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Dog owners win the battle of Fiesta Island

Paddleboarders and boaters lose option for six-acre fenced area

Most of Fiesta Island is now an off leash dog park.
Most of Fiesta Island is now an off leash dog park.

Few who enjoy the outdoors on Fiesta Island care that it's a man-made landscape. Its 470 acres and six miles of shoreline, part of the much larger Mission Bay Park, are a rare find in the middle of San Diego.

Endangered least terns like it, too.

But the threat - or promise - of development has been looming over the island as the city amends its Mission Bay Park Master Plan. On June 10, a long fight to keep the dog park intact ended, when the California Coastal Commission voted 6-5 to leave it as is.

While most of the island is now an off-leash dog park, the city has been studying two potential land use scenarios for the 100-acre southwest subarea, one that would put a two-lane road and fences right through doggie playland.

Option A

Option A, preferred by watercraft users and environmentalists, would use six acres of shoreline in the dog park as a public park for swimming and a non-motorized boat dock.

Dog owners revolted, petitioning the city for an alternative design in their environmental review.

During public review, broad support for leaving the dog park untouched led the city in 2019 to settle on Option B - riling boaters and paddlers who have been part of the planning process since 2005.

The Coastal Commission has opposed Option B all along, calling out longstanding impediments to public access to the southern shoreline, including a 1/2 mile walk to the main parking lot, and pointing to a "failing" least tern nesting site at the northern end.

The island has two federally endangered least tern nesting sites, managed by the city in partnership with U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service.

Commission staff recommended rejecting the city's proposed amendment. Instead, they suggested modifications that would enable kayakers and paddle boarders to launch from the new dock, families to use the new playground and swimming area with a lifeguard, and everyone to benefit from the new parking lot and restroom.

Option B

Supporters called for more storage and launch space for non-motorized watercraft, urging a vote for the new amenities.

Several speakers spoke about the importance of the open space to walkers and others for affordable recreation. San Diego Audubon Society, which supports Option A, called for a better access road for pedestrians, wheelchair users and bikes.

Option A would still keep a large 87-acre parcel for off-leash dogs in the southwestern area, while enhancing coastal access for uses like boating and swimming, commissioners said.

Currently, there's an "underutilized half mile stretch of beach" that could be used by a broader range of the public.

Dog park advocate Kathy Parrish agreed that parts of the island see a lot less visitors. "Very few people use the south shores. Tens of thousands use the fenced-off area."

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Most of Fiesta Island is now an off leash dog park.
Most of Fiesta Island is now an off leash dog park.

Few who enjoy the outdoors on Fiesta Island care that it's a man-made landscape. Its 470 acres and six miles of shoreline, part of the much larger Mission Bay Park, are a rare find in the middle of San Diego.

Endangered least terns like it, too.

But the threat - or promise - of development has been looming over the island as the city amends its Mission Bay Park Master Plan. On June 10, a long fight to keep the dog park intact ended, when the California Coastal Commission voted 6-5 to leave it as is.

While most of the island is now an off-leash dog park, the city has been studying two potential land use scenarios for the 100-acre southwest subarea, one that would put a two-lane road and fences right through doggie playland.

Option A

Option A, preferred by watercraft users and environmentalists, would use six acres of shoreline in the dog park as a public park for swimming and a non-motorized boat dock.

Dog owners revolted, petitioning the city for an alternative design in their environmental review.

During public review, broad support for leaving the dog park untouched led the city in 2019 to settle on Option B - riling boaters and paddlers who have been part of the planning process since 2005.

The Coastal Commission has opposed Option B all along, calling out longstanding impediments to public access to the southern shoreline, including a 1/2 mile walk to the main parking lot, and pointing to a "failing" least tern nesting site at the northern end.

The island has two federally endangered least tern nesting sites, managed by the city in partnership with U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service.

Commission staff recommended rejecting the city's proposed amendment. Instead, they suggested modifications that would enable kayakers and paddle boarders to launch from the new dock, families to use the new playground and swimming area with a lifeguard, and everyone to benefit from the new parking lot and restroom.

Option B

Supporters called for more storage and launch space for non-motorized watercraft, urging a vote for the new amenities.

Several speakers spoke about the importance of the open space to walkers and others for affordable recreation. San Diego Audubon Society, which supports Option A, called for a better access road for pedestrians, wheelchair users and bikes.

Option A would still keep a large 87-acre parcel for off-leash dogs in the southwestern area, while enhancing coastal access for uses like boating and swimming, commissioners said.

Currently, there's an "underutilized half mile stretch of beach" that could be used by a broader range of the public.

Dog park advocate Kathy Parrish agreed that parts of the island see a lot less visitors. "Very few people use the south shores. Tens of thousands use the fenced-off area."

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