Twice in the last eight months, the lights at in North Hollywood have been turned off due to a dispute over who should pay for the power bill.
The lights, which were installed in 2005, typically stay on until around 8:20 p.m., and the park is heavily utilized at night by many people in the neighborhood. But when the lights are off, the entire area becomes nearly pitch black after sundown (see attached photo) and mostly unused.
The payment dispute is between the Los Angeles Department of Power and Water (LADWP) on one side and the Midtown NoHo Neighborhood Council (MTNHNC) and Greater Toluca Lake Neighborhood Council (GTLNC) on the other.
Wednesday night, the MTNHNC voted against paying half of the park's annual power bill of $846, a time period that would cover July 1 of this year through June 30 of 2013. The council was under no obligation to pay the bill, but voted against paying it despite the fact that the GTLNC recently agreed to pay half -- also $846 -- of the annual bill. The park is within the boundaries of the MTNHNC.
What the vote means for the future of the lights at the park is unclear.
The lights were installed in 2005, and according to MTNHNC Treasurer Diann Corral and several other council members, the agreement that was reached with the LADWP at the time only called on the neighborhood councils to pay for three years of the power bills.
However, Council Vice President Jerrell Walls said that the MOU (Motion of Understanding) that was voted on did not actually state the bill would only be paid by the councils for three years, but that the agreement was oral.
"Whenever we looked, the MOU did not express that. Our interpretation, and what was literally expressed, were two different things," Walls said.
Los Angeles City Councilman Tom LaBonge's Field Deputy Alice Roth was in attendance at the meeting and said that she believed the agreement over the bill was an oral agreement.
Corral, who was the council's president in 2005, voiced anger that the LADWP had not started paying the bill, which she felt was promised in an oral agreement even if it was not in the exact language of the MOU. She said she was present at the meeting where the agreement was reached with the LADWP and the GTLNC.
"We agreed to pay for it for three years, we did not agree to pay for it beyond the three years," Corral said. "I just felt like they said they would pay for it... It's such a nominal amount, it's the LADWP, which is the biggest cash cow for the city, who has the most money, and that they would hit us up for $846 a year just drives me bananas. It's a dog park, it's a city-run dog park. They should pay for it. Or, if not that, the (Los Angeles) council member. They have a slush fund. You can afford $846 for North Hollywood, I'm sorry."
The vote was 6-5 in favor of not paying the bill, with four present members abstaining. Council President May Garcia, who was strongly in favor of paying the bill, seemed astonished at the outcome.
"Please apologize to Toluca Lake," Garcia said to Roth, who was in the audience. "Unbelievable."
Garcia then directed some comments at the members that had voted against paying the bill.
"When those doggy people call me complaining, I'm going to send them to you guys," Garica said.
The vote leaves the possibility of the lights being turned off again at the park for the third time in a year. After the neighborhood councils stopped paying the bill when the three years ran out, the LADWP removed the lights in May of 2010. But after some park regulars complained to city officials, the lights were reinstalled and turned back on in September (see the attached Patch video.) Then, in February, the lights went off again. See:
Todd Leitz, who is communications deputy for Los Angeles City Councilman Tom LaBonge, explained when the lights were reinstalled in the fall it was on an interim agreement.
"The councilman basically said, 'Look, we've got to get these lights back on. We will figure out who is going to pay for it,'" Leitz said in February.
Within a week of our story running in February, the lights came back on again, and it appeared that LaBonge had finagled the LADWP to turn them back on under an interim basis.
"We are still working on who is going to be responsible for (the lights). Hopefully, we can get them back on soon and keep them on," Leitz said.
Carol Tucker, a spokesperson for the LADWP, would not answer in February why the lights had been shut off but said that all further information about the lights would have to be referred to LaBonge's office.
Further complicating matters is the fact that LaBonge, who cut the ribbon at the dog park when it opened in 2002, will no longer represent the NoHo area as of July 1 due to redistricting. Councilman Paul Krekorian will take over representing the entire MTNHNC area then.
Nearby residents to Whitnall say the lights have been instrumental in lowering gang violence and crime, which has been a problem in the area over the years. Last March, a man was shot about one block away from the park in a gang-related attack. Another person was also shot on Oct. 28 around 10:20 p.m. in the same area near the 5900 block of Cahuenga Boulevard. See:
Park regulars say having the lights on at night has improved the safety of the neighborhood.
"I don't get home until after dark, and without lights at the park, it's nearly impossible for us to utilize the park after dark, as well posing safety issues," Michelle Guza told North Hollywood-Toluca Lake Patch in February. "I understand that perhaps this is a cost issue, but it would be nice if the city could do something to accommodate this great asset and very popular NoHo park."
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