Paris is a standard poodle, 65 pounds, and standing on his hind legs is eye-level with his owner, Jim Martin. Rescued by Jim’s wife, Jan, Paris is a “zen” poodle. He doesn’t get excited about much.
His doggie friend Chloe is a different story. Adopted by the Martins in May, Chloe is a standard poodle/terrier mix, and she’s got lots of energy and woofs and chases things. Chloe needs a dog park, though Paris would no doubt accompany her, resting in a shady corner, meditating on the meaning of life.
The Martins want a dog park for their pets. They studied the dog park issue, weighing pros and cons, finally advocating a dog park project in Aliso Viejo. When the Aliso Viejo Community Association’s board of directors couldn’t move forward with plans, even after five years of study and discussion, Jim Martin decided to step forward with “Friends of Aliso Viejo Dog Park.” The informal committee is independent of AVCA and the city, with volunteers helping to spread the word, “Aliso Viejo needs a dog park.”
“At first we didn’t know if a dog park was a good idea or not,” said Martin. “We looked at potential liability and AVCA budget limitations, but Jan wanted it considered.”
Jan Martin is a member of AVCA’s Parks and Recreation Committee. She and her husband had been active in city and AVCA issues, working in the background, until friends convinced them to take a more active part.
AVCA members have asked why the city of Aliso Viejo doesn’t build the dog park themselves.
A petition to establish cityhood included a covenant with voters that AVCA would remain in place to operate its parks and common areas.
The City Council, originally elected in 2001, lives within its adopted budget each year with reserves in place to compensate when income from the state, in place for seven years following incorporation, ends. To develop a dog park, tax increases through a ballot initiative would have to be approved by two-thirds of voters.
With most Aliso Viejo property owners already paying property and Mello-Roos taxes, in addition to AVCA and local HOA assessments, an increase in taxes might be hard to sell.
“We were getting answers about insurance that were too brief from the AVCA board,” Martin said. “There was no supportive background.”
A homeowner’s association in Northern California, Sea Country in Sonoma County, owns and operates a dog park. An HOA in Ladera Ranch is in the process of building one and, according to Martin, will open Wagsdale Park this fall.
“I’ve been told over and over again that liability is not an issue,” Martin said. “California law is extremely clear, dog owners are responsible. It’s in California’s Civil Code, Section 3342. The code doesn’t make any exemption. Dog bites are the owners’ problem.”
The city of Laguna Niguel has a dog park, and City Manager Tim Casey said in March, “As long as the dog park has been in existence (1997) there have been no claims.”
The cost of Laguna Niguel’s Pooch Park, with chain-linked fencing with two double gated entries, wood-chip ground cover, three picnic tables, two shade structures, a fenced area for small dogs and a drinking fountain was $75,000, and annual cost of maintenance is $6,000.
Libby Cowan with Animal Care Services in Irvine said at the same time that liability is greater for public restrooms than for dog parks.
Jim Agostini, risk manager for the California Association of Community Managers, said homeowner associations are no more liable for dog bites than any city would be.
Dog owners take their canine pets to AVCA parks all the time, Martin said.
“AVCA doesn’t have liability insurance in any of their parks. They are not covered there at all,” he said. “The fact that we don’t have a dog park creates pressure on owners to take their dogs to these other parks. This increases AVCA’s liability, because there’s no outlet for dogs off-leash (in dog parks.)”
What about homeowners who don’t have dogs?
AVCA assessments pay for 11 tot lots when many people in Aliso Viejo don’t have children. AVCA maintains sports fields, including turf, fencing and lighting, even if property owners don’t use those amenities, Martin said.
Cities surrounding Aliso Viejo have dog parks.
“It doesn’t make sense that Aliso Viejo is demographically different from cities around us. I’m concerned that some AVCA board members may be opposed to a dog park for personal reasons.” he said.
“We’ve done the research and we want a fair and objective dialogue based on factual information.”
For information, e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org, or go to www.avdogpark.org.
Source: Orange County Animal Care Services for fiscal year 2003-2004, and estimated figures from GovPopulous through the city’s Web site www.cityofalisoviejo.com
Publication: Aliso Viejo News;Date: July 28, 2005; Section: Viewpoints; Page: 8