ENCINITAS — City Council voted 4-1 to expand off-leash dog hours at Orpheus Park on Dec. 16. The change will go into effect mid-January.
Councilman James Bond voted against the measure saying that a study should be conducted before any changes take place. “I think we want to pursue this in a more thoughtful way going forward,” he said.
Paul Ecke Central Principal Adriana Chavarin and Timothy Baird, the Encinitas Union School District superintendent, had asked that Orpheus Park keep its existing off-leash hours, according to city officials.
Carol Parker, the school’s Parent Teacher Association president, told the council that she also had issues with expanding the hours. “I’m all for off-leash hours, just not during the morning rush to school,” she said. Parker walks through the park to school each morning and has done so for the past five years.
Other parents agreed. Steve Meiche, who lives close to the park and has a son that attends Paul Ecke, said the afternoon hours should have been cut back as well. “After-school play time at the park was not acknowledged (during the meeting) and cut to just about 30 minutes of usable time,” he said. “They just steam rolled over the afternoon with no comments.”
The council was scheduled to give the expanded hours proposal that covered three parks a final, second vote Dec. 9. Instead, council members agreed to amend the portion of the proposal that related to Orpheus Park.
“We’ve gotten pretty consistent feedback on this,” Deputy Mayor Maggie Houlihan said. Councilman Jerome Stocks said that Orpheus Park was unique in that it backs up to a school and would merit a change in the policy. Councilwoman Teresa Barth said that staff had not contacted the school before crafting the policy and that at least one speaker did bring the issue to the council’s attention before the first vote.
Under the revised proposal, Orpheus Park will remain with its current 6 to 7:30 a.m. off-leash schedule on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays. Viewpoint Park near City Hall and Sun Vista Park in Olivenhain are proposed to have morning off-leash hours from 6 to 9 a.m. on those three days.
After a push from off-leash advocates that began last summer to expand hours at local parks, the result was a proposal that added more than four hours a day. It increased off-leash dog times from 6 to 9 a.m. and from 3 to 8 p.m. on Mondays, Wednesdays, Fridays and included Sundays.
While the main issue was overlapping times of children and dogs at play in the park, other neighbors said the park is overused and not beneficial to those it was originally built for. Meiche said that Orpheus Park is designated as “neighborhood” park in the city’s general plan but has become a place for dog owners from neighboring cities and communities to congregate to the detriment of neighbors. “We can’t even use our own park,” he said.
Beverly Goodman, a Leucadia dog owner, said she and her dog were cold in the afternoon and would like to have the afternoon hours begin at 3 p.m. at Orpheus Park.
Neighbors have complained that dog feces and urine have contaminated the park, including the play structure, benches and sand where children play.
The city’s Parks and Recreation commission voted Dec. 15 to recommend adding off-leash dog hours at Glen and Hawk View parks. However, commissioners agreed that a fence or some other barrier should be erected to separate dogs from others using the two parks. The recommendation should go to the council in January 2010.