By Zamná Ávila, Assistant Editor
Long Beach District 4 Councilman Patrick O’Donnell was recently forced to defend the allocation of $65,000 towards the building of a potential dog park at El Dorado Park. Some opponents are calling his support for the dog park a form of payback for the Friends of El Dorado Dog Park endorsement he received during his re-election campaign for a third term in office. He denies those allegations.
According to city records, O’Donnell set aside $31,300 from the $500,000 in uplands oil funds allocated to the district and $33,700 from the district infrastructure budget, totalling $65,000.
However, “that money has not been spent,” O’Donnell said. “(And, it’s) only to be used once that’s been completely reviewed by staff and presented to the Parks and Recs Commission … at this time we don’t have a viable proposal.”
O’Donnell said he spent the majority of the remaining $435,000 on strengthening sidewalk and structures in all ares of his district.
“Without a doubt, the streets needed repair,” he said. “I’m not apologizing for fixing streets and sidewalks, and there are more to do. Streets and sidewalks are my duty.
Mary Matthiensen, president of Friends of El Dorado Dog Park, said the nonprofit organization’s support for the councilman did not come with expectation of monetary support. She said she did not even contribute financially to his re-election.
“We needed a councilman to support our dog park and we found one, and it happened to be in the Fourth District,” said Matthiensen, 57. “We wanted someone who cared about animal welfare and he’s demonstrated that he cares… If the money is there or not, I’ll still support Patrick O’Donnell.”
The group’s open Facebook page between February and early April tells another story, with posts made on behalf of the organization urging members to get out the vote in favor of O’Donnell. According to the Internal Revenue Service, “to be tax-exempt under section 501(c)(3) of the Internal Revenue Code, an organization must be organized and operated exclusively for exempt purposes set forth in section 501(c)(3), and none of its earnings may inure to any private shareholder or individual. In addition, it may not be an action organization, i.e., it may not attempt to influence legislation as a substantial part of its activities and it may not participate in any campaign activity for or against political candidates.”
The issue began In November 2011, when the Long Beach Parks and Recreation Commission voted in support of locating a 1.6-acre dog park, near the 605 Freeway and Willow at El Dorado Park. This location is also near the Long Beach Animal Care Services and the Community Gardens on a maintenance yard. The commission stipulated that the building and the operations of the dog parks should be done with privately raised funds.
Parks and Recreation gave the group two years to raise funds and develop an identifiable and financially viable plan for the building and operations of the dog park.
In March of the same year, the estimated cost of the project was about $150,000, which was not available in the city budget.
O’Donnell says he recognizes the concerns of the group operating Community Gardens, which has expressed worries that the dog park was sited too close to their urban garden, but he insists that there is more room for discussion.
“There is a lot of growling,” O’Donnell said. “My job is to find a solution … I’m not just raising my hands and walking away.”
Ann Cantrell, former president of the Long Beach Audubon Society and a member of the Friends of the Nature Center, which is also near the proposed dog park, noted that dog parks pose health risks such as parvovirus exposure and contamination from dog feces and urine during the rainy season.
Cantrell notes that there are already six dog parks in the city, and three others in nearby Cerritos, Alamitos and Huntington Beach.
“There is no need for yet another. Plus, the dog park would serve a very small number of park users,” she said.
Cantrell also worries about increased traffic and road repair and increased noise that would disturb the serenity of the Nature Center and Community Gardens. A dog park would also pose a safety concern to the dogs because of coyotes, which come down from a nearby creek and the San Gabriel River.
“I’m sorry, but, nature adapts better than they do,” counters Matthiensen.
O’Donnell said that the president of the Community Gardens has told him that his group just wants to be part of the process.
The president of the Community Gardens echoed O’Donnell, saying, “Our stance is that the Gardens will be supportive of the dog park in whatever way we can”
Matthiensen, said it took her group two years to get a location, and now they are working on funding. She declined to disclose how much her group has garnered for the dog park, but said there are many plans in place to seek more funding, including events, social media marketing, sponsorship solicitations and rendering presentations.
Not unlike the opponents of the dog park, Matthiensen said only a small group is against it.
“They are just not listening to the overall public that wants the dog park,” she said. “It’s a small group that’s pushing … but I’m not giving up.
What it comes down to is that “not everyone likes dogs,” O’Donnell said. “I’m a supporter of this project… Other areas (in the city) have a dog park. Why shouldn’t the east side of Long Beach have a dog park?”
Donna Marykwas, a freelance science consultant and former Cal State Long Beach professor, said that the potential for flooding during rainy seasons might contaminate the local soil with dog urine and fecal matter. Maryklas is also a former member of the Community Gardens, however she no longer gardens there because she started her own nonprofit that includes community gardening.
“I love dogs, I’m not against (them but) putting them in close contact (with the community garden) could increase the risk (people) getting infected,” Maryklas said. “Not all dog owners will clean up after their animals, and dogs, being carnivores, carry lots pathogens that can be carried from the intestinal tract to fecal matter to the soil. And, any water that comes in contact with the soil. For example, during rainy season.”
But O’Donnell said there is a good distance from both the Nature Center and the Community Gardens. Moreover, everything in the gardens are elevated and not at a ground level to be affected by floods, Matthiensen said.
Not true, said Les Edens, a community gardener. He said that though Page may not have been around during stormy weather and rain floods, he has. Unlike the nearby Animal Care facility and the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty Animals facility nearby, the dog park is outdoors.
“I don’t object to a dog park but the location,” said Edens, who grows cucumbers, lettuce, eggplants, corn, squash, green beans, tomatoes, artichoke and other vegetables in his garden, which is raised. “Every time it has rained the lower gardens have flooded.”
And then, there is the funding of the dog park.
“The biggest problem right now is that they had to build it with private funds and now we find out that Councilman Patrick O’Donnell is using $65,000 of upland oil (funds) to finance this,” said Cantrell, a retired teacher. “Parks and Rec. said they were not to use public funds. If it is available, it should be used for infrastructure… My feeling is that this is not a good way of spending public funds.”
O’Donnell said he didn’t believe that to be accurate.
“(The Parks and Recreation Department) didn’t want (the dog park) to be part of the general fund,” O’Donnell said. “The idea is a public-private sponsorship should we get sponsors for the park. The idea is to find a unique way to finance the dog park… This is infrastructure.”
Moreover, the dog park will be available to the public, not just to the private nonprofit group. After all, the land is owned by the city and it’s public land for public use, he said.
However, parking may or may not be free, depending on the Parks and Recreation Department, O’Donnell said. There is a charge to park for the Nature Center area at this time, so the same might apply to the dog park. But that again, is yet to be decided.
Some of those unique ways to finance the park might be by corporate sponsorships and naming rights for funding the building and operations, or even volunteer groups, he said.
“This is all being developed,” O’Donnell said. “The entire effort is in a conceptual stage … This baby hasn’t been born.”
Correction: Donna Marykwas name was misspelled in the July 24-post.