By Catherine Spearnak
Ryan Zellers is so adamant Normal Heights needs a dog park that he spoke in favor of it before the San Diego City Council, and he doesn’t even have a dog.
Zellers will get to exercise his support at noon this Sunday when the Normal Heights Community Association (NHCA) holds its first Mid-City Unleashed rally for an off-leash dog park in Normal Heights.
“The dog park would be the closest park for one-sixth of the licensed dogs in the city,” said Ron Ferrero-Pham, president of the association. The park would be the city’s 16th leash-free park. The total combined population for all the Mid-City communities, which could benefit from the park expansion, is approximately 144,000 residents.
The park is actually the expansion of the Ward Canyon Neighborhood Park, located on Adams Avenue near the border between Kensington and Normal Heights at the I-15. The park would serve the neighborhoods of Normal Heights, Kensington, City Heights, Talmadge and even Mission Gorge, which currently has no dog park. As it stands, the two closest dog parks to the proposed park are at Morley Field in Balboa Park and Grape Street Park in South Park.
Five hundred to 700 supporters are expected at the rally, set for noon to 2 p.m. Sunday at Ward Canyon Park, Ferrero-Pham said.
“There has been a lot of buzz about it on social media,” he said.
The highlight of the rally may be an appearance and speech by Councilmember Todd Gloria, who will speak at 12:30. Gloria has requested $1.2 million for initial engineering and design plans to get the $7.9 million dog park off the ground. It would include a full basketball court, community center and community garden.
Gloria is optimistic that the amount will be approved by Mayor Kevin Faulconer’s office in June because the city’s budget environment is better than it has been in years.
He also said the Normal Heights neighborhood’s support for the dog park will help the project gain traction, similar to the neighborhoods of Mission Valley and Skyline, which were able to get fire stations for their neighborhoods.
“When a community seizes upon a project, they can get it done,” Gloria said.
Ferrero-Pham will present Gloria with 1,200 signatures collected in Normal Heights from people supporting the dog park.
Normal Heights resident Martha Fuentes and her Maltese poodle, Sheba, plan to attend the rally, although she thinks Sheba won’t like all the other dogs at the proposed park. But she favors the park and thinks it will be a nice place to let the neighborhood dogs run loose and get exercise.
Dog owners in Normal Heights now set their dogs free at Adams and Franklin elementary schools. Parents especially don’t like it because their kids step in the dog aftermath.
“So there are really a lot of people interested in this park besides dog owners,” Ferrero-Pham said.
The drive for the dog park and Ward Canyon Park expansion is led by residents themselves, said Normal Heights Community Planning Group Chair Caroline McKeown.
“We’re just so pleased the community association has taken this over with their grassroots efforts,” she said.
The goal now is to get the park funded by the City Council, which she said is Gloria’s job. Supporters need to be loud, get on social media and go to council meetings, she said. Getting Gloria’s input was a major victory for moving forward with the park, she said.
“That’s a huge step for us because it hasn’t been on his wish list before,” McKeown said.
The park expansion would have some other benefits for the community, said Zeller, one dog park supporter who has no dog. He is also a member of the planning group. Traffic on the I-15 off ramp at Adams Avenue would be slightly rerouted, removing one traffic light.
“The smoother traffic flow that will occur from the elimination of the signal and the extension of two lanes for the off ramp should improve flow and safety, especially in periods of heavy traffic,” Zeller said.
Free live music will be offered by Gloria Aparicio. The San Diego Humane Society will have an adopt-a-pet booth, and Petco and Banfield animal care will be offering free goodie bags for those attending, Ferrero-Pham said. Free water and popcorn will be available, and of course dogs are welcome.
—Contact Catherine Spearnak at Catherine.email@example.com.