News

Menlo Park moms and dog owners battle over Nealon Park's open field

 

It's a brisk Tuesday morning, and the air is clean and fresh. Menlo Park's Nealon Park is humming with energy. An all-women exercise group, led by an enthusiastic instructor, is roused into step-ups on the softball bleachers, exertion evident in the tiny clouds exhaled. The adjacent daycare is full of toddlers happily engaged by their caretakers.

Across the park, two people stand talking with their dogs. They are Gary Kenworthy, a dogwalker from Redwood City with dogs Pepper and Mango, and Kathy Schoendorf, a longtime resident of Menlo Park with her dog, Kassidy.

They are two of what they say is a crowd of at least 30 dog owners who flock to the softball field for the two hours each weekday morning it becomes a dedicated dog park. Over the years, Ms. Schoendorf says, she's developed a strong network of friends among the other dog owners at Nealon Park.

"It's like therapy for us," she said.

The ethos of community at the dog park, she said, shows when it comes to doo-doo duty.

"You just pick it up," she said, even if the droppings don't belong to your dog.

She says she's lived in Menlo Park for 30 years, never had kids, and has always paid her taxes. "All I want," she said, "is someplace to take my dog."

Before Nealon Park, she says, she used to take her dog to La Entrada Middle School on Sharon Road, where she had problems with her dog running away.

The Nealon Park dog area trial began in 2003 to give the city's canines a place of their own. The city designated certain times and areas at Willow Oaks Park and Nealon Park for dogs to be off-leash.

However, the park now has $250,000 in city funding budgeted for renovations, and Menlo Park Community Services Director Cherise Brandell said a priority is establishing a permanent dog park area. Sharing the softball field with dogs was a temporary fix, and while it lasted more than a decade, she said, it creates certain hygiene hazards. The dogs should really have their own space, she said, so athletes using the softball field don't have to constantly watch their step.

Preliminary designs for the dog park place it on an open field adjacent to the Nealon Park playground. However, local parents aren't so sure they're ready to give up that area, which their kids play on, for dogs to be there.

A survey and input meeting held Nov. 10 sparked a number of territorial emails to the City Council from neighborhood residents and frequent park-goers, particularly mothers of young children.

Several said that their kids play, learn to walk, and even have birthday parties there. The loss of the open field, some said, would have a negative impact on their children's play.

"Having dogs run around with their droppings and chaos will make that area unsafe for young families like ours," wrote Alison Wong.

Annley Dempsey wrote that many children, including her own, have learned to ride their bike in this open field, with the grass cushioning their fall. "I guess if this place were lost, my youngest son will need to experience the harsh reality of living in an urban world and crash on asphalt while pedaling," she said.

Yee Yie Fogarty wrote: "I do not think that the interests of dogs/dog owners should supersede the vital role of play and exercise in children's lives."

While some might argue that the adjacent playground ought to fulfill a place for play and exercise for children, other parents say the open space is important for fostering "unstructured play" for children.

"While the playgrounds are so beloved in our family, it's the open space that invites (my daughter) to use her imagination and learn how to interact with the world on her own terms," mother Lauren Uyeshiro said.

During a City Council meeting Nov. 10, several others added their two cents' worth of feedback: "Give children more weight than the dogs," said Knute Ream. "This is a big deal to parents in the community," said Sarah Speakman. Both are parents of small children.

Mayor Catherine Carlton told the speakers the council would listen to dog owners, parents, users of the softball field and nearby residents before making any decisions.

Comments

4 people like this
Posted by Venita
a resident of Menlo Park: other
on Nov 18, 2015 at 12:09 pm

While it is great to see Nealon used as a dog park, I have experienced stepping in poop left behind, and now scramble to check before letting my kids step out there. I commend the dog owners who clean up after others, we need more responsible dog owners out there. I would prefer that field be dedicated to dogs, and no more softball, since the balls go over the fences and into apartment windows, and the games run late and disturb neighbors. But children's safety first, please.


5 people like this
Posted by Sandy
a resident of Menlo Park: Allied Arts/Stanford Park
on Nov 18, 2015 at 1:38 pm

Open discussion is great and I think will help us get to the an appropriate solution. But we should be clear. There does not appear to be a proposal that would result in a situation where ""dogs run around with their droppings and chaos will make [the proposed open field] area unsafe for young families like ours..." This is because Menlo Park has a leash law. If that area becomes a dog park, it will be designated as such and fenced (as is required for off-leash dogs in Menlo Park), and it will be ONLY a dog park, i.e., families without dogs will NOT be in there. So concern about kids playing in the droppings is not an issue. The relevant here concern is the complete loss of the open area for other uses.

Other concerns are (1) the noise of barking dogs, which become all day 7 days a week, instead of the current situation where it is 2 hours for 5 days a week, (2) the impact on parking along Middle Avenue, causing potential problems for pre-school families dropping of children, (3) the noise impact on the families living along Middle Avenue, Morey Lane, and Blake Street. While it is true some residents may see a reduction in noise if the dogs move out of the ball field, noise will increase for others and be an issue ALL DAY, instead of just for 2 hours 5 days a week.


