Community Commentary

Protect Encinitas dog parks

The city of Encinitas has recently released the highly anticipated Peak Democracy tool to capture citizen participation online.  A question on the discussion board has already unsettled local residents only two weeks after the unanimous council vote to name the new dog park at Encinitas Community Park after former Mayor Maggie Houlihan, who died of cancer in September 2011.  The following question has raised a lot of concern among dog owners and dog lovers.

“How important is it for off-leash dog hours to remain at Encinitas Viewpoint, Orpheus and Sun Vista parks once the new dedicated 2-acre off-leash dog park is open at Encinitas Community Park?”

For pet owners and others aware of the important role that dog parks play in the health and well-being of dog owners, this question seems to point to a city that is out of touch with issues that are important to its citizens.  It also hints at a darker purpose to possibly close down neighborhood dog parks and direct all dog owners to use the future dog park at Encinitas Community Park instead of neighborhood parks.

Besides the leading nature of this question on dog parks and other issues of bias, there are reports of other technical problems in using this platform.  According to Marlena Medford, communications officer in a June 30 email comment:

“Peak Democracy does not have measurement expertise, and e-Town Hall is not intended to be a scientifically valid statistical survey— but rather, an informal process to deliver input from a self-selected group of participants to decision-makers. The objective is to treat input from e-Town Hall the same as input from all other non-scientific channels for public input, such as council meetings, emails, letters published in local newspapers and chance encounters on the street with constituents.”

As a concerned citizen, I have spoken at length about the weaknesses of the Peak Democracy platform and other invalid programs that the city has used to measure public opinion for the past four years.  This is simply the newest iteration in a group of expensive and invalid programs that have cost us millions of dollars yet have yielded no valid results.

As a candidate for council in 2014, I intend to do everything possible to protect neighborhood dog parks and to keep them open with the same hours that are currently in place.  This is not only a quality of life issue for Encinitas pet owners, but a health and safety issue for many dog owners, who for health reasons, would be unable to own a dog without access to neighborhood parks.

Local access to neighborhood parks allow for these residents who may be unable to walk their dogs themselves to keep their best friends.   Dogs provide their owners companionship and protection so that dog owners with health issues can continue to live independently and with an important sense of purpose.  I call on the City Council to do all that they can to make sure that the important community resource of local dog parks remains in place.  The love and treatment of animals is one of the most important values to Encinitas residents and is part of what makes Encinitas the caring and compassionate community that we all want to preserve.

Julie Graboi is an Olivenhain resident and candidate for the 2014 city council.

20 comments

One of the Knaves July 3, 2014 at 11:51 am

Keep putting it out there Julie! We appreciate the candor and clarity!

Fact Checker July 3, 2014 at 5:58 pm

Please note that, unlike prior public opinion surveys, eTownHall allows people to post their views without coming to a workshop and allows everyone to see the comments from everyone, online, at a place and time of their choosing. This means there is no need to worry about responses being miscounted or untallied paper forms in notebooks. There are no expensive consultants. The City is trying something new to be more accountable and open. If all you can say is “no” to every effort to move forward, how can we come together as a community and share our opinions and make decisions that do reflect public input? Why not try to make it better. Accept this first question as a trial run, and work with staff to fix the imperfections.

Fact Rechecker July 3, 2014 at 8:01 pm

FC, contrary to what you claim, the author of this program admits that there IS worry about responses being miscounted. He is trying to make light of it, but with an experienced hacker, a lot of things could happen.

The following is a quote from the March article where Mike Cohen was interviewed by Jared Whitlock in this paper.

“Cohen acknowledged it’s possible for someone to “game” the system and post multiple comments through a concerted effort…”

Billy Bob July 7, 2014 at 10:50 pm

You don’t have to be a hacker. it’s easy to stack the deck on Peak Democracy. Just don’t have it posted on the main page, but keep voting. Watch the tally of how many responded go up each time you do it. Not rocket science.

Tiffany Fox, (858) 246-0353, tfox@ucsd.edu July 11, 2014 at 3:53 pm

I think this comment epitomizes civil discourse. Thank you.

Clear Minded July 3, 2014 at 5:59 pm

How can she say the city is out of touch with issues that are important to citizens, yet here she is writing a whole op-ed about it? It is apparently important enough to have unsettled enough “local residents” that it warrants this piece by her.

Julie obviously misread the question and then failed to read the paragraphs of information below it on Peak Democracy. This has nothing to do with shutting down dog parks, it has to do with off leash hours remaining the same. One issue that arises is when neglectful owners don’t walk across the park to pick up their dog’s waste. Some parks are worse than others and not everyone that frequents these parks can make it to the city hall meetings to voice their opinion. It’s a very valid question considering the dog friendly city that Encinitas is.

