2/22/15: Dog Parks, Playgrounds and the Housing Element

February 22, 2015

At my first City Council meeting almost three months ago, I requested a report on installing low fencing around playground equipment in city parks that double as dog parks. Last Wednesday night, on a 3-2 vote, we approved a pilot project to do just that.
Orpheus Park and Viewpoint Park feature both kids’ playground equipment and off-leash dog hours, with no way to keep the dogs off the playground. Children can be knocked over or scared by dogs, and toddlers sometimes discover dog poop in the sandbox. There have been complaints about the smell of urine under the benches. This is a health and safety hazard that can be easily remedied with a small half-fence and appropriate signage that says, “Please keep dogs outside of the playground area.”
I heard multiple complaints about the interface between dog parks and playground equipment while campaigning for City Council. I’ve read comments about it on various online forums, including easy-to-find reviews on Yelp. And I’ve experienced the discomfort of that lack of separation with my own young children. For me, approving a one-year pilot project at Orpheus Park for a total cost of about $15,000 was a no-brainer.

An artist’s rendition, provided by Parks & Recreation, of what a fence might look like around the playground at Orpheus Park. The council requested that the actual fence radius be enlarged to encompass benches so parents can sit on a bench inside the fence while watching their kids on the playground.
Mayor Kristin Gaspar and Council Member Mark Muir voted no because they said they would like to have the Parks Master Plan completed first. This master plan has not yet started and is scheduled to be finished in 2016. It will involve surveying residents and doing some big-picture visioning regarding what additional park facilities or amenities we need in our city. I agree that this study needs to be done.
But for me, there are certain common sense things that should happen as a matter of routine, and usually they do. For instance, if a tree falls over in a city park, the parks department doesn’t bring the matter to the City Council or wait for a Master Plan to be completed. They immediately remove the fallen tree and plant a new one without involving the Council, because it’s a safety hazard and a necessary part of keeping the city running.
The right time to study the issue of whether dogs were a problem in the playground area would have been in 2010 when Orpheus and Viewpoint Park became dog parks for several hours every week. (For example, Orpheus Park is open to off-leash dogs for eight hours on Sundays: 6-9 a.m. and 3-8 p.m.) The city should have evaluated at that time whether safety and sanitation from off-leash dogs caused problems for parents who frequented the park. But now five years has passed, no study was done that I’m aware of, and these two parks are not clean or safe places to take toddlers or small children.
The City Council needs to be the eyes and ears of the public, and make decisions on routine matters more quickly. Mayor Gaspar mentioned that in 2010, she brought up that shade equipment is needed at certain parks, and Councilman Muir stated that Leo Mullen Sports Park is a good candidate for artificial turf. These concerns are valid, and I support us considering them right away. In my mind, it’s inadequate for the city government to wait six years to make decisions on playground fencing or shade equipment, especially if they are relatively inexpensive.
I want to thank Parks & Recreation Director Lisa Rudloff for bringing us the report on fencing about two months after our request, enabling us to make a timely decision. I’m grateful that two of my colleagues, Council Members Tony Kranz and Lisa Shaffer, were willing to take action immediately on this health and safety issue instead of waiting until visioning was complete in 2016.
Here are two local articles about the decision we made this week: The Coast News and The San Diego U-T.
Building consensus on the Housing Element
At the last meeting, we spent an hour and a half having a free-ranging discussion among the five Council Members about the housing element plan to upzone properties to comply with state laws. (The discussion can be viewed here at hour 2:20, but I’ll warn you–it’s not very fast moving.) I had hoped that we could have this discussion around a table, in a less formal setting, but apparently technology prohibited that because we needed to have microphones and video cameras on us. Regardless, it was valuable. It’s difficult to summarize, but I think we agreed on the following:

  1. It’s important to comply with state laws and we want to agree on a housing plan that complies;
  2. Any upzoning needs to be distributed among the five communities and not concentrated in one area of town alone;
  3. We need to count accessory units (granny flats or converted garages) as much as possible to reduce the need for upzoning;
  4. We need to do a better job of lobbying our state representatives and reaching out to other communities who might be in the same boat we are;
  5. We want to encourage our staff to come forward with creative solutions, which means ways of complying that don’t involve upzoning.

Council Member Tony Kranz strongly stated his frustration at being asked to consider the housing element separately from the transportation element of the general plan. I agree–we can’t credibly suggest adding 1300 units of housing without having any transportation plan for dealing with the additional cars. (I don’t know what all the possible solutions are, but Council Member Kranz suggested a streetscape plan and/or a mass transit bus line for El Camino Real).
For me, I believe we need to both know more and do more. We need to fight for our right to make local land use decisions, but also we need to look closely at the myriad of ways cities have complied with this state law. This week I’ve really gotten into the weeds on housing element law (here’s an article from one of the state’s preeminent housing element attorneys). It’s critical that the City Council be presented with more context for our decisions, and I thank Council Member Kranz for sending me this article. What have other cities and communities (i.e. Coronado, Poway, La Jolla, Rancho Santa Fe, Carlsbad, Del Mar, Solana Beach) done to comply with this state law? Mayor Gaspar has already begun her outreach efforts to other elected officials in the region. The wheels are turning, and the conversation is moving. Stay tuned.
Final thoughts
Overall, I think we’re working well as a Council. We don’t always agree on everything, of course, but if we can explain each others’ perspectives, then the process of reaching the best conclusion possible has a much better chance of working.
If you “reply” to this email, it comes straight to me! The Council Members don’t have staff that sort or filters emails, and this is my personal email account. I write this email on the weekend, when I have a few minutes of breathing room to reflect.
My emails are not comprehensive of every issue we cover at the City Council meeting. I try to pick out the things that have the most importance, or I think would be the most interesting to you.
With much appreciation for your interest in our city and its future development,
Blakespear Signature- Catherine

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