Amid public backlash, Laguna Woods votes to reopen dog park closed 4 days ago
Laguna Woods City Council unanimously voted to reopen A Place for Paws dog park after its closure on Sunday, Aug. 13, sparked protests and a petition drive.
During the Wednesday, Aug. 16 regular meeting, the council voted to reopen the dog park on Ridge Route Drive for the next 60 days while city staff looks for alternative locations and partnerships for a dog park.
The decision comes nearly one week after the council voted to close the park due to what city officials called physical deterioration and property title issues, which was followed by outrage from the dog-park community.
“Staff’s recommendation (to close the park) and the city council’s action on it has obviously generated significant controversy,” City Manager Chris Macon said. “Nothing suggested by staff, however, was motivated in any way by any animus against the dog park users. It was a conservative policy recommendation in the face of unwelcome discoveries of potential liability.”
At last week’s meeting, city officials said they did not know who owned the underlying property of the dog park, which has been maintained by the city since it opened nearly 17 years ago. People against the dog park’s closure questioned the city’s credibility in not knowing who owned the land.
Now, Macon said, they have unearthed information that the land is likely shared by the Golden Rain Foundation, which oversees amenities for Laguna Woods Village, and 200-plus property owners — likely the original housing mutuals in the retirement community formerly known as Leisure World.
Laguna Woods resident David Cohen, 66, said that within the group of dog-park advocates, they came close to finding the property title owner via public records.
“If what we have discovered is true, then why has the city’s attorney spent so much money on title searches, as he stated, and how many billable hours has he charged the taxpayers?” Cohen said in an email to the Register.
The city has reached out to Laguna Woods Village management to help clarify who has the underlying ownership, Macon said.
On Tuesday, Aug. 15, a day before the decision to reopen the park, nearly 30 protesters and several dogs gathered on the sidewalk in front of Laguna Woods City Hall to protest the dog park’s closure. Signs displaying “Stop the closure of the dog park,” “Save the dog park,” and “Dogs have rights too,” could be seen by drivers on El Toro Road.
“All we’re asking is to be a part of the dialogue,” Cohen said at the protest.
Cohen spearheaded a petition to keep the dog park open and collected nearly 1,300 signatures within 60 hours.
“I’ve been going to the dog park for 16 years,” Kathleen Karls, 66, said at the protest. “My little dog is blind and she knows every square inch of that park. To move her to another park is just wrong, it’s just not safe for her.”
Karls, of Laguna Hills, also noted that with her bad back and recent knee surgery, she wouldn’t be able to walk her dog regularly. Karls said she is not the only one with physical restrictions and that the dog park allows people to go outside who cannot regularly walk their dog.
Councilman Noel Hatch said he talked to protesters in front of city hall and listened to what they had to say. Councilwoman Cynthia Conners and Hatch, both who have practiced law, said last week’s decision was based on legal advice from City Attorney David Cosgrove.
“Our city attorney always advises us to take the safest route, and my history is that I try to follow legal advice,” Conners said at the meeting. “But as an elected representative I also have an obligation to the people of this city.”
Conners said the decision to close the park “ate at her” throughout the week and she is happy that the city will be looking at alternatives.
Cohen said he is happy with the city’s decision to keep the park open while they look for other options. He proposed the city look at creating a committee to seek solutions and to find ways to fund redevelopment of the park.
“We actually want to thank you all for this because I realize that essentially, not intentionally, you started a grassroots movement that really demonstrates democracy in action,” Cohen said, addressing the council.
The dog park is expected to reopen Thursday morning.
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