Also, bashing a new platform with no real critiques other than the fact that she has talked about it somewhere else before does nothing to actually convince me this may be a waste.

I prefer a candidate that can critically think and accurately read all of the available information. Julie apparently lacks this ability.

Sarah's Mom July 3, 2014 at 11:56 pm

The salesman who presented Peak Democracy, Mike Alvarez Cohen, said in his sales presentation that the program is invalid. This was the reason that Gaspar and Muir abstained from voting on this item. For the same money, they could have found a valid program that could have gathered higher quality information for the same or less money.

How critically are council members who voted for this program thinking when the salesman, who works in the Department of Intellectual Property at Berkeley, tells them that this program is invalid. Why did the city purchase an invalid program unless they wanted to manipulate the outcomes? Don’t be swayed by what Gaspar, Muir and Graboi say about it. Listen to the guy who sells it who told us that it is invalid and it results are unscientific.

Encinitas Dog Parker July 4, 2014 at 3:26 am

Clear Minded, you give yourself too much credit in the naming of your alias.

Personally, I have more respect for letter-writers less enamored of their own high-mindedness and more sincere about honest communication. Your first sentence states illogically that Ms. Graboi is calling the Encinitas city government out of touch by virtue of even putting out such a question to the general public. But au contraire! that is exactly WHY she is writing this letter! Your premise is flawed from the first sentence. Are you able to see that? Perhaps you were more concerned with SOUNDING good, than the actual logic of what you were saying? I await your response to this.

My take on Julie Graboi’s letter? I think her worry is justified, being a dog owner among many dog owners at the Encinitas dog parks. This “survey,” which btw I think is a good unofficial temperature-taking, if used correctly and honestly by city hall, has plenty of dog owners up in arms, and it’s only mid-week!

And btw, why is minimizing or changing the hours of community dog parks even on the table? You seem to take that without question? Why IS that? Clearly you’re political-minded, and clearly you are NOT of the dog community. Who is even suggesting this changing of dog park hours in our government here?

Every dog owner I personally know who has read this eTown Hall “questionnaire” was blown out of the water by seeing this in print. So I ask you: Is Ms. Graboi out of touch, or is some person(s), or department at Encinitas City Hall out of touch. I’m wanting to count you in that grouping, Clear Minded.

And what is this with you attributing neglect to the very occasional dog owner missing their dog actually pooping? This sounds like a personal issue. Just about every single dog owner I know watches and minds not only their own dog’s excrements, but those of others’ as well. We all want the cleanest park. Dog people are some of the most diligent people ever, despite the occasional miss.

Regarding Ms. Graboi’s bashing of this new medium … If this gets organized responsibly by asking non-leading serious questions that have no antagonism in them (as this clearly does), than I think we’ve got a potentially great new platform here! This first issue of eTown Hall is not proving that. Let’s get someone at city hall, or outside (a professional, perhaps) who better understands the gravitas and repercussions of the questions being asked! The person who framed this question should not be framing future questions for Encinitas citizens. Not kosher.

Finally, your own bias and lack of critical thinking in your letter would seem to discount your opinion. Your intelligence shows, but so does your specious anger and clever mis-logic.

Ms. Graboi, welcome to the world of politics and people like “Clear Minded.” People are not always what they seem. Don’t let them deter you. Your voice is a good and honest one. Encinitas needs exactly that.

Cardiff424 July 3, 2014 at 8:47 pm

Contrary to what Ms. Graboi states here, she is actually the one out of touch with Encinitas. There are plenty of us who DO think this is an interesting concept and want to at least give it a try before we jump to my conclusions. And no where have I read about plans to shut down parks or actually change any hours. This just confirms that I will NOT be voting for Ms. Graboi.

Encinitas Dog Parker July 4, 2014 at 3:37 am

Cardiff 424, none of us want to jump to your conclusions. You are channeling something when you say (probably not honestly) that plenty of people you know would like to give it a try.

If you don’t mind, since you’ve not read or heard about any plans to change or shut down any dog park hours – give WHAT a try??

Have you any idea what a “ringer” you sound like, my Encinitas friend?

No, clearly you’ve made up your mind. You should NOT vote for Julie Grabois! She needs more openminded, progressive voters.

