Not much changes at the Sepulveda Basin off-leash dog park.
The same seniors and apartment-dwellers arrive every morning or evening. A group of schnauzer owners dress up their dogs for Halloween each year. The parking lot is regularly packed on weekends, with dog owners coming from as far away as Santa Clarita.
Now, a planned bicycle lane has the dog community in an uproar.
City engineers are finishing designs for a three-mile bike lane along the L.A. River in the Sepulveda Basin. The lane would take out a sliver of the 6-acre dog park, according to city officials.
The city also is looking at installing a 6- to 8-foot-tall fence along the river to address complaints that the passing bikers will agitate the dogs.
The dog owners want the bike path moved to the south side of the river, where there is empty land and baseball fields. More than 2,000 people signed a petition asking City Councilmember Imelda Padilla to change the route.
River advocates and neighborhood councils have joined in, criticizing the cost and location of the $58.4-million bike lane and greenway project.
The Sepulveda Basin Wildlife Area Steering Committee, an environmental group that advises government agencies, said in a public letter last week that there is “no supportable justification” for the northern route and suggested a “cost-effective” alternative that would use existing bike paths.
The tussle is part of a larger fight over the future of the Sepulveda Basin. City officials want to build bicycle paths along the river in the Valley before the 2028 Summer Olympics. The city last month also released the latest version of the “Vision Plan” for the basin, a planning document that seeks to transform the 2,000-acre flood-plain area over 25 years.
The Vision Plan’s designs for the river around the planned bike path also are criticized by the Sepulveda Basin Wildlife Area Steering Committee, which wants all the concrete removed from the channel in this spot.
City officials said they’ll continue to work on the design of the path but signaled they are sticking to the original route.
“The Bureau of Engineering has invested considerable time and effort into the planning, pre-design and design of the entire L.A. Riverway Bike Path along the L.A. River,” said Mary Nemick, a spokesperson for the bureau.
Nemick said 4,204 square feet of the dog park would be lost because of the bikeway.
The Los Angeles City Council voted for the project last year, delighting bicyclists and community leaders who envision a continuous bike path along the 51-mile river.
The path would use an existing maintenance service road along the south side of the river from Vanalden Avenue to White Oak Avenue, then run along the north side of the river from White Oak Avenue to Balboa Boulevard, according to a city report. Then, the path is expected to continue on the river’s south side, according to a 2017 city report.
Money raised by Measure M, a voter-backed transportation initiative, and other funds will pay for the project, according to the city.
Undercrossings, river parks and on-street improvements to increase access to the river also would be built. Up to 63 trees could be removed for the project, while the city will add 200 trees to replace those that are lost, according to a 630-page report on the bike lane.
The same city report stated the “dog park and parking lots would not be changed as part of the proposed project.”
Just one individual spoke at a Board of Public Works Committee meeting on the proposed bike lane last year. The proposal was never heard by a City Council panel because it was waived out of committee and went straight to the council, where it was passed without discussion.
Padilla, who represents the area and took office in the summer, has asked the city to look at the designs for the bikeway along the dog park.
“Our goal is to create fencing that protects the dog park for local residents and makes the Basin a more accessible green space resource for Lake Balboa neighbors and all constituents across the Valley,” Padilla said in a statement.
Miriam Preissel, president of the nonprofit Friends of the Sepulveda Basin Off-Leash Dog Park, gathered with bike-path opponents on a recent night. She pointed to the opposite bank of the river.
“Put it over there,” Preissel said. “Look at it!”
Preissel and others also voiced concerns that homeless people would set up encampments on the bikeway.
Dog owner Linda Blackwell said she fears the loss of parking spots from the project.
“Where are we supposed to park?” Blackwell said. “We have been here all this time.”
Opponents also point to two existing bike paths, including one that’s 350 feet away on Victory Boulevard, as places for the new bikeway.
Nemick, the Bureau of Engineering spokesperson, said it’s “not practically or technically feasible” to put the bike lane on the south side of the river.
Among other reasons, it would encroach on the baseball fields, Nemick said. There’s also a lack of room on the south side, she added.
The baseball fields are overseen by Encino Franklin Fields, a nonprofit that rents the land from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and then leases the fields to different schools, including Harvard-Westlake.
A representative of Encino Franklin Fields said the group had never been approached by the city about the bike path.
Melanie Winter, chair of the Sepulveda Basin Wildlife Area Steering Committee, said her group supports a bike lane along this section of the river. But she wants the city to prepare for the flooding and drought caused by climate change. The bike path — which she called “a concrete asphalt lane” — should be redesigned as part of an environmentally friendly plan for the area, she said.
“What we’re trying to do is multi-solve, and we don’t have a lot of money and we don’t have a lot of time,” Winter said.
Michael Schneider, who advocates for bike lanes as founder of the advocacy group Streets for All, said that the naturalization of the waterway can continue even if there’s a concrete bike path.
Schneider said he doesn’t want the path delayed because of cost or design issues.
“I just want a connected path,” Schneider said. “I don’t care what side it’s on.”