Council passes off-leash hours for Del Mar Shores Park


By Claire Harlin

The Del Mar City Council on Jan. 23 passed an ordinance outlining shared use of the Del Mar Shores Park, which has for months been a point of contention namely between the Little League and dog communities.

The ordinance, which will be assessed after a six-month trial period, will allow Little League or other licensed sporting groups to use the park on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays from 3:30 p.m. until dusk. Dogs will be allowed off-leash every day from 6 to 8:30 a.m. and from 4 p.m. to dusk on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays. The ordinance originally allowed morning off-leash hours only on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays, however, the council heeded suggestions from community members and amended the ordinance to open the park to dogs every morning. All other daylight hours not included in the ordinance or used by the Winston School will be reserved for general park use, with dogs on leashes and no organized sports.

The issue first came to the council’s attention in October, when a plan that involved putting up a fence on the park was presented by Friends of Del Mar Parks and supported by the council. But after extensive public testimony, the council shifted gears on Dec. 5 and directed staff to develop an ordinance that would take on a shared-use approach that designated certain hours for sport and off-leash use.

The resulting ordinance, presented Monday by Assistant City Manager Mark Delin, originally contained a section requiring people to buy dog tags to use the off-leash area. The number of tags (costing $50 per year) allocated would have been capped at 100, with 75 of those being reserved for residents on a first-come, first-served basis. Community members voiced concern over both the number of tags issued and hassle involved, so the council obligingly omitted that requirement from the ordinance.

Del Mar resident Nelson Brav, for example, said the tags are an “interesting approach, but they are going to drive you nuts and alienate a lot of people.”

He also said he goes to the park every morning between 6 and 7 a.m. to exercise his Labrador, and generally there is only one other person there. He was one of several who successfully pushed for implementing early morning off-least hours seven days a week.

Tom Sohn, of Del Mar, expressed concern that the council’s ordinance, as drafted, required “a terrible amount of manual enforcement” when “virtually nothing in Del Mar gets enforced.”

“Are you really going to ask the code enforcer to corral a running dog by the collar and look at its tag?” he said.

Sohn, as well as two other speakers, were highly opposed to the shared-use concept, and supported the original plan presented by Friends of Del Mar Parks.

“The fenced lot gave everyone uninhibited access to everything they wanted at any time of the day,” he said.

Sohn made a point that several members of the council agreed with: There must be objective metrics outlined by which the council can determine whether the ordinance was a success after the six-month trial period. The council said it would work with staff to document in advance some metrics, which could involve factors such as cleanliness, safety and access for residents.

Deputy Mayor Terry Sinnott said he was also in favor of the fenced plan, but was the minority on the council.

Resident Richard Curley thanked the council and said he believes the council listened to the entire community.

“Nobody is going to be 100 percent happy, but you’ve done the fairest thing,” he told the council.

Mayor Carl Hilliard said he was not only involved in the acquisition of the park but every other aspect since. He reminded the council and community that the park was purchased for 25 percent of market value under the Naylor Act, enacted in 1980 to discourage school districts from selling surplus property to developers. Under the act, Del Mar agreed that the land would remain a ballpark. Later, however, the city dropped the Naylor Act so it would not have any restriction regarding park use, other than the priority it upholds to the Winston School, which gets full access because the school contributed more than $3 million to help purchase the land. He reiterated that the park is owned by the community and its use is completely at the decision of the community.

In the future when funds are available, Del Mar officials will outline use of the park in a master plan, and Councilman Mark Filanc stressed the urgency in getting that off the table as soon as possible.