Tiffany Fox, (858) 246-0353, tfox@ucsd.edu July 11, 2014 at 3:51 pm

I, for one, would like to give e Town Hall a try (which is what I assume the commenter meant), and my own comments explaining why are below. I chose to use my real name in this forum (as I do in every forum) precisely so I wouldn’t sound like a ringer, and because I think using real names keeps things civil. I’m not affiliated with the city or Peak Democracy — I’m just an Encinitas resident who thinks the more opportunities to share my viewpoint, the better. Perhaps we can all make an effort to discuss these issues without attacking one another’s character.

guy with kids July 4, 2014 at 5:03 am

I regularly go to Orpheus park with my small children and the dog park there is one of the biggest hassles. My 2 year old was walking in front of my and stops to pick something up. Big dog turd. The dogs at Orpheus love the sand. They like pissing on the play area. They love digging a hole and laying under the shade of the play structure. They love knocking over small children. Their owners love to congregate at the table at the very bottom of the hill, giving their dogs close access to the play structures and sand. They don’t respect the off leash hours and in all my time there I have never seen the hours enforced. WHY would there be a children’s play area and a dog park with no fence to separate the 2? Lastly, animals are animals and no matter how friendly you dog owners claim your pit bull or any dog for that matter is, how can I take your word at the risk of my child well-being? I really hope they either close the existing dog parks or put a fence up. Fence-less dog parks are a recipe for disaster, and filth. I can absolutely see the side of the dog owners and I in no way think closing all dog parks is a solution, just a little separation between the dogs and the small children who frequent the park.

Dog & children lover July 4, 2014 at 10:07 am

I have regularly gone to both Orpheus Park and Viewpoint Park. My experience has been the opposite of “guy with kids.” When I’ve been present with my dog, and before that, a friend’s dog, I’ve seen people policing other people, making sure that they know their dogs have pooped, asking them to keep their dogs away from the sand area.

I have never seen a dog at any Encinitas park, or off leash area, such as in Village Park, where I lived in the late 70’s and early 80’s, and where I then walked two dogs, daily, knock down anyone, including a small child. The only people whom I ever heard who wanted to eliminate off-leash hours at neighborhood dog walking areas, were disgraced former Councilman, convicted of conflict of interests, Dan Dalager, and former Councilman Jerome Stocks, both deservedly voted out of office by Encinitas residents.

I can understand that parents don’t want their children stepping in poop, or interacting, without immediate supervision, with off leash dogs, but I have never seen that to be an issue in these off-leash areas. People utilizing these areas want everyone to be courteous and considerate; we don’t want a very few neglectful owners to ruin it for everyone.

This happens, inattention by a very small minority, on streets and alleys all the time, too, and I often clean up after other people’s dogs. That was the same in Village Park. There people with dogs get together and do voluntary clean-ups, so that they can continue to enjoy the privilege of exercising their dogs in the easement, off-leash, as I did more than twenty years ago.

There are many legitimate questions about Peak Democracy and the validity of surveys done by the city. Citizens don’t want to be manipulated with marketing jargon and questions designed, as they have been, in the past, to attain pre-determined conclusions.

Why was the initial question formed in a manner that seems antagonistic to “dog people?” City staff, including our new communications director, should be in touch with the public enough to understand that the way this question was chosen as an initial test question, would be upsetting to a lot of dog owners. We have every right to ask, why was the question asked the way it was? Why would adding one new dog park in Cardiff, to be called the Maggie Houlihan Dog Park, lead to reducing hours at a dog park in Leucadia, at Orpheus, or anywhere else? That is NOT what Maggie would do!

Can't stand the smell July 4, 2014 at 11:05 am

Those parks smell and are a danger to human health. Owners do pick up but residue remains and also the smell of dog urine hangs in the air. There is no way a person can sit or lay in the grass without the chance of picking up feces. Dog owners should build their own park not use my tax dollars or any other non-dog owners.

ParkPatron July 4, 2014 at 5:35 pm

I totally agree! All dog owners are not responsible, shocking as that may be to some. As a parent with three young kids, I’d much rather go to a park that doesn’t allow dogs–or at least have stricter regulations for the owners who don’t follow the rules.

Guy with kids July 4, 2014 at 8:37 pm

I wish I had the same experiences as you at Orpheus “dog and children lover”, truly. A fence would guarantee that. I hope you trust me though when I say that while you have never experienced dogs playing in the sand at Orpheus, it happens all the time. While not nearly as common as just being in the sand, I have also seen a dog run up the play structure and take the slide down.

