"Capehart was somewhat of a compromise for those wanting off-leash access at Kate Sessions."
Pacific Beach dog lovers have been frustrated over the lack of off-leash options. Many go rogue and let their dogs run free in parks with rules against that. In January, increased enforcement led to residents sounding off about it at a Pacific Beach town council meeting.
Brian White (town council president) scouted locations and his group voted to pursue the potential of the northeastern edge of Crown Point Park as a place for pooches to run free. White has a petition out now to gauge community support.
Proposed leash-free location in Pacific Beach.
The proposed location along Crown Point Drive at Moorland Drive covers two patches behind the park's parking lot. The lot's parking entrance runs between them. If approved, both areas would be fenced in, separate for small and large dogs.
White had considered another area in the park, but due to occasional uses for sporting activities and other events throughout the year, he focused on this area which is used far less.
When I visited Crown Point this weekend, it was filled with people but the proposed leash-free areas were empty except for two gentleman, each lounging in the two separated areas.
"Dog owners are pleading for adequate areas where their dogs can run free without fear of being ticketed. Much of this discussion has traditionally centered around Kate Sessions Park, which currently doesn't allow off-leash dogs, although these rules aren't always followed."
At Kate Sessions, some dogs were on leashes, but most were not.
White said dog owners have wanted at least part-time off-leash access at Kate Sessions for years. "Others don’t want that because they're concerned about the safety of their children or small dogs, as well as the issues caused by inattentive dog owners who don't pick up after their pets. The San Diego Humane Society has ticketed people for not using leashes at places like Kate Sessions, adding more angst among dog owners."
When I visited Kate Sessions last weekend, most dogs were off-leash. The idyllic park on the hill overlooking the back-side of La Jolla was peaceful as dogs zoomed around humans lollygagging, including a girl lounging on a tightrope.
One dog owner from Ocean Beach was playing ball with her off-leash dog Floki. She said it was her first time at Kate Sessions, as she usually goes to Ocean Beach's dog beach. She was in PB for a birthday party.
Pooch nirvana (Fiesta Island) not long ago was in danger of being butchered to make room for paddle boarders and Least Terns.
Another woman with an off-leash dog lives in the area and brings her Chihuahua often to the park. She said she keeps her close. She told me about two incidents at Kate Sessions: about six months ago, an off-leash dog went after a baby and more recently an off-leash dog was run over in the parking lot.
"The only legal off-leash area in Pacific Beach is Capehart Dog Park, which was built about 12 years ago with an insufficient budget," said White. "Capehart was somewhat of a compromise for those wanting off-leash access at Kate Sessions. The large dog section has always had drainage issues because it was never graded properly, and the small dog area is currently closed to let the sod regenerate."
The other nearest off-leash parks are Mission Bay Park's Fiesta Island and Ocean Beach's Dog Beach.
When visiting Capehart last weekend, I missed the entrance on Mt. Soledad Road. With no U-turns at almost every turn, it required a bit of navigation to get back there. My initial assessment, especially after coming straight from Kate Sessions, was that it was more like a dirt cage next to a parking lot. It seemed way too tiny to accommodate a community the size of Pacific Beach.
The dogs seemed happy enough, though, and there were several people on the small dog side. As a girl threw a ball for the dogs, I talked to a couple that lives in Crown Point. They said they would love to have some place closer — but not too close. "If our dog can see dogs running free from our home, we'll never get any rest." They were relieved to know the Crown Point park was a five-minute walk from their home.
One lady that lives closer to Fiesta Island said she uses Capehart because her dog is a runner and needs to be fenced in when off-leash.
When I arrived at Crown Point Park on Sunday, I saw three police cars parked near a gathering. There were a few leashed dogs during hours it wasn't allowed. Antonio, there with his leashed dog Zeus, said the officers were there for another issue. As one of the officers left, he eye-balled my leashed dog.
Most everyone I talked to hadn't heard about the proposed off-leash park and not one vetoed the idea outright, though some had concerns. A few said they would be against it if it wasn't fenced or had late night hours. One nearby resident said, "I hate the idea of an ugly chain link fence. Maybe they can come up with something prettier?"
