It’s Not Just Dog Owners Who Want to Keep Fiesta Island ‘Wild’

by on July 13, 2016 · 5 comments

in Culture, Environment, Health, History, Life Events, Ocean Beach, San Diego

Fiesta Island googmapBy Frank Gormlie

Perhaps you’ve been too busy with summer to notice, but there’s been a ‘quiet’ debate going on recently in certain circles – including the op-ed pages of the San Diego Union-Tribune – over the future of Fiesta Island.

Fiesta Island – you know that flat and sandy piece of land that juts out into Mission Bay – it’s not really an island as it’s connected with the rest of San Diego by a narrow land bridge with an asphalt road – where people bike, do day-camps on the sand, water or jet-ski, or take their horses, have fires in the firepits, – oh, and who take their dogs to the great off-leash area on the Island.

The land of Island Fiesta itself is what’s left from all the sludge dredged up during the 1950’s development of Mission Bay Park.

There’s been for years an ongoing debate between dog owners who have formed a group Fiesta Island Dog Owners (FIDO) and others who want to see Fiesta Island developed with “improvements”. And the now the debate is ramping up ….

On July 1st, Judith Swink, a Mission Bay activist since the 1990s, wrote an op-ed piece in the SDUT, entitled “Dog owner concerns blocking Fiesta Island improvements” San Diego Union-Tribune and complained that “the demands of a single user group” – dog owners – were dictating what the City should do, in what she termed, “whether one-third of Fiesta Island will or will not be improved for non-leash-free public access.”

She urged the City to get on with the improvements the draft plan includes, such as a

“proposed two-lane road, designed to run as close as possible to the edge adjacent to the water-ski area, with low safety fencing along it, would lead to a small parking lot, a beach and a small tot lot…”

A week later, the SDUT ran a rebuttal by Carolyn Chase, entitled, “Save Room for the Dogs on Fiesta Island” San Diego Union-Tribune. (Both are reposted in full below)

Chase, the head of FIDO, and a long-time and well-known environmental activist, disagreed with Swink and stated:

During the planning update process, Fiesta Island Dog Owners (FIDO) agreed to reduce the other currently designated off-leash areas on Fiesta Island to try and retain the fenced 90 acres intact.

While the debate continues, it’s important to note that it has been over how many acres will remain within the fenced-in area where dog owners can unleash their pets and allow them to run along the trails and to the water’s edge. FIDO wants to keep much of the area as “wild” as it can be.

And the pro-improvement folks see opportunities galore in all that empty sand.

But, I wish to also be heard here:

Dog owners are not the only ones who want Fiesta Island to remain “wild.”

There are many of us who live in or around Mission Bay or who go to Fiesta Island occasionally or daily who don’t want to see any more development, or any more “improvements” on Fiesta Island.

Fiesta Island is the last piece of Mission Bay that remains undeveloped – except for the nature preserve and the area over the former industrial landfill, South Shores Park.

So, it’s the last parcel of the largest aquatic park on the West Coast that remains undeveloped. Development cannot occur in the nature preserve and development should not occur at South Shores Park, in that it was used by the City, the Navy and the aircraft industries as a dump. Nothing can be built on top that requires any extensive digging or drilling down. (It’s why SeaWorld can’t build their hotel where they are.)

So, that means Fiesta Island. But just why does it need anything more? Why can’t it just remain as it is?

A letter writer to the U-T had been following the debate and wrote:

What a sad day it will be if we purposefully develop the only undeveloped and accessible coastline area in the midst of our overdeveloped city.

Yes, I am a dog owner who regularly visits Fiesta Island for the purpose of exercising both myself and my three pups, however, I’ve also enjoyed kayaking, walking, bicycling and rollerblading in this urban oasis. This area, accessible and utilized by all as it appears today, is unique and precious.

Though our city has many lovely, planned waterfront parks and off-leash dog parks, there is no other space I know of in the city of San Diego like Fiesta Island. Please leave it in its current, undeveloped, natural, sprawling and somewhat untamed state.

Another wrote:

Some things just work. Fiesta Island is one of those. The fenced dog area is unique not only to San Diego but to California.

Having traveled throughout the state, I have never experienced such a wonderful dog/people setting. Spend the money somewhere else. Letters to the Editor

There’s also other issues that stand in the way of the City’s plans, besides dog owners and non-dog owners. There’s all that pollution just off Fiesta Island on its east side. That body of water between the Hilton Hotel and Fiestal Island is one of the most polluted spots in all Mission Bay. The water there never gets flushed out into the Pacific. Of course, no one today bothers to tell the tourists and other Mission Bay visitors not to let their kids into the toxic soup in the east part of the Bay.

