DEL MAR — It seemingly took dog years, but at the Jan. 23 meeting City Council adopted a temporary ordinance that would allow off-leash canines and other park users to co-exist at the Shores property until a master plan is developed for the 5.3-acre site on the south end of town.
According to the six-month trial plan, off-leash dogs will be 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 will 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 will be available for general use that includes on-leash dogs and non-organized sports.
With help from a community fundraising effort, the city bought the site from the Del Mar Union School District for $8.5 million. The Winston School, located on the property, also raised money for the purchase and has priority over field use.
Council first discussed the issue in October to address a conflict mainly between Little League and off-leash dog owners.
Although canines were required to be leashed, the 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.
At the October meeting, after more than two hours of discussion that included about 30 speakers and proposals from the Parks and Recreation Committee and Friends of Del Mar Parks, council members directed staff to create an interim policy for a shared-use plan.
Mark Delin, assistant city manager, presented four options at a December meeting but council didn’t like any of them so staff members were sent back to the drawing board.
Residents had mixed reactions to the plan presented last month.
“Compromise often results in parties not agreeing on the final outcome, but generally they can respect the process that got us there,” Tom Sohn said. “In this case I find it interesting because the compromise was in lieu of better options that gave everybody what they wanted.”
Sohn said the shared-use plan would be difficult to police.
“Virtually nothing in Del Mar gets enforced,” he said. “It’s a virtually unenforceable proposal that you’ve come up with. It cuts the community in half and gives nobody what they want. We pretty much caved to those who yelled the loudest.”
“I am pretty disappointed,” Chris Underwood said. “I feel like council is not listening to everybody that’s involved.
“The current proposal, to me, is somewhat embarrassing and it’s elitist,” he said. “Find me another ball field in America that has kicked children off for dogs.
“What message are we sending to our surrounding communities?” Underwood asked council members. “Should my child be allowed to play there when we’re kicking their children off our field?
“The status quo is probably the easiest way out,” he said. “This field has been a ball field for 53 years and there was a pre-existing leash law with a fence. This might not be popular but it might be the easiest way out.”
Will Holiday agreed. “It’s just really disappointing that this community that typically gets things right in terms of values … is fundamentally placing kids behind dogs,” he said. “It’s crazy. I know we’ll get through this,” he said. “I know everyone has got the best intentions but fundamentally, putting dogs ahead of kids just doesn’t seem to make sense.”
“I think you people have listened to the whole city,” Richard Curley said. “Nobody is 100 percent happy about it.
“You’ve done the fairest thing you could and everyone needs to accept that and be happy with the compromise. I also believe you haven’t chosen dogs over kids because the reality is, 95 percent of the kids will have more access to the park. The kids who don’t play Little League can now be there on those other days.”
“I think it can work,” Lynn Gaylord said. “I’m going to probably have a hard time with my dog … teaching him that alternate days are what’s going to work from now on. He’s got to learn sharing.”
“It’s kids first,” Penny Abell said. “It should be kids first, but older people with dogs come in there someplace, too.”
As proposed by staff, the ordinance required dog tags for users and limited the number that would be sold, but that was eliminated because council members said it could be an administrative nightmare. They also extended early morning off-leash hours from three days to seven days.
The ordinance will take effect in March, 30 days after it is adopted on the second reading. Council members will evaluate the plan in six months but can terminate the agreement at any time if problems arise.