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City Council members approve a 36-month extension for a temporary law that allows off-leash dogs at the Shores property during restricted hours. Photo by Bianca Kaplanek
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New ‘de-tale’ added to off-leash law extension

DEL MAR — Every off-leash dog will continue to have its day on the Shores athletic field for at least for another 36 months, or when the master plan is implemented, whichever comes first.

Council members voted 4-1 at the Nov. 2 meeting to reauthorize a law adopted in December 2012 that allows canines to run untethered during specified hours.

Mayor Al Corti said he could not support the extension even though, as his colleagues noted, it was maintaining the status quo.

“I’ve got some issues with it,” Corti said. “I’m trying to understand, is it a healthy situation or not, and my gut tells me it’s not a good thing with kids, and ball fields and parks. And there have been problems, violations.

“The Little League’s evidently not using it anymore so that just doesn’t sit right with me … allowing this to continue,” he added. “Even if it’s a temporary move, it’s a continuance of a health issue and I think it’s taking away benefits to others in the community to use the facilities. And I just have a problem with that.”

Following a six-month trial period that was deemed successful, council enacted a three-year ordinance for shared use as a way to balance athletic and dog uses of the ball field and resolve conflicts between Little League and pet owners.

The law, which is set to expire Jan. 3, resulted in the loss of the Little League program because of the reduced hours, according to the staff report.

The report also states other organized sports infrequently apply to use the field since the ordinance was adopted. However, the ball field and basketball court do receive occasional evening use from the public during the scheduled sports hours.

Athletic programs at the private Winston School located on the property continue to use the field for baseball and soccer during school hours.

Under the original law, off-leash dogs are allowed on the athletic field every day from 6 to 8:30 a.m. and from 4 p.m. to dusk Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays.

“In general, the dog owners have done a good job in keeping the field clean of dog feces, and the vast majority abide by the schedule,” the staff report states.

But violations have been increasing.

“We have had some enforcement issues,” Mark Delin, assistant city manager, said. “We’ve had requests for additional enforcement because the dogs are showing up a little bit more often with their owners on the non-off-leash hours.”

Delin said during a meeting with members of the Community Services Department to discuss a new enforcement plan, everyone agreed “the signage was really inadequate there.”

He said the print is so small it is almost unreadable. Plans are to post more and better signs that include the notice of a minimum $300 fine for violations and increased visits by the park ranger.

Resident, dog owner and frequent park user Lynn Gaylord said most people abide by the rules and are vocal when they see someone who is not.

“We don’t hesitate a minute self-policing on the poop patrol,” she said.

Gaylord maintains an email list of about 450 park regulars. She said she supports added signage and increased enforcement and offered to email reminders. She said violators are likely people not on her list.

Corti said increased enforcement costs are another reason he couldn’t support the extension.

“I know your concerns but I think it’s something when we agreed to do this on a temporary basis it was … not the final solution,” Councilman Terry Sinnott said, adding that he and his colleagues were being asked to renew a temporary agreement that “works for the time being.”

“It’s not ideal,” Sinnott said. “It’s got some plusses and some minuses. Hopefully through the Shores master plan process we’re going to come to an ultimate solution that’s best for everybody.”

“I think it’s working well,” Councilman Dwight Worden said. “In any of our parks we have some scofflaws who don’t follow the rules.

“But down here there’s a lot of people getting a lot of pleasure out of it, not to mention the dogs,” he added. “This is just maintaining the status quo, as I see it, until we get a Shores master plan going.”

The city bought the 5.3-acre Shores property from the Del Mar Union School District for $8.5 million in 2008. Council members adopted the off-leash dog policy with the understanding that it was temporary until a master plan, which is underway, was created for the lot that is bounded by Camino del Mar, Ninth Street and Stratford Court.

Under the extension, which takes effect Dec. 16, off-leash dogs will be allowed 30 minutes earlier — beginning at 3:30 p.m. — on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays.

“I’ll tell the dogs,” Gaylord said.