Del Mar council seeks policy change for Del Mar Shores property use

By Claire Harlin

Community members filled the Del Mar City Council chambers and flooded out into the parking lot on Oct. 17 to voice concerns and opinions regarding use of the 5.6-acre Shores property that has become a subject of contention for many who use it — namely, but not limited to, off-leash dog owners and Little Leaguers.

A number of possibilities were discussed, but the council decided to explore further a compromise that would be funded by the Friends of Del Mar Parks and would involve putting up a removable fence around the baseball diamond. Council members also agreed with the implementation of off-leash hours at the park, as suggested by a number of residents. The council voted unanimously to direct city staff to return promptly to the council with a specific policy change that will specify park and fencing layout, hours of use, possible fines, implementation and financing arrangements with the Friends of Del Mar Parks.

The Friends of Del Mar Parks plan, presented by spokesman Warren Spieker, also included expanding the grassy area of the park, putting up signage that would restrict dogs from the baseball field, and not allowing dogs off-leash during the hours when the Winston School uses the park.

“No one group is going to get everything they want, but isn’t this the definition of compromise?” said Spieker.

The Winston School gets priority when it comes to using the park because they prepaid more than $3 million to help purchase the land — bound by Camino Del Mar, Stratford Court and Ninth Street — from the Del Mar Union School District. Friends of Del Mar Parks also put up about $2 million for the purchase.

“We used not a penny of state, federal or city funds when we bought this park,” said Deputy Mayor Carl Hilliard. “It’s owned by you, me, all of us. It’s not bound to let Little League stay there. Our only obligation is to the Winston School.”

He said that he empathizes with the dozens of dog owners who spoke at the meeting because he, too, is a dog owner. But he emphasized that there has been a concerted effort to avoid defacto use and carefully decide as a community what the use of the park will be for the long haul. He said the council was unaware of the widespread leash law violations at the park.

“We wanted to have the community decide, but the leash law got breached and it became a dog park before there was an official decision to decide what the park is,” he said.

Councilman Terry Sinot said he was glad to see so many people at the council meeting because it’s a direct reflection of the fact that the city has created a special space for the community.

“That’s what we are trying to do,” he said. He also said it would be beneficial to test the proposal from Friends of Del Mar Parks, and a permanent policy change can be written in as part of the city’s master plan.

“Whatever we come up with is temporary,” said Councilman Mark Filanc, adding that safety is the No. 1 priority.

Safety concerns expressed ranged from dog bites to possible health effects of dog feces in the grass.

Jeff Bernstein, a Little League manager and father of three, said Little League serves more than 1,100 kids a year and “every field is vital.” Loss of the Shores park would result in crowded fields, he said.

Several residents also noted that there must be a time for those who neither own dogs nor play baseball to use the field. There must also be a time for those who are fearful of dogs to enjoy the park, some said.

More than a handful of community members stood before the council and shared stories of how the park has changed lives and shaped social circles.

Del Mar resident Lynn Gaylord said the park is shared by people of all ages who enjoy far more activities than baseball.

“I see people playing bocce ball, soccer, lacrosse,” she said. “We all share the park, there really, really are no problems.” She flipped through a video slideshow of dozens of photos taken at one day in the park, showing the variety of dogs and community members who use the park often.

Joan Jones, who has been using the park for 15 years, asked the council to “please listen to the majority.”

“I’m outraged at how we’ve been treated like second-hand citizens because of Del Mar Little Leaguers who think they own the upper property,” she said.