An Open Letter to Councilman Tom LaBonge
March 17, 2006
Dear Mr. LaBonge,
Although I admit to a healthy skepticism toward elected officials whose stated motivation is “public service,” you’ve made a positive impression on me since you took office. As a recent profile of you in the Los Angeles Times illustrated, it’s hard not to like a guy who stops to pick up trash, direct traffic, and generally contribute to the wellbeing of his constituency. I also like the sincere and appreciative photographs of our city that you distribute each year around the holidays. We’ve never met, but I’m inclined to like you.
Which is why I was so disheartened to discover that you not only support but also spearhead the initiative to convert the lower lawns of Runyon Canyon into a pay parking lot. According to the Times, your position on this issue is “you can’t please everybody.” True. But in the case of Runyon Canyon, the most beloved nature preserve in Hollywood (and perhaps the entire city), the displeasure you will cause among local residents if you allow this destructive program to pass will have profound consequences. I predict it will cost you your job.
I have read the environmental impact reports and the arguments in favor of paving over the grassy areas that presently accommodate yoga classes and families at play. The soft and gentle rhetoric of parking lot advocates obfuscates the essential issue: Runyon Canyon is a nature preserve where people can hike, dogs can roam off leash, and hundreds of species of birds, animals, and plants thrive in something like sylvan paradise — all a few blocks above Hollywood Boulevard. When one enters the Runyon Canyon gates, one leaves behind the indignities of urban living, not the least of which is the omnipresence of automobiles. To allow hundreds of additional cars a day to infringe on the Canyon experience isn’t merely a mistake; it suggests a profound disrespect for the venue.
Without question, parking around Runyon Canyon is difficult to find. So what’s a visitor to do?
Walk there! Or ride a bicycle! This is what I and many of my neighbors do, and we live closer to Sunset Boulevard than the park. The farther one travels from Runyon’s gates, the more plentiful street parking becomes. Since the whole point of a Canyon visit is to explore by foot, why not begin the adventure sooner than later? Insisting on parking your car at the park is as silly as driving your car three blocks to the gymnasium: if it’s exercise you’re after, get some on your way to the destination.
To capitulate to the “needs” of people too lazy to walk a few blocks would be a colossal mistake. The sanctity of Runyon Canyon, one of the rare precincts of our smog-ridden city immune to the impact of automobiles, is at stake. I urge you to act in the best interest of the park and everyone who appreciates nature’s splendor.