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Wednesday, December 07, 2005 | I’m not usually very involved with the community, but I recently had the privilege to become part of a larger effort. It didn’t take long before I learned what it really meant when people say that “the wheels of government are designed to turn very slowly.”
About four years ago, the patrons of Nate’s Point Dog Park (near Laurel on the west side of Balboa Park) were approached by the Parks and Recreation Department and Councilmember Toni Atkins’ office to form a community group to represent our park.
How ’bout that? The community, a governmental agency and a political office all working together! All the ingredients for success, right?
A couple of meetings later, the group decided to get a drinking fountain installed, and we quickly raised the necessary funds.
See, all new dog parks are built to certain standards, with things like fencing, water and sometimes lights. Unfortunately for us, the older off-leash areas did not get these kind of upgrades, so while our 2.3 acres are beautiful, grassy and heavily used since 1996, we lack amenities.
Water and lighting would be nice, but the lack of fencing is a significant safety issue due to our proximity to busy roads. There have been a few terrible encounters with automobiles after dogs have bolted from the park.
It seemed very possible that our little community group could find a way to raise the $15,000 to $20,000 and upgrade our park, especially with the matching grants available from the city at the time.
Of course it was too good to be true. We promptly hit our first roadblock: the city’s parks and recreation department returned all of our donation checks informing us that some legislation had come down requiring that any upgrades to city property include compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act, ADA.
That means wheelchair accessible sidewalks and handicapped parking. We weren’t the only group to get hit with this dilemma, as museums had had similar problems.
It’s yet another law created with good intentions yet distorted and misapplied – see Title IX, etc.
Instead of the city allowing a community group to perform – and, more importantly, help pay for – some much-needed upgrades, the project was put on ice to avoid any potential run-in with a lawyer chasing a wheelchair.
That was a little frustrating. When did our government officials become more concerned with getting re-elected and avoiding lawsuits than the common good? Our legislature seems to spend more time punting than the 49ers. Didn’t we elect them to cast their votes and get things done, not just let everything die in committee?
Now throw this into the mix: pet-related issues are high on the headache-causing list for the City Council from concerned citizens on both sides. The Grape Street Dog Park is one of the more notorious. Top it off with some potential open-space issues in Balboa Park and a near-bankrupt city and you’re guaranteed minimal support from public officials.
First step was acquiring approved architectural plans. Somehow Parks and Rec did find some money in their budget, and we worked with their consultant to eventually draft a set of plans that pleased all sides. We then had to seek approval from the Balboa Park Committee, an oversight organization that watches over the city’s main park.
The normal course of order would be simple: propose the project, appear at the Balboa Park Committee to make a statement in favor of it, then it can officially get on the agenda for discussion, and then it can be presented for a vote. It took a few months to work through, but, fortunately, our project earned their support.
That was December 2003, and we finally had an approved project with an estimated cost of $107,000 including all city expenditures. We decided to set our fund-raising goal at $125,000, establishing that anything left over would go into an endowment at the San Diego Foundation to support Nate’s Point in perpetuity. Since the city has no money, our big hope for funding was the Community Development Block Grants. That source disappeared, mostly pulled for firefighting.
Battling community rumors was also something we didn’t expect. At one point there was talk that our dog park would be closed down if this project didn’t happen. That’s nice and sensational but not true. One of our other favorite rumors was that our Web site had cost $10,000 to build (it was donated for free).
Over the last two years we’ve raised $55,000, and are soon expecting to begin construction on a few parts of the project. Trying to raise this amount of money is a tough sell when most of the expense is concrete for the ADA compliant ramps. And there aren’t many sponsorship opportunities.
But we’ve had some great support, including a large matching gift from the Balboa Park Endowment Fund.
We’re thankful for that generous donation but it’s still hard to remember why we even needed it.
David Lynn is an IT consultant and a dog park lover. You can visit Nate’s Point Dog Park, e-mail him at