Correction: An earlier version of this story stated the association’s dog park renovation plan was approved by its board of directors on Dec. 10. It was approved by its board of directors in November and approved by the Arroyo Grande Parks and Recreation Commission on Dec. 10, following which the public had 10 days to appeal.
The Five Cities Dog Park Association has cut its ties with the city of Arroyo Grande, citing “lack of city support,” problems with park-goers and public opposition to its proposed plan to renovate the Elm Street Dog Park.
As a result, they will no longer manage the dog park located next to the Soto Sports Complex, association President Emma Valdivieso said.
“It’s been years of hard work, volunteers and money out of us, and now the true colors are showing,” Valdivieso said.
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The association has managed the Elm Street Dog Park since May 2009, raising about $123,000 for park improvements and supplies, as well as providing “Bark Ranger” volunteers who monitor the park and ensure its rules are followed.
In recent years, the association has had trouble with shards of glass being placed in suggestion boxes and anonymous letters being sent to the group decrying its fundraising efforts, among other issues, Valdivieso said.
The upset came to a head last month, however, when several park users brought complaints to the city about the association’s plan to replace the wood chips in the big dog area of the park with artificial turf and decomposed granite.
The plan was distributed among association members and made available to the public for several months last year, and was supported by the city Recreation Services department, said Jerry Bunin, an association member.
The Arroyo Grande Parks and Recreation Commission approved the plan at its Dec. 10 meeting, and for the 10 days following, heard nothing from any members of the public attempting to appeal the decision, he said (any appeals must take place within 10 days of a commission decision, according to Bunin).
Then in January, a petition began circulating calling the renovations into question, and asking for more time to review the project before construction began.
Among concerns were worries that the artificial turf the group had chosen would not drain properly, and urine and feces would clog up the area and create a bad smell.
Bunin, who was in charge of the renovation project, said the association attempted to work with the city to address the concerns, but in the end, the city Recreation Services department asked for the group to provide an additional $30,000 to develop a different proposal using a more expensive form of artificial turf that would address the drainage and smell concerns.
Bunin and the group declined.
“Between all the people harassing us, between all the difficulties getting volunteers to help us, the difficulties of fundraising, we were on our last legs already,” Bunin said. “We all looked at this and went, ‘no way — we are done.’ ”
As a result, the Five Cities Dog Park Association board of directors decided unanimously at its meeting Jan. 28 to terminate its relationship with the city of Arroyo Grande.
It has returned roughly $2,000 to the individuals and businesses that donated solely to the park’s renovation fund, though some who donated declined to take back the funds and asked for it to be put to the association’s other projects in the area, Valdivieso said.
In the group’s termination letter to the City Council and city staff, Valdivieso writes:
“We are opening up the opportunity for another group of community-minded volunteers to create a new relationship with the city and assume the important responsibility of keeping the dog park open.”
The city is evaluating its options to continue operation of the park, said John Rogers, director of recreation services. Contracted maintenance staff have been hired to perform regular duties in the meantime, he said.
The City Council will also consider the issue at its Feb. 10 meeting, he said.