Healdsburg dogs to keep their park
Published: Wednesday, July 11, 2012 at 3:00 a.m.
Last Modified: Wednesday, July 11, 2012 at 9:32 p.m.
Dog owners packed Healdsburg City Hall on Wednesday night to make it abundantly clear they do not want the city to close a popular dog park on Fitch Mountain.
The outcry over a suggestion that the Villa dog park be relocated made an impact with members of the Healdsburg Park and Recreation Commission, who said they had no intention of making such a recommendation to the City Council.
“The dog park never really factored into our discussions,” Commissioner Kent Mitchell said of the commission's task to recommend how to make profitable the nearby city-owned Villa Chanticleer.
“We're not going to be closing the dog park,” said Commissioner Gus Hermoso. He added that residents, including himself, “have a lot of blood, sweat and tears put in the dog park. We wouldn't turn around and discard it.”
A standing-room-only crowd of more than 80 people filled the City Council chamber. Most were there to back the one-and-a-half acre dog park, which was described as the best in Northern California. Some dog owners who praised the park came from Windsor and Rohnert Park.
They talked about how the shaded park serves not only as a socialization venue for dogs, but for humans who forge friendship and bonds.
“We didn't know anyone when we moved here. It was the dog park that created a community for us,” said Healdsburg resident Ann Godfrey, who recounted how one of her dog park friends lent her a car after a tree toppled onto her vehicle.
Commissioners said the alarm over the dog park came from a small mention in a background report that was blown out of proportion.
The dog park was cited for possible relocation on a list of about 80 “improvement recommendations” for the city-owned Villa Chanticleer that resulted from a brainstorming session on how to improve and best manage the community center.
“This is not something we are considering at this point” assistant City Manager David Mickaelian emphasized Wednesday. “The dog park is not part of the conversation.”
He said the city wants to improve the financial situation of the Villa Chanticleer and is considering leasing it out to a third party to avoid having to continue subsidizing the community center. For the past several years, it's been losing $40,000 to $50,000 annually.
Redevelopment money has been used to cover the gap, but that money has evaporated with the state's elimination of redevelopment agencies, Commissioner Mitchell noted.
On Wednesday, commissioners unanimously recommended the city solicit requests to have an outside hospitality group operate the Villa as a high-end, special event venue.
To preserve it as a community gathering place, any contract would include guaranteed dates and preferred pricing for local nonprofits to hold annual events as well as reduced pricing for locals.
The 6,000-square-foot Villa had its origins as a French family resort that was eventually taken over by gamblers. It sat empty until the late 1950s, when city took it over as a community center and park.
It has been the setting for weddings, high school reunions, proms, Christmas parties and other events
“We are patrons of the Villa ourselves. Our kids were married there. Memorials are staged there, It's emotional for us,” said Commissioner Mitchell. “We want to keep it as a viable amenity. It's owned by the citizens of Healdsburg. It belongs to all of us.”
Members of the American Legion, who run the bar at the Villa Chanticleer, had suggested during a brainstorming session on the future of the Villa that the dog park be moved.
They said there was a lack of compatibility between the Villa wedding and event use and that dogs were disruptive with their barking.
Dog lovers disputed that.
In the past five years, Animal Control officers have not received any complaints regarding barking dogs at the park, said Cecilia Pietropaoli, a member of the Healdsburg Dog Park Committee who owns a pet-sitting service
Several neighboring residents said they had no problem with dogs at the park.
They did have complaints about amplified music, especially on hot nights when the doors to the Villa are opened. Loud auctioneers also came in for criticism and even church ministers “who feel their words are so golden they must be heard by everyone,” said nearby resident Charles Duffy.
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