City Council continues shared use of Del Mar Shores Park

By Claire Harlin

The Del Mar City Council on Nov. 19 voted to continue shared use at Del Mar Shores Park, a compromise approved in January that followed months of contention between the Little League and dog owners. The issue was brought to the table because the ordinance’s six-month trial period expired on Nov. 6.

After several hearings and hours of public testimony last year, the council came up with hours of use for organized sports and dog owners. Faced with an urgency to renew regulations, the council opted to continue letting Little League use the park from 3:30 p.m. until dusk on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays, and reserving 4 p.m. to dusk on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays for off-leash dogs. Every day from 6 to 8:30 a.m. is also reserved for off-leash use.

Brought before the council as an alternative to the continuance of the ordinance was a proposal from a group of residents calling themselves “Del Mar K-9 Connections.” They said the Little League had not been using the park’s athletic field for at least three months, and they asked that the council allow dogs off-leash seven days a week until sports seasons resume. They also asked to use the park beginning at 3 p.m. instead of 4 p.m., since the sun starts setting around 4:30 p.m. under daylight savings time. The group offered to contribute to the maintenance of the field and promised frequent and organized “poop patrols.”

Mayor Carl Hilliard said he was “disturbed” that some are trying to take “what was a good compromise [and push it] into something that is not a compromise.”

The council did not take up any options requested by the dog-lovers’ group, however, they did recognize that they are jumping the gun in regard to implementing permanent regulations on the park prior to creating a master plan for the entire city, which will be voted on by residents. Further, Hilliard pointed out that the city’s intention when purchasing the property for $8.5 million in 2008 was to maintain the status quo — which was use as a ballpark — in addition to sharing with The Winston School, which contributed $3 million to the purchase. Residents also raised some $3 million to help the city buy the park, which was made available for 25 percent of market value under the Naylor Act, which discouraged school districts from selling property to developers.

“When we purchased the park, the community expressed that they wanted a park for our community, because Powerhouse and Seagrove Parks are heavily used by the region,” said Hilliard, adding that several proposed uses for the park, such as a community garden and site for the historical Alvarado House, have been turned down because they did not reflect the intentions of the city at the time of purchase.

Councilman Mark Filanc said looking at only two alternative reduces the potential use of the park. He said he’d like to see more alternatives considered, such as adding a fenced area that can be used at all times for off-leash purposes. The council agreed to explore alternatives on Nov. 26 when it meets to discuss council priorities. There is the possibility that another option may come forth as the city develops a master plan for future land use.

“We certainly want to maximize use of the park,” Filanc said, adding that the park was one of his favorite places to go when he used to manage his son’s Little League team. “The more people who use it, the more benefit to the community and the more benefit we get out of the $8 million spent on it.”