Council OKs fencing to separate Orpheus playground from off leash dog park

ENCINITAS — Danielle Hurtado sat on a bench in Orpheus Park, watching her 4-year-old son and 2-year-old daughter play on the play structure. Behind them, a couple of dogs streaked up and down the hill in the park’s off-leash dog area.

Hurtado said while she likes that the dogs have a place to play, a little separation from hers and other children wouldn’t hurt.

“I think it is a really good idea,” Hurtado said. “Kids could get knocked over, and sometimes the dogs leave little gifts in the sand. I am all about (putting up a fence).”

Brenda Esparza, a Lake Elsinore resident visiting friends in Encinitas with her dog “Malo,” said she felt the fence would be good for the kids.

“I don’t think it is so much the dogs as much as it is the kids; some kids don’t know how to handle dogs,” Esparza said.

The Encinitas Council agreed, and on Wednesday voted 3-2 to put up temporary fencing at Orpheus Park as a part of a 1-year-trial to test the effectiveness of separating child and beast.

The council’s split decision came after a staff report that detailed proposals for fencing at the city’s three parks that have off-leash dog hours — Orpheus, Viewpoint Park and Sun Vista Park. The city’s park and recreation staff estimated the cost at about $57,000, which included installing a concrete ring around the playground area at Viewpoint to accommodate bench seating.

The Council opted against installing fences at all three parks, rather focusing on Orpheus, which they said would help them gather information that could determine what the city’s next steps should be.

Deputy Mayor Catherine Blakespear, who voted in support of the immediate pilot program along with councilmembers Tony Kranz and Lisa Shaffer, said that on the campaign trail parents expressed their desire to see fencing around the playground areas where dogs are allowed to roam off of their leashes.

“They say, ‘I won’t go to that park because of the off-leash dog hours,’” Blakespear said. “To me (the question of whether the lack of separation is an issue) is one of those no brainers.”

Mayor Kristin Gaspar and Councilman Mark Muir voted against the proposal. While they said they aren’t opposed to the concept, they said they wanted it to be part of the upcoming parks master plan discussion, which the city has allocated $100,000 to study a variety of park issues facing the city.

“I just don’t think it follows the process of outreach, study and then making a more informed decision moving forward,” Muir said.

Gaspar also expressed concern that the city had done no formal outreach on the concept prior to Wednesday’s hearing. Parks and Recreation Director Lisa Rudloff said the city had received no formal complaints about potential safety or dog waste issues at the three parks.

“I don’t want to discard the concept,” Gaspar said. “I just want to further explore it as part of the master plan process.”

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