Coastal Commission Agrees With FIDO and Cancels Proposed Changes for Fiesta Island Off-Leash Area

by on June 17, 2021 · 0 comments

in Ocean Beach, San Diego

On Thursday, June 10, the California Coastal Commission agreed with the dog-owners’ group, FIDO, and cancelled proposed changes to what’s called San Diego’s largest dog park, the off-leash area on Fiesta Island in Mission Bay.

Staff at the Coastal Commission had apparently attempted to revive a proposal for what they termed broader public access and have the 90-acre off-leash waterfront area opened up. Staff argued that the state’s Coastal Act encouraged opening waterfront areas to as many people and activities as possible.

Yet, the proposal ran smack tab into the lobbying power of the 16,000-member Fiesta Island Dog Owners (FIDO) who persuaded Coastal Commissioners to vote 6-5 against the proposed changes, which left the off-leash area intact. That area is on the island’s southwestern tip.

FIDO contends their stance helps to preserve a treasured and unique area. Linda van Huizum told the commission:

“There are so many areas in San Diego for boat launching, parks, etc. that this unique setting is our last frontier to save a beautiful space without compromising our city once more to developers.”

FIDO supporters claimed their opposition preserves more open space and gives the public the most access to the 470-acre island’s pristine shoreline. They say shoreline access for kayaks and canoes could be established at the South Shores Boat Launch.

Chula Vista Councilmember Steve Padilla, a member of the Coastal Commission, said he was persuaded by FIDO. He was quoted in David Garrick’s San Diego Union-Tribune article:

“It’s one of the only places on the water, in that urban setting, that is completely free and natural, where people can just roam with their pets. In normal circumstances we would encourage diversifying more uses. Context matters here.”

One of the proposals opposed by FIDO would have cut a road through the off-leash area to provide vehicle access to Fiesta Island’s south shore.

FIDO critics – and advocates of the changes – charge FIDO with selfishly using their strength to control more land than it needs at the expense of other groups. Garrick quoted Gary Cannon, a member of the Mission Bay Park Paddlers recreation group:

“While dog parks can be placed anywhere inland and bay swimming, outrigger canoeing and other similar type of uses cannot, dog parks and dog walking are a valuable recreation amenity that should be encouraged and allowed at Fiesta Island. My argument is simply that it should not be the only use allowed in these last 100 acres.”

Reporter Garrick also noted:

This was the second time … FIDO, successfully lobbied against proposals to broaden the use of the 90-acre off-leash area on the southwest corner of Mission Bay Park’s Fiesta Island. City officials in 2019 proposed revamping the area to include a playground, picnic spots, swim areas and a boat launch. But FIDO persuaded the City Council to reject those changes two years ago. … A proposal more than a decade ago to redevelop much of the Fiesta Island off-leash area was abandoned in the face of community backlash, primarily from dog owners. That effort led to the formation of FIDO in 2008.

In addition, Garrick reminded his readers, “Along with the Ocean Beach dog park, the Fiesta Island off-leash area is one of two beach areas the city designated for dogs when they were banned from all other beaches in 1972. … While the plans for the southwest corner of Fiesta Island have generated controversy, the rest of the new master plan for the island has been mostly unchallenged. … City officials say the master plan would allow less significant changes than some previous proposals for the island, which has occupied much of eastern Mission Bay since it was created by dredging in the 1940s.”

Here is a summary of the Master Plan proposals:

Master Plan Proposals:

  • The master plan proposes a variety of upgrades, including new parks, playgrounds, volleyball courts, marsh areas and habitat preserves.
  • Most of new amenities and significant changes located in the southeastern portion of Fiesta Island, across the water from SeaWorld;
  • Upgrades would include turf fields, children’s play structures, picnic areas, a camping area, restrooms, public plazas, hiking trails, parking lots and a concession stand;
  • tip of the southeast portion of the island, called Stony Point, would remain a fenced-off habitat area for least terns;
  • northern portion of Fiesta Island would remain primarily a habitat preserve, with only expansion of marsh areas, a new channel to boost water quality and a wildlife observation area;
  • central portion of the island would continue to host the annual Over the Line tournament each July, and the San Diego Youth Aquatic Center and the Fiesta Island Youth Camp would continue to operate as usual;
  • only changes there would be creation of new habitat area and upgrades to sand recreation area, including an emergency shelter for large animals, new volleyball courts and other recreational amenities;
  • new master plan would leave Fiesta Island Road as the only access route to the island, but it would change traffic flow on the one-lane road from counterclockwise to clockwise and add a roundabout near the entrance off East Mission Bay Drive.

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