By JORDEN P. HALES | Uptown News
When signs indicating temporary closure of an off-leash dog area appeared in early October at Ward Canyon Park, Normal Heights dog owners were concerned.
For residents of the neighborhood surrounding the park, however, the signage couldn’t have been posted soon enough.
Daily users hope for the park to remain at or near its current location without extended closure, while the residents nearest to it prefer it be relocated or closed. The area adjacent to three houses is now closed off, forcing the large and small dogs to play together in the fenced area closer to Ward Canyon Park.
The community factions made their concerns public at an Oct. 22 town hall meeting.
Although it was the third formal gathering regarding the dog park, this town hall was the first that allowed for community input. More than 40 locals attended to vocalize their concerns and hear from City of San Diego representatives.
“We hear people in the morning and at 10 at night,” a woman who identified herself as Rosie said during the open forum portion of the meeting. “We really would like to work together to get a dog part at (another site). Our bedroom is back by the dog park and we get waken up at least five times a week.
“We can’t use our backyard because it’s dusty and loud… We’re not anti-dog park. We’re anti-dog park right behind our house.”
Others came in support of the dog park, which is one of the few places dogs can play off-leash. Ahead of the meeting, Denise Douglas-Hiley emailed Uptown News to say, “The dog-park has been poorly maintained (probably funding issues), but has been widely used by the heavily dog-centric populations of Normal Heights, Kensington, Talmadge, North Park and City Heights. It is the only off-leash park for miles around.
“I believe that this dog-park serves as a vital resource in our mid-city neighborhoods. Most of us wish to live in close knit communities with neighbors that participate and interact with one another. However, many of us come home after a long day at work and isolate ourselves in our little boxes we call home. A dog-park, though it may be small matter in the scheme of things, provides this kind of interaction between many diverse people who might not normally connect and creates bonds that help make a neighborhood stronger and a real community.”
The City of San Diego has drafted a renovation plan for the park, which includes a community garden in the space where the off-leash area currently sits. Under this plan, a new dog area would be constructed away from homes.
The project would require a land deal with CalTrans, which owns the space for the proposed new off-leash area.
However, the office of City Council member Chris Ward says there are limited financial resources available to carry out the plan and no timetable for including them in city budgets.
Elizabeth Chennam-Chetty, of the city’s Recreation Council Advisory Group told Uptown News $250,000 has been allocated to the project and a planning committee has begun work to prepare the area for construction of a new park.
When pre-development is finished, the project will still require federal or state funding to complete the project.
Facilitators of the town hall hope the two factions will reach an informal compromise that can be used to make bids for grants. The project is expected to cost more than $5 million in total.
“The previous conversations with dog owners and the residents near the park have been very cordial,” Chennam-Chetty said. “We wanted to take this opportunity to have everybody advocate for themselves and find a solution for our community. I see a lot of potential in this group.
“We have to compromise and find some sort of solution in the interim, then we — dog owners and residents — can advocate for ourselves with the city for a solution that can work.”
— Jorden P. Hales is a multimedia journalist based in Southern California. Follow him on twitter