laws or to ensure that people pick up after their dogs,” King explained. “The space is not conducive to a dog park.”
Several visitors who were walking their dog one recent afternoon said they make sure to pick up dog waste and try to keep their dogs from being aggressive toward each other. For people who come out, the park has not been just a place for their dogs to play but to interact with others in the community.
“It’s a nice place to network and to get to know your neighbors,” Westchester resident Maureen Delangis said. “We don’t need to go to a bar (to socialize); we can come out here with our neighbors.”
Dog owner Jim Lamont, who comes from Culver City to take advantage of the spot, says he also feels welcomed through his interactions with fellow users.
“What I like about this one is that it’s green and it’s clean and everyone who goes there is a dog lover,” he said. “It’s something to see how friendly everyone is to each other.”
Some neighbors living adjacent to the property have offered their support to closing the area to the public, saying the Gas Company, which has been a “responsible neighbor,” should not have the liability of operating the space as a dog park. In a letter to Councilman Bill Rosendahl, resident Steve Sommersan says that the area has ceased to be a neighborhood green space and has become overrun with dog owners, leading to an increase in car and pedestrian traffic.
“I strongly believe in the creation and development of recreational parks, dog parks and other green spaces. That is not the issue here,” Sommersan wrote to Rosendahl. “A good neighbor made this land open and it was overrun by herds of residents and animals that collectively decided to redefine its use.”
Residents who hope to continue using the lawn note they have suggested alternative solutions such as paying an annual fee to access the site, restricting the usage hours and allowing neighbors access keys for the gate, but say the Gas Company has not replied.
The company has tried to do its part to listen to concerns on the situation and has worked with Rosendahl’s office to explore a potential lease of the land, King said.
With the closing of a longtime neighborhood open space, several dog owners expressed disappointment and uncertainty about where they may find a similar resource.
“It’s a huge loss because there’s just no other place for us to go to be together,” Brown said. “I think that bothers me the most.”