7 people like this
Posted by Really?
a resident of Menlo Park: Linfield Oaks
on Nov 18, 2015 at 1:39 pm

The fact that the City lets dogs poop on a popular baseball/softball/soccer field is completely absurd. The fact that this has been happening for a decade is even more appalling. Thanks to the City leaders who are finally addressing this disgusting issue. Better late than never.


Like this comment
Posted by Sandy
a resident of Menlo Park: Allied Arts/Stanford Park
on Nov 18, 2015 at 1:50 pm

To "Really" : Valid point, many will agree with you. But even given universal agreement, the SOLUTION to this needs to be vetted properly. As you say, to its credit, The City is addressing this concern. However, it is ALSO and proposing a solution. You and I (and maybe many others) think the concern is valid. But the solution being proposed is not; in my opinion, it has too many downsides.


14 people like this
Posted by Unbelievable
a resident of another community
on Nov 18, 2015 at 3:03 pm

[Post removed. Please give your view on the topic without negative comments on other posters.]


11 people like this
Posted by For kids, dogs, and open space
a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Nov 18, 2015 at 3:39 pm

I was at the Nealon meeting and discovered that 'Menlo Park moms and dog owners' are actually in agreement. Both groups strongly support the dog park remaining where it is on the sports field -- with vigilant cleanup and perhaps a professional pooper scooper to manage what might be missed, the park can be super clean for sports.

I am deeply disappointed that city staff did not present this alternative where dogs remain on the fields and the real issues are addressed. The real issue is cleaning up after dog messes and ensuring that dogs do not dig up the grass -- this is manageable. There was no need to stir up this issue.

There was also talk among dog owners and other residents that the dog park be regulated like the tennis courts are and one must pay annual fees to get an entry key into the dog park. There could be rates for residents and for non-resident use. Money collected could be used to maintain the sports fields. Great idea! And save the allocated $250,000 capital improvements or use them for improving/maintaining the fields, not for moving the park.


6 people like this
Posted by matt
a resident of Menlo Park: Fair Oaks
on Nov 18, 2015 at 4:09 pm

"I guess if this place were lost, my youngest son will need to experience the harsh reality of living in an urban world and crash on asphalt while pedaling"

You mean the "harsh reality" of biking in the street?

[part removed.]


13 people like this
Posted by Menlo Voter
a resident of Menlo Park: other
on Nov 18, 2015 at 4:30 pm

Menlo Voter is a registered user.

"I guess if this place were lost, my youngest son will need to experience the harsh reality of living in an urban world and crash on asphalt while pedaling"

You mean like the rest of us did?

[Part removed. Please make your point without negative characterizations of other posters.]


3 people like this
Posted by Downtowner
a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Nov 18, 2015 at 5:21 pm

[Part removed. Please comment on the topic, and not attack other posters.]

What's wrong with learning to ride in your driveway?

I vote for the dog park [part removed.]
Have a birthday party at your house, please. Your debris draws flies, ants, and bees which bother anyone who comes after you.

Fencing the dog park takes care of "poop in the play area" so what's the problem?


7 people like this
Posted by I didn't know that
a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Nov 18, 2015 at 6:07 pm

This is a Nealon Park discussion but there is another problem with dogs and kids in Menlo Park. For years now the grass fields at La Entrada, and in particular the fenced Little League field, have been used as an off-leash area for dog owners. Perhaps having more 'dog only' areas, and enforcing the leash law, will benefit both groups.

When you put a large group of dogs in one area it doesn't matter whether you clean up after your dog or not. There is still too much waste left behind for our kids to slide around in.



10 people like this
Posted by SRS
a resident of Menlo Park: Linfield Oaks
on Nov 18, 2015 at 8:47 pm

SRS is a registered user.

As someone who both attended the Nealon Dog Park meeting and spoke at the City Council meeting, I find this article unfortunate and a misrepresentation of the situation. My understanding is that both the dog owners and the parents have similar concerns to the City’s proposal (1) There was no notice given to the dog owners (or parents) of issues and the planned change, (2) Arguably, no notice was given to citizens of the planned move to the grassy area prior to “approval”, (2) The City does not seem to have studied the needs of the dog owners or the parents who use Nealon Park, (3) Nor has the City studied any other alternatives to the current Dog Park, but has simply proposed moved it 50 feet to a space of similar size.

My impression from the Dog Park and City Council Meetings, is that rather than becoming an issue that pits dog owners against mom’s or sports enthusiasts, this is an opportunity where interested parties want to work together to find an agreeable solution.


6 people like this
Posted by Water
a resident of another community
on Nov 19, 2015 at 12:59 am

Water is a registered user.

I love the congruency of a fenced in area for dogs adjacent to the two fenced in areas for kids.


7 people like this
Posted by Rational
a resident of Menlo Park: University Heights
on Nov 19, 2015 at 2:00 am

Rational is a registered user.

