Homeowners and pet lovers got loud Monday night during a public hearing over a proposed dog park at Garvey Ranch Park in Monterey Park.
The meeting was heated, with both sides trying to convince the Recreation and Parks Commission to either axe or move forward with the proposal for the off-leash dog park, which if approved would be built on a vacant lot next to the tennis courts along Orange Avenue.
Nearly 50 residents attended the special commission meeting where the city’s Director of Recreation and Community Services, Dan Costley, reviewed the plans. He said the venue would only be open during daylight hours and the park would be divided into two separate areas: one for small dogs, the other for larger dogs.
But opponents of the project, many who said they live near the park, cited concerns that more noise and smell would be an unwelcome byproduct of the park’s opening.
“We have dog poop all over the area,” resident Leanord Lee said. “I know we have responsible pet owners, but we have a lot of irresponsible owners too.”
Others, like Peter Wong, said they are worried because the canine venue would be the first of its kind in the area, and would likely attract residents from other cities, causing more traffic in the park’s already congested parking lot.
“I talked to all my friends in other cities and they said. ‘Great, I’ll bring my dog over there,’” he said.
Supporters disagree with claims that the project will lead to unsanitary conditions at the park. Emily Sasha said in her experience people at dog parks “self regulate” and are “responsible pet owners.”
“When you go to a dog park people are watching, so you are more likely to clean up after your pet,” echoed Armen Sebastian.
Their insight held little sway with others at the meeting who demanded that the commission look into other uses for the project money and vacant lot.
Look at opening a community garden instead, suggested Pete Miller.
The city owns the lot in question but according to city staff, the San Gabriel Valley Municipal Water District underground pipes make it unlikely that they would approve a project that makes it difficult for them to quickly get to the lines in an emergency.
Sgt. William Estrada, the city’s sole animal control officer, tried to reassure residents about the project: “I’m not here to take sides,” he started to say, but was quickly ambushed with complaints about the city’s lack of staffing in the department.
“It looks like you can’t even handle one dog problem in the city,” one resident said. “Why do we need another dog problem?”
Estrada said fears that the dog park will lead to more injuries and barking are unwarranted. He said facilities of this type often help pets learn to socialize and become less aggressive.
Dog owner Christina Nuñez agreed with Estrada. She said there are many homes in the city with small yards and that a dog park would actually help ease barking issues.
“There’s hardly any dogs barking [at dog parks],” Nuñez said. “Dogs bark when they are tied up in the backyard and not getting enough exercise.”
Some of the opponents said they believe building the park is too costly.
Costley assured residents the city does not think the project will cost the entire $80,000 included in the 2013-2014 budget as part of the $3.2 million Park Master Plan for capital improvements.
Resident Henry Em, however, pointed out that project is a “long term investment,” and would require ongoing maintenance and insurance costs, given the potential for lawsuits.
The meeting at one point seemed to get out of control, as residents raised their voices to speak over one another in response to one woman’s statement that she’s worried the park will “attract undesirables” who will cause trouble in her neighborhood.
Mayor Teresa Real Sebastian pleaded with opponents to “open their minds” to the idea of a dog park “in their backyard” instead of trying to close the city off to people from other areas. She said she didn’t want the city to be known as a place where they labeled people as “undesirables.”
“Is that the type of community we are? If somebody would have said that to each one of us we wouldn’t be residents right now,” she said.
A dog owner and project supporter, Real Sebastian said if everyone who complains about “irresponsible pet owners” would just approach them [and let them know how they feel]; guess what they will [pick up after their pet] next time, she said.
The mayor also criticized city staff for not providing an updated visual of the project, as pointed out by resident Larry Sullivan.
“That land is not being used right now… the city should do something with it,” Sullivan said. “But [today] we don’t get a conceptual view of what is being presented.”
City staff originally considered locating the dog park at Elder Park, but withdrew those plans following a hearing in July where residents expressed concerns about the site’s close proximity to homes and schools.
The commission is expected to make its recommendation to the city council sometime next month.