Here are the two op-ed pieces, the first by Judith Swink and the second by Carolyn Chase.

Dog owner concerns blocking Fiesta Island improvements

by Judith Swink   San Diego Union-Tribune

Mission Bay Park is a work in progress. Though conceived of in the 1920s, with a formal plan approved in 1930, actual changes in Mission Bay didn’t become visible until after World War II. In 1946, 1950 and 1960, San Diegans approved bonds for the reconfiguring which created the Mission Bay we are familiar with today. Successor Master Plans were adopted in 1958, 1978 and 1994. Each has incorporated the same basic principles designed to maximize broad public use and enjoyment of Mission Bay for as broad a range of users as feasible.

It is way past time to complete the vision of Mission Bay Park. There remain unfinished pieces to the Master Plan, Fiesta Island and South Shores in particular. Fiesta Island is almost 500 acres in toto but encompasses barely 300 acres of usable public parkland due to habitat reserves, the Youth Camp, the city’s sand maintenance yard and roads. The planning process for improvements on Fiesta Island began at the Mission Bay Park Committee (MBPC) in May 2005. At this first meeting, advocates of off-leash dog use on Fiesta Island asked to be included in the plan for Fiesta Island. The entire committee concurred that this use is an important regional public access issue and asked the design consultant to ensure that off-leash dog use continued on the island.

The Draft Fiesta Island plan preserves just over 95 percent of the existing fenced leash-free in use today and includes shoreline access for dogs on the west and south of the peninsula, with leash-free use allowed in many other parts of Fiesta Island. The cove to the east of the fenced area is used for water-ski training so water access is prohibited for swimmers and dogs. The proposed two-lane road, designed to run as close as possible to the edge adjacent to the water-ski area, with low safety fencing along it, would lead to a small parking lot, a beach and a small tot lot, leaving the greatest part of the current fenced area open for unrestricted off-leash use.

In September 2007, the Mission Bay Park Committee approved a plan for recommendation to the Park and Recreation Board. Fiesta Island Dog Owners (FIDO), off-leash dog advocates, disagreed with the design and succeeded in lobbying to delay further action until redesigned to their satisfaction. In December 2010, a redesigned plan which it was understood FIDO had agreed to, was brought before MBPC a second time. FIDO showed up in strength to oppose approval of the plan, demanding that no improvements be made in the almost 100 acres in the present fenced area. MBPC voted 7-2 to forward the revised plan to the Park and Recreation Board for further consideration, but the plan has yet to be docketed at Park and Recreation Board more than six years later!

As a dog owner and supporter of all of the off-leash parks in San Diego, I strongly support continued off-leash use of Fiesta Island. What I do not support is the demands of a single user group to dictate whether one-third of Fiesta Island will or will not be improved for non-leash-free public access. What about non-dog owner access to this huge part of the island? What about people with physical disabilities, some in wheelchairs, who would find it a struggle to get across to the south shoreline of this area?

With funding available from Mission Bay lease revenues that come back to the park — largely due to the efforts of Mayor Kevin Faulconer — the Fiesta Island Fund (existing) and a myriad of grant funding sources, public improvements envisioned in the 1994 Master Plan can finally move forward. Planning for future uses at De Anza began last winter, but Fiesta Island and South Shores Phase II remain unimproved even though there are existing plans to be acted on.

I call on Mayor Faulconer and Councilwoman Lorie Zapf to break this logjam and facilitate moving forward with the Fiesta Island General Development Plan.

Swink served on the Mission Bay Park Committee from 1994 to 2012. During the Mission Bay Park Master Plan Update (1990-1994),

Rebuttal

Save Room for the Dogs on Fiesta Island

By Carolyn Chase San Diego Union-Tribune

Regarding “Dog owner concerns blocking Fiesta Island improvements” (July 2): Most of the 500 acres of Fiesta Island is currently designated off-leash by an ordinance passed in 1972 when dogs were banned from all other city beaches except Ocean Beach’s Dog Beach and Fiesta Island. During the planning update process, Fiesta Island Dog Owners (FIDO) agreed to reduce the other currently designated off-leash areas on Fiesta Island to try and retain the fenced 90 acres intact.

