As officials in Santa Monica and Mar Vista work to come to an agreement on access to the new off-leash dog area at Santa Monica’s Airport Park, people who have been actively involved in the issue say they plan to monitor how usage of the dog area progresses.

The off-leash dog area at the new 8.3-acre Airport Park at the northwest corner of Bundy Drive and Airport Avenue, on the south side of Santa Monica Airport, has come under fire by Mar Vista residents who say they are frustrated with rules that prohibit them from using the site.

The Mar Vista area is in the City of Los Angeles, and the Mar Vista Community Council is the Los Angeles City-certified Neighborhood Council for the area.

Existing Santa Monica rules governing off-leash dog areas in the city require that dogs have a Santa Monica dog license, but Mar Vista community members argue that the policy prevents Los Angeles residents from accessing the dog area that is closest to their homes.

Santa Monica officials, including Community and Cultural Services Department director Barbara Stinchfield, have defended the policy, saying it was put in place to balance the limited amount of off-leash space available with the popularity of the areas.

“Our goal is only to respond to use and demand,” Stinchfield told some Mar Vista residents at the Mar Vista Community Council meeting Tuesday, May 8th.

But some residents in Mar Vista claim that, so far, the dog area has not been heavily utilized and they request that Santa Monica drop its resident-restricted policy at Airport Park, making the off-leash area open to all licensed dog owners.

Mar Vista Community Council vice chair Tom Ponton said he visited Airport Park one Saturday and saw dozens of people in the playground and only two or three people in the dog area.

“It’s way underutilized,” Ponton said of the off-leash area since it opened late last month.

The Mar Vista Community Council voted unanimously May 8th to support a resolution requesting the Santa Monica City Council to “reconsider its ban on Mar Vista dogs at the Airport Park” and reciprocate a good neighbor policy by opening the off-leash area to all licensed dogs.

According to the resolution, the dog park is being used by far fewer Santa Monica residents than was originally predicted.

Stinchfield acknowledged that so far, Santa Monica residents have not been using the dog area in “great numbers” and city officials plan to monitor the site’s attendance to see if the demand changes.

“What we’re doing is monitoring the usage in the next month to see if it increases, decreases or changes,” Stinchfield said. “Within a month we should have a better idea on the usage.”

In addition to monitoring usage, Santa Monica officials plan to get a handle on how residents intend to use the dog park in the future by sending out surveys to city dog owners, she said.

After compiling statistics on the number of dog park visitors this month, Community and Cultural Services Department representatives plan to present their findings at a Recreation and Parks Commission meeting next month, Stinchfield said.

The department plans to present recommendations in July to the Santa Monica City Council on potential solutions to the dog park issue, she added.

Ponton said Mar Vista dog owners also plan to keep an eye on daily dog park usage to see if there are any changes and hope that the issue of park access can soon be resolved fairly.

“I think it allows Santa Monica an opportunity to resolve this in a fair way,” Ponton said of the Mar Vista Community Council resolution. “It puts them on notice that we’re going to stand firm on this.”