Dariel Walker of the San Diego Humane Society said in 2018 they handed out five tickets and more than 300 written warnings for off-leash dogs in San Diego (25 tickets total across all jurisdictions that includes Carlsbad, Del Mar, Encinitas, Santee, and Solana Beach).
Walker pointed out that they didn't take on the contract with the city until mid-2018. "As part of our discussions with the cities it was agreed the first six months would be primarily about education. We all wanted to use this time to educate the public on the laws and the fact that a new animal services provider was now working in their city. In January, officers were instructed by the city of San Diego to more actively enforce off-leash and other violations, but officers still have the discretion to assess each encounter to determine the level of enforcement to gain compliance."
All signs point to tickets increasing in 2019 and putting Pacific Beach in the lead in tickets.
"Parks and Rec routinely provide us with a list of the top ten parks they receive complaints about. Kate Sessions is consistently on this list. Officers regularly patrol this park to take enforcement action and educate the public on the laws. Officers carry maps that identify all off-leash dog parks in the region and regularly distribute them."
Off-leash penalties range from $50 to $100 for the first and second infraction to $200 for the third offense which is a misdemeanor. You can be ticketed for birds too. Leashes can be no longer than eight feet.
Walker said more tickets are given for off-leash versus on-leash violations, including walking dogs on-leash when it's not allowed during certain hours. "The potential for more negative and aggressive incidents is greater when dogs are off-leash and not in direct control of their owner."
It was reported in 2018 that between 2015 and 2017, the city gave out more than 600 citations with just under half in Mission Bay (for all dog-related violations). Fifty were given out at Kate Sessions Park.
Walker said to date they have not been consulted about what makes a good off-leash park but are aware of ongoing discussions and expect to be consulted as planning continues.
The Humane Society's annual Walk for Animals event was held at Crown Point for years before switching to Liberty Station (Pt. Loma) in 2013.
The Mission Bay Park committee voiced concerns about this event because it sanctioned leashed dogs during hours when dogs weren't allowed at the park. The event was authorized for years with the condition that it be moved once a more appropriate location was found. How the hours for leashed dogs will play into an off-leash park is anyone's guess.
One of the most popular off-leash parks is Fiesta Island in Mission Bay Park. Even so, this pooch nirvana was not long ago in danger of being butchered to make room for paddle boarders and Least Terns. The plan was voted down largely due to community uproar.
Taking my dogs to Fiesta Island was responsible for my first San Diego Reader article. While there in 2015, I saw the shoreline littered with crabs and wrote about it. Though if you watch the video embedded in the article, you'll know I initially thought they were baby lobsters.
Few other of the city's 16 off-leash parks got two-thumbs up from those I talked to last weekend. Complaints included: little to no grass to speak of, groundcover that hurts dog's paws, and gopher holes.
The city's projected budget deficit this year might play into the equation of maintenance and funding for a new dog park.
In September 2018, when looking at strengths and weaknesses of the city's park and recreation system, the Mission Bay Park committee called out lack of maintenance funding as a key weakness. Identified among the top unmet recreational needs was off-leash parks.
In October 2018, the mayor announced over $40 million in infrastructure upgrades planned over the next few years for Mission Bay Park, including more than $13 million for parking lot resurfacing and playground equipment replacement (Crown Point is in the mix on both counts).
The mayor began his public service career on the Mission Bay Park Committee and has twice helped win voter approval for dedicated funding to improve parks, including Mission Bay Park (the nation's largest aquatic park of its kind).
Proposition C in 2008 directed Mission Bay lease revenue toward capital improvements and Measure J in 2016 extended that funding for 30 years making it easier to expedite high-priority projects.
Native Pacific Beach resident Burt hopes the mayor finds a new off-leash park as high-priority as he does. "My dog can't talk but I can and I am not going to shut up about this until we get a real off-leash park. Capehart is not a real park, it's a parking lot with a fence. It's a joke, right? I pay a lot in taxes to live here. People come from all around the world to visit [Pacific Beach]. Just get us the damn park already."
Pacific Beach's city council representatives (Jennifer Campbell, District 2) said their office wants to hear more from the community before moving forward with any plans.