It was announced over the weekend that Griffith Park Pony Rides, an attraction for kids and families that had been operating at the great park for 74 years, will cease operations on December 21. The closure comes at the orders of the L.A. Department of Recreation and Parks. But here’s the problem: they refuse to say why. We find that very troubling in an age where transparency seems to be a premium, and would encourage L.A.’s Department of Recreation and Parks to disclose its reasoning.

Let’s be clear – Westside Voice isn’t “Pro Pony Rides.” In fact, we support their decision. We weren’t around yet, but our Publisher, Todd Flora, was supportive of efforts to cease all pony rides at the Main Street Farmers Market some years ago in his own Santa Monica. That effort was also successful.

First, ponies – especially in Griffith Park – are subject to very high heat many months of the year. Animal Welfare activists will tell you the ponies are often overworked without replacement ponies taking their shifts. The Los Angeles Alliance for Animals, the group of activists that championed the Griffith Park Pony Ride closure, told the L.A. Times last year that “The pony rides concession is animal cruelty disguised as child entertainment.” Their Facebook Group page is loaded with posts that include videos of alleged abuse and neglect chronicled by members of the group.

However, Stephen Weeks, who purchased the Griffith Park pony ride concession six years ago, contended in a Facebook post announcing the closure, “You have all followed our fight against these few radical animal rights activists. Despite our year-long fight to answer the untrue statements of these individuals, our efforts were not heard. This was the city decision and not the pony rides choice.”

Weeks has also said to the L.A. Times, “I have nothing to hide about our operations. “These people who are protesting the ponies really know nothing about equine science or horses. They have no clue about our operation and it comes down to a fundamental difference or that they are philosophically opposed to people riding horses.” Well, that last part may be true. But the question for us is, is Weeks himself an expert on equine science? He says he has two rotating veterinarians check on the ponies regularly. Ok, what’s regularly? How extensive of a check-up?

So how did we arrive at this flashpoint? In 2021, L.A. Councilmembers Nithya Raman and Paul Koretz called for an assessment of the operation based on animal welfare activists’ complaints, and whether it should be allowed to continue. That duty was assigned to L.A. Recreation and Parks, with whom reserve our ire among the three camps in this story. Why?

First, the L.A. Times could find no record that any official assessment took place. Shouldn’t a public report have been required to be filed with the City Clerk? With the City Council?

Second, as stated above, the Department of Recreation and Parks refuses to disclose the reason for the closure. Why should they be afraid to? The animal activists have given them plenty of reasons if they can be shown. And yet, all they’ve been willing to say in a statement is, “At the request of the City Council, the Department will undertake a community input process to re-imagine the recreational and educational activities offered at this location in Griffith Park to continue providing youth and families an affordable and enjoyable experience.”

Actually, the city council asked for an assessment as to how the animals were cared for and treated, and whether this business should continue. Clearly, the Department of Recreation and Parks has not only made that decision unilaterally — seemingly without investigation — but is hiding behind the idea that the city council simply asked for a re-imagining of recreational facilities for this portion of the park.

We support a reimagining, but we think Mr. Weeks deserved the due process of a report, and the animal welfare activists equally deserved to either have had their arguments proven or rebuffed. This mysterious decision-making by Recreation and Parks is lazy local government at best and deeply shady and an abuse of bureaucratic power at worst. We’ll expect better from the Deputy Mayor and staff Mayor Karen Bass appoints to this department. But this story has definitely awakened a watchful eye for Westside Voice to keep on L.A.’s Rec and Parks Department.

Photo Credit to Natalia Kokhanova

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