Spring Street Park Opens Amid Dog Debate and Funding Concerns

DOWNTOWN LOS ANGELES -Just a couple of hours after the Monday morning opening of the Spring Street Park, the 0.7-acre spot already felt like an essential community resource.

         During the lunch hour several people brought their food to the park. Some sat on the comfortable metal-back benches, others grabbed a spot near a fountain that gently zips water down from aluminum towers.

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         A pair of moms sat at the toddler playground, trying to find a little shade on a warm and sunny day while two kids ran around the padded ground in the corner of the park. Meanwhile, numerous dog owners streamed in and out, taking advantage of the raised grassy area to let their dogs play and do their business.

         Despite some complaints about a relative lack of trees and shaded areas, everyone there seemed happy that the park had finally opened. Yet the talk of the day wasn’t just about the new facility. Mostly, people talked about whether families and others could co-exist with the dogs and the messes they may leave behind.

         And while Downtowners argued over the best use of the park, the nonprofit group slated to operate the land was scrambling to find funds after its major pledged donor, American Apparel, backed out.

         “My favorite is to see the kids at the playground,” said Patti Berman, who helms the nonprofit group Friends of the Old Bank District Gardens, which is slated to run the park. “I’m so happy to see them out here. But the dogs are going to be a big issue.”

         The $8 million park opened with a ceremony on June 17 that included dozens of Downtown residents, civic leaders and politicians gathered at the site of a former parking lot between the El Dorado and Rowan lofts.

         The L-shaped park includes a fountain, benches, a small oval grassy area, a playground tucked in a far corner, walking paths and a large plaza area. The project has been in the works since 2009 after Downtown Properties, which developed the condominium buildings on either side, sold what was then a parking lot to the city.

         The park had been scheduled to open this August. That got speeded up by the office of Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, who wanted to bring the facility online before he is termed out July 1, Berman said. 

         Doggie Dilemma

         A sign outside the gated park states that dogs are allowed but must be on leash and all dog waste must be picked up immediately.

         But as people visited the park throughout the day, much of the talk was about the impact dogs will have on the park.

         “We’re a little uncomfortable with dogs right here where the kids are,” said Darleen Ledesma, who was sitting in the playground area watching her two children play just a few feet from the grass, where a handful of people had their dogs on leashes. “We were thinking maybe there should be a gate there to block them off [from the grassy area].”  

         Downtown resident Nuvia Lobo was sitting next to Ledesma with her six-month-old daughter as the two discussed the dog issue.

         “I’m really disappointed in the number of dogs pooping everywhere,” she said. “I don’t think kids and dog poop mix. I was hoping I could bring my blanket and sit out there (on the grass) with my baby but I’m not going to do that now that I see all the dogs pooping there. And also there’s no shade.”

         Near the playground on the grass Downtown resident George Perez walked his bluenose pit bull named Yogurt. He likes the park and thinks dogs and families can co-exist, but he’s not happy with the lack of amenities for dogs.

         “If they gated off this area so dogs could run around free that would be cool, or if they had doggie poop bags that would help,” he said.

         Next to him was Mark Eastman with his dog Space Baby, a schnauzer poodle mix. Eastman thinks that with so many dogs in Downtown, and not as many kids in the Historic Core, the focus of the park should be dogs.

          “Why is there no area where dogs can drink water?” he said. “Also where’s the dispenser for the baggies so you can pick up waste?”

         The issue also continued online last week.

         A Facebook group page for Downtown residents had dozens of comments from people arguing about dogs at the park.

         On a community website for the park there is a section titled “Downtowners of Shame,” where people are encouraged to post pictures of people who don’t pick up the mess left behind by their dogs or allow them to run around without a leash.

         The intent is to keep the park safe and clean but the comments section has degraded into personal attacks between people who had different opinions about posting pictures.

         “The city has a policy that if a dog is on a six-foot leash or less a dog can come into the city park,” Berman said. “What we’re hoping for is for a little sensibility among the people who live here so that they don’t turn this into a dog toilet because it’s for people.”

Funding Woes

         While dogs were the hot topic and also a concern for Berman, finding the funds to operate the park is what she’ll be focusing on.

         According to Mike Shull, a superintendent with the Department of Recreation and Parks, it will cost approximately $100,000 a year for the group to operate the park.   

         Berman had previously announced a commitment from American Apparel to provide $100,000 per year for the next five years to operate the park. But she said last week that those plans fell through. The nonprofit group now only has $50,000 in money raised so far for park operations.

         “I’m looking for big sponsorships,” she said. “I will walk up to anyone and say hi, do you want to help support a park?”

         It’s uncertain why American Apparel backed out of its pledge. In an email to Los Angeles Downtown News, Ryan Holiday, a spokesman for American Apparel, confirmed that the company was in talks to sponsor the park, but that the plans did not come to fruition. Holiday did not explain why the company withdrew its support.

         Shull has said that if the nonprofit group fails to meet its responsibilities, the operation and maintenance of the park will fall back on the city. However, since the city is cash-strapped, a partnership would benefit everyone, he said.

         Councilman Jose Huizar, whose 14th District includes the park, said he is not concerned about the group finding enough funds to run the park and that his office is in talks with other private sector entities about funding, though no deal has been inked.

         As the first day of the new park came to a close on Monday, dozens of people, including families with kids on the playground and dog owners walking their pets, remained there until the last possible minute, when the dusk settled in and the gates were closed. Some had to be ushered out by a park official.

         Contact Richard Guzmán at richard@downtownnews.com