On August 22, the Vista City Council approved a one-year experiment to allow unleashed dogs at the “Trails” area of Buena Vista Park in Vista’s Shadowridge area. Its passage allowed dogs to legally run free in the park off Melrose Avenue from 7 to 10 a.m. and then again from 3 p.m. till dusk. Vista city staff recommended the policy. The city’s Parks and Recreation commission approved it unanimously. The council approved it 4-1.
Sunday afternoon (October 8), one of the councilmen who voted for the ordinance held an “I-made-a-mistake” meeting at the park, telling 20-plus locals that he was going to move to have the new ordinance rescinded during the regular city-council meeting on Tuesday, October 10, six weeks after he voted yes.
“I don’t have a dog in this fight,” punned councilman John Franklin at the hillside get-together. He said he and his wife, who live nearby, don’t have a dog. “But I want to do the best thing for the most number of people.” He said an original signed petition presented to the council indicated 77 people who wanted their unleashed dogs to legally frolic did not have addresses.
“It is doubtful that all of the petitioners are residents of Vista,” said Franklin about the original petition. He said the park is regionally popular and attracts regulars from nearby Carlsbad. “I want to make sure our input comes from people who live in the City of Vista.” He said city staff “let us down by not gathering more community input before presenting this as a slam-dunk.
“We made a mistake as a council,” Franklin said. “I’m leery of anyone who says they get it right 100 percent of the time.”
Franklin proposes nixing the ordinance because of a new poll he initiated on the Nextdoor website. He said 59 percent of 313 Vista respondents did not want unleashed dogs at Buena Vista Park.
“There was a strong emotional response,” said Franklin.
Most of those who attended the Sunday-afternoon meeting in the park seemed to be in agreement with Franklin that all visiting dogs on the trails should be leashed. They included one lady who claimed to have picked up 12 bags of poop, another who said children “get knocked over by dogs,” and another who said that her leashed dogs are afraid of other aggressive unleashed dogs. Still another lady said that a bunch of fur she found on the trails was a result of coyotes who attacked small dogs.
Pooches have political juice. San Diego, Oceanside, San Marcos, Vista, Encinitas, Carlsbad, Chula Vista, and Solana Beach all voted to outlaw the importation of puppies because of a well-organized anti-puppy-mill lobby.
“I was floored by all the response I have received,” Franklin explained. “[The city council] has been voting on whether we should have stores selling marijuana next to houses and this is the issue people are getting apoplectic over.”
Franklin has worked for Vista congressman Darrell Issa for 14 years, first as a staffer and then as a consultant. His Vista-based Pacific Political, Inc. continues to give political advice to Issa. “I also help mayors, assemblymen, other congressmen, state senators…. But I guarantee Congressman Issa has no interest in off-leash dogs in this park.”
Vista will turn to district elections for the first time next year. Franklin’s Shadowridge district includes Buena Vista Park. He said he will be running for that newly created district seat. “This is the first time I have announced this.”
Tuesday night’s Vista City Council meeting could get interesting. Franklin explained that because of parliamentary rules, councilwoman Amanda Rigby (who was the only person to vote no on the ordinance at the August 22 meeting) cannot vote on the motion to reconsider. Because councilman John Aguilera will be out of town, Franklin says he must convince both remaining councilmembers — mayor Judy Ritter and councilman Joe Green — to switch their votes and vote with him to keep dogs on leashes at the park.
At the August meeting, the City of Vista’s animal-control contractor, the San Diego Humane Society, said that it received five complaints of unleashed dogs at Vista parks in all of 2016.
At the Sunday meeting, Franklin admitted that it is not likely a law-enforcement official would enforce on-leash laws. I noted to Franklin that it seems odd that such a strident Republican like himself would vote for an ordinance that he admits would likely not be enforced and would mean more government intervention in his city of 101,000-plus.
“This is not a partisan issue. Republicans are not opposed to regulations; we’re just opposed to bad regulations.”