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Will It be a Shake-Up or a Handshake as Runyon Canyon Park Reopens?

LOS ANGELES

DEEGAN ON LA-Another round of controversy has appeared on the horizon to coincide with the reopening of Runyon Canyon Park. Closed for repairs the past few months, the park officially reopens on the morning of August 2, Councilmember David Ryu (CD4) has announced. 

Once again, some in the community have the Friends of Runyon Canyon fundraising support group in their sights. Like the prior controversy over a basketball court in the park, they have been amplifying their voice through social media, public comment at neighborhood council and Board of Recreation and Parks Commission meetings, and online petitions to make their point that they “do not trust”, as they say, the Friends of Runyon Canyon. They want the Memorandum of Understanding that created the private-public partnership with the Department of Recreation and Parks, terminated. 

The other side of the argument is value based. The fundraising efforts by Friends of Runyon Canyon, says the organization’s president, Don Andres, “included $100,000 in 2015 of which about 1/3 has been spent on new benches, trash containers, bike racks, dog waste dispensers and thousands of bags, clean-up signage, kiosk and message board renovations, as well as a Runyon demographic study and hiring MLA & Associates (park experts) to evaluate the park.” 

Andres added, “over $500,000 in 2016 to support the Trust for Public Land (TPL)-led effort to acquire land for more open green space, extend a wildlife corridor, and preserve a Runyon Canyon hiking trail.” He also mentioned that “the Foundations ongoing efforts in working with the City Staff have resulted in real park improvements by DWP and RAP during the closure including a totally resurfaced Fire Road and erosion control measures, upper Runyon trail maintenance, piping for a storm water reclamation future project, new fire hydrants, and four drinking fountains to be deployed.” 

The Hollywood Hills West Neighborhood Council board voted unanimously on Wednesday, July 20, to approve the following motion: “The HHWNC hereby resolves that it recommends that the Department of Recreation and Parks terminate the Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) which it entered into with Friends of Runyon Canyon, dated April 15, 2015.” Community activists are calling this a victory, even though Hollywood Hills West Neighborhood Council President Anastasia Mann told the packed auditorium that this was not the final answer. 

What, then, is next? Councilmember David Ryu (CD4) may need to intervene as he did to successfully bring all parties together to resolve the basketball court dispute. His spokesperson said to CityWatch: 

The Councilmember believes that the MOU should not be terminated at this time….it sets a bad precedent for other potential private-public partnerships throughout the city, and would impact an important program of philanthropy that the Department of Recreation and Parks depends on. However, there is room to clarify some vague elements of the Friends of Runyon Canyon MOU, including community outreach and responsibilities. 

“The Councilmember would like to bring all sides together, to build consensus, in a respectful way. Any actions in the park come from the city, not Friends of Runyon Canyon, which is a fundraising arm to help the department, when needed. A review of the departments donor recognition policy also needs clarification. Its a big problem that needs to be reviewed, specifically the size and placement of corporate logos …there needs to be a line in the sand. That review may take a City Council discussion and action. 

“We would also like to include a review of the Runyon Canyon Master Plan from the 80s. Lots of people are supportive of reviewing that plan.” 

It’s not only the Memorandum of Understanding that concerns some in the community. An online group is objecting to Manuel Valencia’s application to build a 9,500 square foot residence at 3003 Runyon Canyon Road, the site of a Lloyd Wright house bordered on all four sides by the canyon. The Wright house has been a Los Angeles Historic-Cultural Monument since 1992, which protects it from demolition. The new residence would need to be located elsewhere on the almost five acre property.

Opponents allege that Valencia is a major “funder” of Friends of Runyon Canyon, that their board voted not to oppose the building of the new house in the middle of Runyon Canyon. 

However, Friends of Runyon Canyon President Don Andres disputes those allegations, confirming that Valencia “donated $1,000 because he loves the park, his home (the subject property) is surrounded by the park and was supportive of the Foundations efforts to protect and preserve the park.” He added, “Several meetings were held, with the Mulholland Drive Design Board, the Hillside Federation, and the Santa Monica Mountains Conservancy, and each meeting was attended by Foundation individuals as community representatives opposing the proposed project.” Andres stressed that “there were no conversations with Mr. Valencia regarding his property, and there was no favor given to Mr. Valencia for his donation per IRS regulations.” 

What is it about this park and the community and the support group that has created such tension? Why is it that David Ryu must act as a referee? What’s blocking the dialog between the community on one side -- including activists on social media, neighbors of the park and the neighborhood councils -- and the support group on the other side? 

Ryu is right to urge that everyone should come together respectfully to reach consensus. It the early stages, many months ago, a field deputy might have been able to help resolve the situation. Instead, the disagreement morphed into a monster and continues to haunt all sides like a tar baby. At some point, the lens has to pull back and widen out the bigger picture; we must take into consideration how the park can serve everyone and what is best for the park itself. A global audience of park users must be able to benefit as much as the community and support group. 

A harsh spotlight on Friends of Runyon Canyon has caused others to weigh in. Notably, Citizens Preserving Runyon (CPR) that describes its mission like this: 

We at CPR are dedicated to preserving Runyon Canyon as a wilderness area for community hiking and off-leash exercise for our dogs. We remain steadfast in our ongoing fight to stop developers (whether corporate or "non-profit") from commercializing our beloved canyon. We oppose the City granting administrative authority to outside groups who do not answer to the people. We want the City to meet its obligations to maintain this beautiful park. In essence, we support keeping Runyon Canyon a natural wilderness area.” 

So how will this end? That will rest with David Ryu and the LA Department of Recreation and Parks who are also looking at how to manage the traffic at the park entrance. Some have suggested white-gloved traffic officers during peak times, which, although welcome, may not be feasible. Catherine Landers, David Ryu’s Hollywood deputy, offered one practical suggestion at the Hollywood Hills West Neighborhood Council board meeting: try to arrange for a dedicated drop off and pick up spot for visitors that use Uber to go to the park. Hopefully many more ideas will come from the group gathering that appears to be the next step. 

In 1975, the music group War had a hit song called, “Why Can’t We All Be Friends?” It may be time to pull out the old vinyl and make that the Runyon Canyon Park anthem!

 

(Tim Deegan is a long-time resident and community leader in the Miracle Mile, who has served as board chair at the Mid City West Community Council and on the board of the Miracle Mile Civic Coalition. Tim can be reached at [email protected].) Edited for CityWatch by Linda Abrams.

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