Dogs banned from Soto Sports Complex in Arroyo Grande

Cassandra Cox tosses a tennis ball with Abby, her Labradoodle, at the dog park at Arroyo Grande's Elm Street Park, which is adjacent to Soto Sports Complex.
Cassandra Cox tosses a tennis ball with Abby, her Labradoodle, at the dog park at Arroyo Grande's Elm Street Park, which is adjacent to Soto Sports Complex. dmiddlecamp@thetribunenews.com

Dogs will no longer be welcome at Arroyo Grande’s Soto Sports Complex, the Arroyo Grande City Council decided this week.

Citing health and safety reasons, council members voted 4-1 on Tuesday to ban dogs from the sports facility, which includes tennis courts and fields used for baseball, softball, soccer and football.

The ordinance will come back to the council for final approval at its next meeting, and then take effect 30 days later — just in time for the start of the spring sports season.

Councilman Tim Brown dissented, saying he believed the proposed ordinance was too intrusive and unnecessary.

The other council members disagreed.

“This is not just a regular park,” Councilman Jim Guthrie said. “This is a sports facility.”

About 5,000 children and adults use the facilities each year, said John Rogers, Arroyo Grande’s recreation services director. The complex on Ash Street is used about 290 days a year for reserved sports activities, primarily from March through December.

Over the past five years, there has been an increase in the number of people bringing their dogs with them to the facility — and the number of dog-related incidents has also risen, Rogers said.

City staff and facility users have reported instances of dogs fighting, barking, scaring children, running off-leash, people tripping over leashes, and children knocked off the banks at two of the fields onto cement pads below (which could range from a 2- to 3-foot fall).

There’s also been a spike in the amount of dog urine and feces on the playing fields and nearby areas.

The exact number of incidents was not available, but verbal reports have increased each of the last five years, Rogers said.

In response to a question from Brown, Rogers said the city has not been held liable for any incident at the facility in the past five years.

The ban would not apply to specially trained guide dogs, signal dogs or service dogs, nor would it apply to any other city parks, including the adjacent Elm Street Park, which includes an off-leash dog park.

Kristina Bradbury, an Arroyo Grande resident who has three children playing softball and Little League, told council members she supported the ban.

“During the spring season these fields become a second home to us,” said Bradbury, who also owns a dog.

She said she’s seen some dogs scare families and distract players, and said the prevalence of dog feces on the fields is unhealthy and unsanitary — especially since her two eldest children tend to dive and roll on the grass while playing.

Mayor Tony Ferrara agreed, recalling an occasion when his daughter was playing softball and another player missed a fly ball because catching it would have required to her to step in dog poop.

“This is a measure that is long overdue,” he said.

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