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Park at Border of Studio City & Sherman Oaks Nears Completion, but Divides Neighbors

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The new Studio Oaks Park, officially a wide median along Ventura Boulevard with a walking path that straddles the border of Sherman Oaks and Studio City, is practically finished. The meandering walking path is open to the public, except for one block that was flooded out by a trunkline break on Coldwater Canyon, and all that needs to be done to complete the project is some landscaping, which has become an issue between neighbors.

Although construction began last May, the park was first envisioned by neighbors six years ago. The most recent developments in 2006 after Jeff Berk, an active community organizer and neighborhood watch enthusiast, was walking his daughter in a stroller down the the residential side of the median when a car brushed him. "The car literally touched us," he explained about where he got his energy to aggressively pursue his neighbors' idea.

The 2,000 foot median sits along Ventura Boulevard between Fulton Avenue and Van Noord Street, splitting the busy commercial drag from a quiet residential street. For Berk, it was the perfect spot for a walking path on the side of the street where no sidewalks existed. The unmaintained median was covered in ivy, a heaven for rats, said neighbors.

As the walking path neared completion last month, the city sent out letter for a proposed assessment district, asking homeowners in the area to approve a one time free of $305 for landscaping and then a $33 annual fee for maintenance. A simple majority of votes collected would approve the fees, but the neighborhood voted it down "by a sizable margin," according to the project's blog.

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Claire Segal, who lives on one of the streets nearby, was one of the neighbors who voted down the assessment. "We are incensed that this work is underway despite the fact that the ballots are just going out," she said after receiving the letter from the city. "We disapprove strongly of the project and its cost while summer schools have been discontinued and our streets are full of potholes."

However, for Berk, one of the advantages of the park is a safer walking path to Dixie Canyon Elementary School, a few blocks away. "The only thing I wanted was a sidewalk going through the median so I can walk under the trees," he said, noting that if the neighborhood doesn't want to pay for landscaping, there are alternatives, such as private donations from residents and companies, possibly received through the non-profit Studio City Resident's Association.

One faction of neighbors who are against Berk have already started a non-profit called the Friends of Studio Oaks, Inc. A flyer sent out prior to the assessment vote in support of the group called it "Jeff Berk's tax district," saying he and others "were in a big rush to help [former councilman] Jack Weiss spend money and raise" taxes.

"There are some residents who think all this construction is a great idea, and that's fine. Polite disagreement is one of the things that make this country great," stated the flyer. "But you too should vote 'NO', and here's why: Which would you rather do each year, cut a larger tax check to the city, and hope you get what you're paying for, or write a check for the same amount to a non-profit corporation that you can actually used to reduce your taxes?"

Berk said he was unaware of the non-profit. "It's too bad we cannot find a way to work together," he said. "Who is going to pay that? Why create the expense of having one when the community already has the Resident's Association?"

Still, Berk is willing to get out of the way at this point if the majority of the neighborhood wants to go in that direction. "I really don't know what their motivation is, but if they can get the park done, I will not do anything."

Previously on LAist about Studio Oaks Park
- Photos of a neighborhood meeting and tour of Studio Oaks Park