The Coast News Group
Old - DO NOT USE - The Coast News

Off-leash dog hours to remain the same

DEL MAR — In its first meeting in four weeks, City Council had a long list of topics to address that included allowing food trucks, purchasing desalinated water and meeting state housing requirements. 

But the most popular discussion of the marathon meeting went to the dogs.

About two dozen people from adults to children as young as 6 years old were given two minutes, rather than the traditional three, to weigh in on a proposal to extend off-leash dog hours at the Shores property.

In addition to the speakers, city staff received 13 letters, some signed by dog owners and their pets, photos of canines and people using the field, a report from a student who spent 30 days observing park use and a 12-page summary from the “Del Mar Poop Patrol” documenting who picked up how much dog feces and when.

In the end, council agreed unanimously, with Lee Haydu absent, to maintain the status quo and adopted an ordinance based on a six-month trial proposal that was implemented in January.

According to that plan, off-leash dogs are allowed on the athletic field daily from 6 to 8:30 a.m. and from 4 p.m. to dusk Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday.

Little League and other organized sports licensed by the city have exclusive use of the field from 3:30 p.m. to dusk Monday, Wednesday and Friday.

On Sundays and during all other daylight hours when The Winston School is not in session or using the field for its athletic programs, the park is available for general use that includes on-leash dogs and no organized sports.

Council first discussed the issue more than a year ago to address a conflict mainly between Little League and dog owners.

Although canines were required to be leashed while on the field, the adjacent school allowed them to run free after hours and the city didn’t enforce the law.

The animals were separated from ball players by a fence but that was eventually removed after a report identified it as a safety hazard.

As off-leash dogs began shagging fly balls, Little League, which had been using the park for more than 50 years, deemed that a hazard and ultimately left because of conflicts and safety concerns.

The temporary ordinance expired in August. Earlier this month the city received a proposal from a group called Del Mar K-9 Connections requesting the off-leash area be re-established and the hours expanded.

According to the staff report park users, for the most part, followed the rules and the field was kept clear of dog feces.

Little League, however, found the limited hours to be insufficient and requested field use through March instead of June.

Dog owners noticed the park wasn’t being used, which prompted their request for off-leash hours seven days a week beginning at 3 p.m.

They also offered to share irrigation and maintenance costs, an estimated $7,000 annual savings for the city.

“We recognize this is a hot-potato issue,” resident Wade Walker said, adding that parents brought their children to the City Council meeting, “but they’re not bringing them to the field.”

Jane Quinn said she stopped going to the park because of safety fears. “It’s a shame to prioritize dogs over the safety of our children,” she said.

Tom Sohn said he supports dog owners using the park. “I respectfully disagree they should have all of the time,” he said. “The park has been really stripped of all children’s activities.”

He cited a play structure and fence that were removed but not replaced. He said the dog owners “have great intentions (but are asking) for an $8.5 million dog park.”

Cathy Asciutto wrote in an email that she has made many friends taking her dog to the Shores property during off-leash hours. “It is part of the fabric of our lives,” she stated.

“We as people need to look at every possible venue and direction in order to remain a dog-friendly community,” Barby Todd wrote. “It is crucial for sustaining the health and welfare for all of our futures.”

The city bought the 5.3-acre lot from the Del Mar Union School District for $8.5 million in 2008. The new law will remain in effect until a master plan can be created for the property that is bounded by Camino del Mar, Ninth Street and Stratford Court.