But the dogs don’t care. Large or small, at Capehart Park at 4747 Soledad Mountain Road, they’re just there to play.
Built for $632,000 and opened in 2004, Capehart, with distinct large- and small-dog fenced-in areas, has been the place for dog owners to let their pets strut their stuff. And strut they do. Big ones, little ones, dirty ones, groomed ones, dressed-up ones, purebreds and mutts, they all share one thing in common at Capehart: Time to run and play under the sun.
The off-leash park, however, continues to have its critics. Nearly a decade ago when it first opened, detractors argued the park was neither wide enough, long enough or well-tended enough to be a top-flight off-leash park the community could be proud of.
Pacific Beach Realtor Kevin Dougherty, co-founder of PB Dogs, a group that unsuccessfully advocated for an off-leash area instead around the corner and up the hill at Kate Sessions Park, believes Capehart then — and now — is inadequate.
“I think that park is a disaster, just as it was predicted,” said Dougherty, adding the density and concentration of dogs at Capehart has destroyed the park.
“It’s a mud pit now, a dirt patch,” he said. “It’s way too small. You can’t maintain it at all. There’s no way you could with such a little tiny place and such a high concentration of dogs. You’re coming in off a highly trafficked road compromising the safety of dogs. It’s totally inappropriate and it’s been a disastrous, expensive experiment.”
Dougherty said an extensive citywide study of the feasibility of prospective off-leash parks done a decade or more ago ranked Kate Sessions Park “No. 1.” He credited a “small-yet-vocal minority of dog-hating neighbors,” some of whom he claimed “didn’t even use the park,” as the reason why there’s an off-leash dog park at Capehart and not Kate Sessions.
Eve Anderson, a longtime member of the loosely associated neighborhood group Friends of Kate Sessions Park, begs to differ with Doughtery.
“It’s been incredible,” said Anderson of dog owners’ experiences at Capehart.
Anderson recalls it was a “couple of dog owners, primarily owners of large dogs,” who wanted to create an off-leash park at Kate Sessions, where she said it wasn’t warranted.
“Little kids and old people don’t want to be around a bunch of off-leash dogs — it’s dangerous,” Anderson said, adding it also wouldn’t have been in keeping with the park’s namesake, the late Kate Sessions.
“She was a landscape designer and she would have been horrified if she’d seen dogs desecrating her park,” Anderson said.
Anderson said the attempt by dog owners to create an off-leash park at Kate Sessions, ultimately scuttled by a neighborhood petition drive opposing it, fell short because proponents bit off more than they could chew.
“They didn’t want to take one small part at the bottom for the dogs and fence it off,” Anderson said. “They wanted to use the main hill of Kate Sessions, one of the most beautiful hills in San Diego with the most gorgeous views, and ruin it by taking it for the dogs.”
By contrast, Anderson noted Capehart Park, long and linear, is “always full,” adding it’s a “very social thing” for people, as well as animals.
“It’s better for smaller dogs rather than larger,” admitted Anderson. “They need a little more room and it’s a shame we don’t have more room.”
On a recent day at Capehart, dog owners discussed their feelings about the park. The general consensus was that the grassy small-dog area is superior to the large-dog area, which is nearly all dirt.
Overall though, dog owners were mostly positive about Capehart Park and the people and animals that frequent it.
“It’s sensational, very animal-friendly and safe,” said one La Jollan who was in the small-dog area with his bandana-clad shaggy dog, Cody. “I like the idea of it being fenced, and it’s nicely maintained for what it is. It isn’t designed to be a golf green.”
Told about the decade-old debate over whether it would have been better to have the off-leash park at Kate Sessions instead, he replied, “I don’t like the idea of that place because it’s not fenced. To me, it’s dangerous. And it doesn’t draw a nice element of people. There’s lots of drinking going on there at night with the kids. That’s not my schtick.”
Another park user, Jenny (who declined to give her last name) of Pacific Beach, said she and husband Jason like the location.
“I like it because it’s convenient, easy to get to after work,” she said. “Obviously, it’s very dirty,” she said of the large-dog enclosure.
Another park patron agreed about the untidiness of the park’s big-dog enclosure.
“It’s so dirty I have to give my dog a bath afterward every time,” she said.
Others were less critical of the park, but brought up other issues.
“I love it. It’s great,” said Katie Weeks of La Jolla. “It’s nice they have a small-dog area and a big-dog area. What we do have here, though, is a parking problem. We’ve had numerous accidents.”
Weeks’ companion said people not infrequently attempt to do a U-turns near the park and end up “getting slammed by people coming down the hill.”
“Maybe it could be a little bigger,” said Nick from Pacific Beach. “People here are actually really nice, they’re really good dog owners.”
Jenny of Pacific Beach said there’s one big thing missing from Capehart.
“I wish it had some solar lighting so it could be lit a little longer, especially in the wintertime,” she said. “It’s pitch black here. We’ve parked our truck and shone lights in here just to get her (dog) out.”
Capehart got the seal of approval from Jenny’s husband, Jason.
“If you need a place to go, and you don’t have a backyard, it’s a good place to be,” he said.