Fact Checker July 5, 2014 at 12:33 pm

There are several issues being “debated” here, all of which are important. (1) is eTownHall a useful tool for the City to encourage public engagement beyond what is heard at Council meetings and official communications? (2) what’s the right balance between providing great spaces for dogs and their owners AND great spaces for recreation for those who prefer not to have dogs in the mix (I’m all for dog parks AND for parks where dogs are not allowed), and (3) should someone vote for Julie Graboi because of what she wrote or for any other reason. I think eTownHall is a useful tool. It will not address the distrust some in our community have (perhaps well-founded on past experiences), but for the majority who are open to the possibility that the City could actually want public input without having a pre-conceived answer already awaiting, I hope they will participate and see how it works. I’m sure that with more experience, the framing of the questions and the presentation of background information will improve. As for Ms. Graboi, I appreciate her passion, but I think she would be challenged to balance all the disparate viewpoints in the City she wants to represent.

Tiffany Fox, (858) 246-0353, tfox@ucsd.edu July 11, 2014 at 3:47 pm

Thank you for being fair and civil in your comments, and for accurately summing up what is being discussed here.

Billy Bob July 7, 2014 at 10:37 am

As much I I don’t like the fact that Peak Democracy is not a reliable or valid survey, I also have other concerns. Does anyone remember taking tests in high school or college, and you might have missed one word, so you marked True, instead of False. When you got it wrong, and you reread the question, you then saw it? Or consider the ‘hanging chads” in the Bush v Gore election. It is in wording of items that concerns me. Whether off leash hours should have been the test case is not for me to decided. Personally, I think it was a poor choice, as this topic has polarized the community before. However, be careful when the next one comes out and make sure you read what you are voting for very carefully. The deck can be stacked to get positive responses, that people really didn’t mean to be positive. That concerns me. The other concern I have is that it is easily manipulated. Just click on, for example, Very Important, and then don’t have it shown. You can do this several times and you will see the tally of how many people contributed go up by how many times you do it. I am not a rocket scientist, so if I can figure this out, so can anyone, including city employees. Perhaps they want something, say a raise. So Peak Democracy asks this question: The staff works hard at their jobs and maybe it is time for a small raise, as they haven’t had one in quite a while. How important is it to you that your staff at Encinitas City Hall has the best tools possible to help you?
Very Important
etc. I think you all get the idea. If you use this tool, be very careful to fully understand what you are voting on. Have fun.

Tiffany Fox, (858) 246-0353, tfox@ucsd.edu July 11, 2014 at 3:41 pm

It seems that many in this community have made up their minds that the city is not to be trusted because of its ‘poor track record’ surveying residents in the past. It’s an unfair accusation — we’re fortunate, after all, to live in a city with a council subject to re-election every few years. I would hate for someone to evaluate my job performance based on what someone who held the job before me did (or failed to do).

Even if the prior surveys were less-than-desirable, that doesn’t automatically negate the value of this tool. Perhaps the City chose Peak Democracy precisely because it helps mitigate some of the problems with past efforts at data-collection. For one, it puts transparency in the hands of users — the users can decide how much information to provide, and the replies are uploaded in real-time, which eliminates the need for ‘processing’ cumbersome boxes of surveys. Users get to see the raw data, and can therefore interpret the data any way they want. I also like the fact that one must register with a real name — anonymity breeds lots of back-biting and discourse that is not civil. We need more civility in this town.

As a parent of two young children who rarely has the time or capacity to attend city council meetings, I appreciate that the city is providing an additional way to make my voice heard. As the council has noted, the views presented at council meetings are not always reflective of the broader community. Yet if we devoted three minutes to each of the nearly 300 people who have weighed in on the e-Town Hall’s first question, it would add more than 15 hours of public comments to a City Council meeting! Surely none of us want to attend council meetings that last until the wee hours. This tool gives us a way in, as well as a way out. As for claims that e Town Hall is not a scientific measure for public opinion — surely relying solely on public comments at City Council meetings is even less so. Furthermore, it seems to me and others I’ve spoken with that some of the fear pertaining to this tool comes from those who are vocal critics of the city and are afraid their voices will no longer be the loudest.

One important thing to remember is that e-Town Hall provides value not just to the City, but to its citizens — and in a way that’s completely independent from governance. When I read through the comments in the first e-Town Hall forum, I recognized the names of several people I was unaware were Encinitas residents (the famed choreographer Patricia Rincon, for example, as well as several colleagues at UCSD). Without this tool, I might never have known we shared a place of residence in common, nor would I have known that I also share similar views with many of my neighbors (or, in the instances when I don’t, I’m offered an opportunity to be humble). This, to me, is the definition of community-building. I vow to give it a chance. (Note: I also submitted a version of these comments to the Encinitas Advocate)

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