Julia Gray chases after her puppy Whiskers on Fiesta Island. / Photo by Kathy Miller-Gray
City Planning Commission voted 6-0 in favor of Option A (above).
Like the Mission Bay Park Committee before it, the City Planning Commission voted unanimously in favor of one of two options for reconfiguring 470-acre Fiesta Island. Unfortunately, for off-leash dog owners, the City Planning Commission’s preference wasn’t theirs.
On April 11, the Planning Commission voted 6-0 in favor of Option A, which would divide the manmade island with a road and reduce access for off-leash dog park users.
The dog owner’s camp, and Mission Bay Park Committee before it in January, preferred Option B, which would keep the island intact and undivided while increasing the fenced, off-leash area.
The turf battle on Fiesta Island pits non-motorized boat users, such as kayakers and paddle boarders, against dog owners represented by FIDO, Fiesta Island Dog Owners. The issue will ultimately go before the City Council for a final decision, likely in June.
Water recreationalists argue water-dependent, non-motorized boating use should be a higher priority than the off-leash dog park, an activity that can be done elsewhere on land. They contend Option B would leave them without appropriate spots on Fiesta Island from which to launch their watercraft.
“Of course we are disappointed that the commissioners ignored the unanimous recommendation of the Mission Bay Park Committee for Option B,” reacted FIDO president Carolyn Chase. “We believe the City Council will be interested in finding a location for the paddling groups that doesn’t displace thousands of existing, and future, off-leash users, and that would be faster and cheaper for them and for taxpayers.
“Option B remains, and the Planning Commission comments confirmed, that Option B is the lower-cost, lower-impact alternative,” Chase said.
Noting the City’s opening position “was to eliminate off-leash use on Fiesta Island,” Chase added FIDO “has had to crawl our way on to the plan.”
She disputed the claim that FIDO is unwilling to “share” space with other uses. “It is the paddlers who are seeking to take over acres of currently open, multi-use public park land for their private storage of gear and equipment thereby reducing access for all other users … in the process that is supposed to be planning for growth in all uses, it is instead planning to reduce the single largest existing use today.”
At issue is an amendment to the Mission Bay Park Master Plan and Local Coastal Program to update the land uses and vision guiding future uses and improvements to Fiesta Island. The amendment includes recommendations for island-wide improvements to recreation facilities, access and circulation, parking, soft-surface trails and paved multi-use paths, grading and landscaping, habitat areas, water quality, eelgrass bed plantings, and enhancements to directional signs and utilities upgrades.
At least three planning commissioners, who had been leaning the other way, changed their minds after being swayed by public testimony April 11.
Noting there are no other designated areas for paddling outside of Fiesta Island, Planning Commission chair Susan Peerson said. “That to me is really compelling. Though Option B is less impactful, Option A is accessible to everyone. We need to provide equal access to all.”
Planning Commission vice chair William Hofman said he, too, had been leaning toward favoring Option B. “It’s nice to listen to testimony and be convinced to change,” he said. “With Option B, paddling is precluded. I think sharing is important, which is why I went with Option A.”
“I was ambivalent going in,” concurred commissioner Vicki Granowitz, adding, “Almost the entire island is still available to dog owners to walk their dogs on-leash.”
A crewer herself, Granowitz pointed out, “Paddlers on the bay have grown exponentially. We need to find a permanent location for them.”