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Neighbors meet to resolve park issues

LEUCADIA — Neighbors are organizing their efforts to maintain a local park after numerous contentious issues have divided park users, including those with dogs and nearby residents.
The Orpheus Park Stake Holders, a newly formed coalition that includes surrounding home owners as well as Paul Ecke Central parents, met with city officials and other park users to discuss ways to maintain Orpheus Park on July 27.
“Our goal for this meeting was to formalize a stakeholder group with the city that consisted of neighbors, school parents who use the park, condo association representatives and school administration,” said Steve Meiche, who lives near the park and has been active in advocating for better maintenance of the area. “We wanted representation when the city considers making significant changes to the park that could affect property values, views, use and children’s access to the school.”
While people who use the park during off-leash dog hours have sparred with other users, the city has yet to find a way to resolve the ongoing sanitation issues. Neighbors have long complained that dog feces and urine have contaminated the park, including the play structure, benches and sand where children play.
After a push from off-leash advocates that began in summer 2009 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.
City Council voted 4-1 to expand off-leash dog hours at Orpheus Park on Dec. 16, 2009. The change went into effect mid-January 2010.
However, 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.
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.
Elizabeth Shany, a resident in the neighborhood since 2007, uses the park with her two dogs and three children.
“I think the park is great,” she said. “The unique issue surrounding our park is that it’s attached to our school so a lot of kids walk through there on the way to and from school.”
Shany said the overall cleanliness of the park is even more paramount given the high number of small children who use the park on a regular basis. She said her son stepped in dog feces at the park on the way to his first day of kindergarten.
“It was kind of traumatic for him,” she said. “I don’t know if there is a perfect way to police that (cleanliness).”
Shany said she supports the installation of some sort of barrier between the playground and picnic areas and a specified place for dog use.
“Keeping the two areas separate would go a long way towards keeping the park cleaner and more usable for everyone,” Shany said.
For the stakeholder group, the issue of inclusion in the decision-making process is vital.
“I’m disappointed that at the meeting, the city would not commit to acknowledging us as a stakeholder group,” Meiche said. “Two years ago, the parks and recreation staff falsely claimed in a report and analysis recommending the expansion of dog park hours that they ‘consulted’ the stakeholders when in fact they did not. Based on the false report and recommendation, the City Council amended an ordinance and expanded dog hours.
“At least this was a start in communication between the city and stakeholders,” Meiche said.
In addition to the amount of dog feces at the park, several other issues were discussed, including tree removal and replacement, insecticides use, crime and most recently the council’s approval of a contract permitting the sale of advertising space in exchange for free doggie bags.
“One of the ad signs will be in direct view of my neighbor ocean view picture window,” Meiche said.
“I think everyone can work together to find solution,” Shany said. “I don’t think it has to be a contentious issue.”