Two quick points:

First, this shouldn't be characterized as dog owners vs. parents. Many families with children also are dog owners and dog lovers. Many parents and grandparents are empty-nesters with dogs. And many kids and parents without dogs still are very happy to see and interact with the dogs at Nealon, La Entrada, etc.

Second, a lot of the comments here seem to be concerned with dog poop. While it certainly can be gross, I believe the issue is blown way out of proportion. To be sure, dog poop does get left behind on occasion. But it usually gets picked up quite quickly by a fellow dog owner who comes across it. I have been on those fields almost daily for many years -- running around with my dogs, running around with friends, playing sports, frisbee, etc., and don't recall ever stepping in poop. I'm sure it happens once in while to someone, but let's not exaggerate the problem. And if you're worried about hygiene, please understand that people catch diseases from other people, not from dogs. There are some extremely rare exceptions, but you're far more likely to catch the flu or some other virus from your fellow humans this winter than any disease from a dog or any other animal.


6 people like this
Posted by Dogs Are Smarter Than People
a resident of Menlo Park: Downtown
on Nov 19, 2015 at 9:08 am

Dogs Are Smarter Than People is a registered user.

First of all, this is another example of TERRIBLE REPORTING by the Almanac: Zero investigation, missing the key points and issues then publishing a title and article that will stir unrest but help nobody.

1) 40% of area families include dogs. Families with dogs have already been banned from most County Parks. The issue here is not about giving access to dogs or animal rights in Menlo Park. The issue is about families with dogs having a place to spend time together and, as taxpayers, having access to a public space. Children who grow up around pets and animals are healthier and more resistant to allergy and disease. Now that Menlo Park's high density housing policies have resulted in flag lots, the issue is giving the children and their families a place to throw a ball to their dog. They don't have back yards anymore.

2) MENLO PARK is the ONLY city in Silicon Valley without a permanent space for families with dogs to use. Why is this? Menlo Park has a large financial reserve.
A dog run for people with dogs is a basic human service in nearly all urban areas in California, except Menlo Park. The City of Menlo Park has failed to provide the basic facilities that its residents have requested and needed for decades.

3) The crap that is left on the fields is not left behind by the responsible users during the few permitted dog park hours. It is left behind by Menlo Park's thousands of other transient resident job holders who rent high density housing, then use public parks at lunch or after work to exercise their dogs because Menlo Park does not have a designated space. This PROBLEM EXISTED BEFORE the dog parks were established the problem and will remain after they are taken away. Thus, this foolish debate continues in perpetuity without advancement toward a permanent solution.

4) If you want more crap picked up, provide more bag boxes. There used to be dog bag boxes that were hung at Nealon Park and the parks department took them down. Now people walk over, forget to bring a bag and leave it. Problem of the commons in every city.

5) The Almanac makes lots of money reporting on every home invasion, robbery, crime or tragedy in Menlo Park. Does the Almanac dare to report the percentage of homes with dogs that get broken into? Nope, that would take actual research by the Almanac. And of course, the result would show that HOME OWNERS WITH DOGS AND THEIR FAMILIES ARE SAFER than those without dogs.

It would be nice to see the community of Menlo Park have an actual intellectual discussion toward a long term resolution as its local newspaper is incapable of conducting an intelligent investagation of a decade old issue.


2 people like this
Posted by pogo
a resident of Woodside: other
on Nov 19, 2015 at 10:15 am

pogo is a registered user.

"A dog run for people with dogs is A BASIC HUMAN SERVICE..." Food, shelter ... and a place for your dog to poop. Makes sense.

"(The crap) is left behind by Menlo Park's thousands of other transient resident job holders..." Yes, let's blame those darn transients - it couldn't possibly be OUR people who are always "responsible" with their dog poop.

"If you want more crap picked up, provide more bag boxes." Yes, because "responsible" citizens can't possibly remember to bring their own bags when they are taking their dogs out to poop.

I don't know if dogs are smarter than people but they are certainly smarter than some of these posts!


3 people like this
Posted by Water
a resident of another community
on Nov 19, 2015 at 12:20 pm

Water is a registered user.

Dogs Are Smarter - you're wrong that: 2) MENLO PARK is the ONLY city in Silicon Valley without a permanent space for families with dogs to use. Why is this? Menlo Park has a large financial reserve.
A dog run for people with dogs is a basic human service in nearly all urban areas in California, except Menlo Park. The City of Menlo Park has failed to provide the basic facilities that its residents have requested and needed for decades.

Maybe you need to improve your research abilities, too.


9 people like this
Posted by Nanc
a resident of Menlo Park: Linfield Oaks
on Nov 19, 2015 at 1:06 pm

Nanc is a registered user.

So the parents with young children who are trying to put the kibosh on a designated dog park at Nealon Park fail to realize that their children will now be able to play on the baseball field once the dogs are booted. That's even more space than the proposed dog park. Not to mention that the kids already have a huge playground at Nealon, actually 2 playgrounds if you count the one at the preschool (open to the public after hours). Sounds like these parents need a lesson in sharing.


Sorry, but further commenting on this topic has been closed.

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