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Going to the dogs?

By Catherine Spearnak

After 10 years of waiting, Normal Heights residents may be getting a start on having the off-leash dog park they have wanted for so long. But some community leaders don’t think it’s enough.

Last week, Mayor Kevin Faulconer set aside $100,000 in the 2016 city budget to build an interim dog park at Ward Canyon Community Park, located near the boundary of Normal Heights and Kensington, at the intersection of Adams Avenue and I-15.

But the amount of money allotted – and the dog park it will create – is far less than some Normal Heights residents wanted.

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Dogs on leash are welcome at Ward Canyon Neighborhood Park in Normal Heights, but Uptown residents have been clamoring for an off-leash dog park. (Photo by Ron Sanchez)

“I could say we’re mad as hell,” said Jim Baross, chair of the Normal Heights Community Planning Group. The comment may sum up the feelings of many mid-city dog lovers. “We’re glad to be mentioned at all, but we’re still not on the list. We’ve been park-deficient forever.”

The community lobbied hard for dog park support. After holding a dog-park rally in February, collecting 1,200 signatures from Normal Heights residents in favor of a dog park, and hounding Councilman Todd Gloria for support, mid-city residents got it.

Councilman Gloria, who represents Uptown, placed a request for $1.2 million in his budget to begin the $7.9 million project, and submitted it to Mayor Faulconer, asking him to place it in his 2016 budget. The planned expansion of Ward Canyon Park includes the off-leash dog park, a community garden, a community town hall, and a lighted parking lot.

“The communities of Mid-City deserve to have the expansion of Ward Canyon Park funded,” Gloria said.

But the mayor has only included funds for the interim dog park in his budget, which is waiting for approval by the San Diego City Council on June 8.

“I am pleased that the mayor will be funding an interim dog park as a temporary solution,” Gloria said. “But I will continue to fight for the first phase of the permanent expansion to be included in next year’s budget.”

The Mayor’s Office did not respond to contacts, but in a press release put out May 15th, he touted his neighborhood improvement plan.

“Our economy continues to improve, and our neighborhoods should share in the wealth,” Mayor Faulconer said. “I’m proposing several new community enhancements beyond what I announced in April. It’s just one more thing we’re doing to boost programs that make a real difference in people’s lives.”

Ron Fererro-Pham, a Normal Heights resident, business owner, and president of the Normal Heights Community Association, said he is happy the mayor is looking for funds for an interim dog park.

“But all we have right now is the promise that they may put some money in for a temporary solution,” he said.

Mary Callan yearns for the day when her dog Ru can romp leash-free at Ward Canyon Neighborhood Park. (Photo by Ron Sanchez)

Mary Callan yearns for the day when her dog Ru can romp leash-free at Ward Canyon Neighborhood Park.
(Photo by Ron Sanchez)

Normal Heights has courted other funding sources for the dog park, including Pet Smart and state Assembly Speaker Tony Atkins for state funds.

Ferrero-Pham says the new dog park would serve one-sixth of the city’s dogs, and would be the only dog park on the I-15 corridor. Residents and their dogs in Normal Heights, Kensington, Talmadge, City Heights and even Mission Valley would benefit from the park.

“If it’s the best we can do for now, we’ll take it,” Ferrero-Pham said.

Council members have several meetings to go through before deciding whether to approve the mayor’s revised budget on Monday, June 8.

“I appreciate the Mayor including funding in the May Revise for a temporary dog park for Ward Canyon Neighborhood Park, and believe that my Council colleagues will support this reasonable interim solution that would address an urgent need in the Mid-City communities,” Gloria said. “This dog park is a significant step toward realizing a long awaited community asset, and I expect that we can make progress towards designing Phase I of this park in Fiscal Year 2017.”

—Catherine Spearnak is a San Diego-based freelance writer. She can be reached at catherine.spearnak1@gmail.com.

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