By Joe Tash
A 5.3-acre parcel with sweeping ocean views purchased by the city of Del Mar in 2007 for $8.5 million was intended to provide residents and visitors with a tranquil, scenic spot for exercise and relaxation.
But a dispute between the Del Mar Little League and a group of local dog lovers over the Shores property has been anything but peaceful — after clashes between the two groups earlier this year, the Little League stopped using the Shores ballfield for games or practices for the first time in more than 50 years.
Representatives of the ballplayers and other recreational users of the park, dog lovers and Friends of the Del Mar Parks have been working on a compromise to solve the dispute, and appear close to a resolution.
“I do think the solution is in reach,” said Warren Spieker, of the friends of the parks group.
The dispute centers around conflicts between dog lovers — who exercise their pets off-leash — and ballplayers, who use the field several times a week during the spring baseball season.
During the last Little League season, practices and games were interrupted when dogs crossed over a temporary fence between the ballfield and an open, asphalt area where the dog lovers congregate, said Chris Underwood, a Little League coach who has been working with the other groups to try to come up with a solution to the dispute.
Over the past year, Underwood said, it seemed that more and more people started bringing their dogs to the park.
“They kind of more or less took it over, for lack of better word, a land grab. They made it uncomfortable for Little League,” said Underwood.
In April, Underwood said, the Little League decided to pull out of the Shores property, because of dogs running through games and practices and “heated arguments” between dog owners and parents. Parents didn’t feel the situation was safe for their children, he said.
Wade Walker, a spokesman for the dog lovers, said the animosity between the groups was unfortunate. Dog lovers contributed to the campaign to raise money to buy the Shores property, he said, and they wanted to be able to share it with the Little League.
In September, the two sides attended a meeting of the city Parks and Recreation Committee, which advises the City Council. Since then, Walker said, he, Underwood and Spieker have been trying to work out a compromise.
Walker said the most promising plan would be to divide the upper field of the Shores property, where the ballfield now takes up one side, with a fence, and install turf and sprinklers on the other side, which is now covered with asphalt. That way, each group could enjoy a roughly equivalent section of the upper field and its fabulous views.
“All the stars are aligned. The people in the city want resolution on this. The dog people do and so does the Little League,” said Walker.
The proposed solution would restore the equilibrium that existed two years ago between dog lovers and ballplayers, before the city removed a fence around the ballfield because it was in disrepair and posed a safety hazard, said Spieker.
The next step would be to bring the compromise back to the parks and recreation committee, and ultimately, to the City Council for approval.
“This is classic Del Mar, we’ve got to work through things,” said Spieker.
If the plan is approved by the city, the friends group would work to raise money for the project, which would include installation of the fence, replacing asphalt with turf and extending the existing sprinkler system, at an estimated cost of $35,000, said Walker.
Mayor Don Mosier said he is “cautiously optimistic” that an agreement between the groups can be worked out. “The whole thing has been too protracted. I hope they get there very quickly.”
He stressed that whatever is worked out between the groups, everyone must realize this would be a temporary solution for the next two or three years, until the city completes a master plan that establishes permanent uses for the property.
What is clear, Mosier said, is that when the city bought the property from the Del Mar Union School District, the idea was to make it available to a broad cross-section of the population.
“It is intended to serve all residents of the community, no particular group has a vested right to use the park,” Mosier said.