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Neighbors have spoken, and Newport says no to westside dog park

 Playing catch
Dogs play with a ball at the dog park in Newport Beach’s Civic Center Park. The City Council rejected plans for a dog park at Sunset View Park at Superior Avenue and West Coast Highway.
(File Photo)

The Newport Beach City Council muzzled plans for a westside dog park Tuesday night, yielding to complaints from neighbors who said off-leash canines would drag down their property values and quality of life.

The roughly quarter-acre, wedge-shaped patch of fenced artificial turf would have gone at the north end of city-owned Sunset View Park and been one of several substantial additions to the park at the northeast corner of Superior Avenue and West Coast Highway. The rest of the park’s face lift, which did pass the council, includes 64 more paved parking spaces and a footbridge over Superior to connect to the larger Sunset Ridge Park.

It was the dog park, however, that piqued neighbors’ interest.

About three dozen people, most of them residents of the Villa Balboa condominium complex adjacent to Sunset View, spoke at Tuesday’s council meeting about their predictions of piercing barks and increased traffic on the already busy road. They also spoke of marred ocean views and feces.

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More than 100 wrote protest letters citing those concerns and more: light pollution; loss of privacy; fleas and other insects; loose dogs darting onto the street; declining property values because, the neighbors argued, nobody wants to live near a dog park; and the dog park being a possible magnet for coyotes, homeless people and crime.

In addition, Villa Balboa’s private covenants, conditions and restrictions prohibit dogs, residents pointed out.

Newport Beach has one dog park, at Civic Center Park near City Hall. Another is planned adjacent to the Newport Crossings apartment complex under construction near John Wayne Airport.

The city first identified Sunset View as a possible dog park site in 2015 after the opening of the dog run at Civic Center Park in 2013, said parks director Laura Detweiler. It was undeveloped and on the other side of town from the Civic Center and “was going to provide some pretty incredible views for our dog owners,” she said.

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The Civic Center dog park, which is about three times the size of the proposed park, has drawn no complaints from neighbors less than 200 feet away and is popular and cleaned daily, Detweiler said. The proposed dog park would be 260 feet from the closest home.

Susan Wenzel said she supports a dog park and wanted to pass along that message from two more “constituents” who couldn’t attend Tuesday’s meeting: Handsome Bob and Daisy.

With that, she put on the council chamber projector screen a photo of two pooches, animated to show one of them “talking.”

“Handsome Bob here,” the amber-eyed dog said. “So, Daisy and I just wanna go on record as supporting this new proposed dog park as part of the Sunset View Park improvement project. A dog park on the west side of Newport Beach, it’s much-needed. That’s a perfect location and we’re pretty sure we’re gonna use it all the time.”

Villa Balboa resident Wendy Kaiser, however, said the volume and pitch of more conventional dog vocalizations are irritants.

“I told my husband … would I look like a crazy woman if I go ‘Bark! Bark! Bark-bark!” she said, imitating a hound for the council.

“It’s unexpected, explosive sound,” not the white noise of traffic or the power plant connected to nearby Hoag Hospital, she said.

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Drinking fountain
An Australian shepherd named Buddy Wilson pops up for a drink at the dog park at Civic Center Park in Newport Beach.
(File Photo)

Jacquelyn Harris, another Villa Balboa resident, wrote in a letter that plenty of neighbors would use the dog park.

“While I’m sure you’ve heard from many folks who’d be opposed to the idea, those of us in favor sit quietly, just assuming the city will move forward with it,” she said.

It did not.

Though letters of support outnumbered those in opposition 139 to 116, the opponents were organized. They went door to door and crafted a mail survey, getting names and addresses from a title company. They set up a dedicated email address and voicemail box to collect feedback, and a lawyer representing the homeowners association wrote one of the 116 “no” letters.

A sampling of others:

“It exposes the nearby homes/families to additional noise, fleas, noxious odors and zoonotic infections and quite possibly a hangout spot for unscrupulous characters.”

“A dog park would decrease the value of our property and be an unsightly addition to the west side of Newport Beach. Many of us have ocean-view properties and this dog park will assist in destroying the views as well as, depending on wind direction, adding an unwanted odor to our area.”

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“Smells, sounds and pathogens carry, and those who enjoy the Sunset View Park and live near it will suffer.”

“The smell and the flies will easily reach us in our kitchens and bedrooms, carried by the ocean breeze, with disastrous consequences for our quality of life.”

“Putting in a dog park disrupts the relaxing atmosphere of the sunset view with consistent barking, the smell of feces and dust.”

Councilman Brad Avery, who represents the area around Sunset View, said he was concerned about going against the Parks, Beaches & Recreation Commission’s approval of the dog park but believed that the people who would be most affected should be given more consideration.

He added, however, that “I don’t think personally that it will have the impacts that were stated here tonight. … It’s more in your head than anything else.”

Councilwoman Joy Brenner also said the effects probably wouldn’t be so dramatic, but she also voted to leave the earthen knoll where people gather to watch the sunset intact instead of grading it for the dog park.

“That view is so spectacular,” she said. “I cannot vote in favor of digging that down to put a dog park there.”

Mayor Diane Dixon said she also wanted to agree with the parks commission but said the proposed dog area was too small.

The council voted 6-0 to drop the dog park concept. Councilman Kevin Muldoon recused himself because of “business interests” in the area.

The parcel sketched out as the dog park will remain open space. The full park project will cost about $8.7 million, funded by local dollars and federal grant assistance.

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Updates:
1:48 PM, Nov. 20, 2019: This article was originally published at 1:32 p.m. and has been updated with additional information.

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