The fenced off-leash area is currently the most used area in all of Mission Bay Park 365 days a year and there is no rationale to reduce it in size when usage will only grow in the future. There are more than 700,000 dogs in San Diego County. The city is supposed to plan for future users and that includes additional off-leash users as well as everyone else.

This area is currently accessible for anyone without a dog and will remain so. The improvements FIDO supports would ease disabled access by adding real trails for everyone with or without a dog, disabled or not.

Finally, off-leash dog users have no other place where shoreline access will ever be increased. This free, public area is the only one of its size in Southern California! Users come not only from around the county, but also from other states as well.

It is not comparable to any other dog park in the city. It is the only one where people can walk and run with their off-leash dogs for any significant distance as well as along the shoreline.

Carolyn Chase, President – Fiesta Island Dog Owners

…..

Letters to the Editor

July 7, 2016

Defend Fiesta Island against development
Regarding “Dog owner concerns blocking Fiesta Island improvements” (July 2): What a sad day it will be if we purposefully develop the only undeveloped and accessible coastline area in the midst of our overdeveloped city.

Yes, I am a dog owner who regularly visits Fiesta Island for the purpose of exercising both myself and my three pups, however, I’ve also enjoyed kayaking, walking, bicycling and rollerblading in this urban oasis. This area, accessible and utilized by all as it appears today, is unique and precious.
Though our city has many lovely, planned waterfront parks and off-leash dog parks, there is no other space I know of in the city of San Diego like Fiesta Island. Please leave it in its current, undeveloped, natural, sprawling and somewhat untamed state.

Patrice Maller

North Park

Some things just work. Fiesta Island is one of those. The fenced dog area is unique not only to San Diego but to California.

Having traveled throughout the state, I have never experienced such a wonderful dog/people setting. Spend the money somewhere else.

Katherine Stangle

North Park

{ 5 comments… read them below or add one }

Geoff Page Geoff Page July 13, 2016 at 1:22 pm

There was an interesting Op-Ed in the LA Times back in May about the remaking of Pershing Square in LA. It talks about the competition to redesign the park, the link is below. My favorite quote was this one and it can also be applied to all the “improvements” folks in OB want to make to what little beachfront park we have like a Veteran’s Memorial, a Tot Lot, and exercise stations. It could also apply to Fiesta Island. Why not follow what this writer said:

“This plan comes closest to realizing the holy grail of good public squares, which is providing people a place to stage their own programs, spontaneously and unpredictably, without micromanagement by designers. The best such spaces, such as the typical Italian piazza, may have nothing in them at all, just four streets edging a wide-open, shared commons, where life may play out according to its own plans.”

http://www.latimes.com/opinion/livable-city/la-oe-graham-pershing-square-redesign-20160515-story.html

Reply

Geeta July 13, 2016 at 3:32 pm

I’m all for doing next-to-nothing in the miniscule undeveloped public land we have, including both fiesta island and the little bit of grass at the oceanfront in o.b.
I am all for honoring our veterans, but to take away even an inch at our oceanfront for a memorial is not good thinking. Perhaps a new memorial spot could be found at the expanded ocean beach library space, by the “gee” building, where there might be a tad bit of wiggle room.

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OB Dude July 13, 2016 at 7:33 pm

Whatever gets done here…it cannot require a lot of maintenance because the city and the port are spending less and less to maintain and beautify park areas. Looking at so many park areas around town one sees signs of age, wear and tear and neglect. The cancer park that donors spent millions across from the airport is looking sad. The fountain no longer works, the landscaping has been chopped away, the weeds are abundant etc. This is just one example. Don’t build anything if there is nothing in the budget to maintain it for life-IMO

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bob dorn July 14, 2016 at 10:55 am

I can remember only a few years back, when big thinkers were talking about filling the upper (or lower, I can’t remember which) portions of Florida Canyon with water for boaters (in a coastal desert). Ron Roberts is still pushing for an aerial gondola to carry between Marston Point in Balboa Park to the Gaslamp Quarter. There was a tiny movement to place an Atlas missile in front of the Aero Space Museum not long ago. You have to wonder who put these people in charge of permits; Lawrence Welk? (You can see him every Saturday evening on KPBS, our city’s intellectual channel.)

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Lori Saldaña July 14, 2016 at 3:29 pm

Ms. Swink writes: “FIDO showed up in strength to oppose approval of the plan, demanding that no improvements be made in the almost 100 acres in the present fenced area.”

It would be helpful if someone could describe what these proposed “improvements” are and explain why FIDO is against them.

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