Anaheim's brand-new La Palma Dog Park is all set to open this Saturday with a buncha festivities because dogs! A dedication ceremony starts at 10 a.m. and Frisbee demonstrations will entertain the four-footed and two-footed alike all day. After the celebratory events wrap up, dogs, both big and small, are free to roam the grassy areas without a leash. Inside the six-foot high gates are newly furnished benches and watering stations for the hounds.
While the city and others will celebrate the occasion, others remember what the city did to make it happen.
"I wish they would tear it down," says Bill Johnston, a homeless man pushing a shopping cart near the park. "Homeless people used to sleep there, minding their own business."
The northeast end of La Palma Park, just next to Glover Stadium, is where a sizable number of Anaheim's homeless used to pitch enough tents to form an encampment. "I stayed there many times in one too many tents," Johnston says. The sight was deemed blight by residents and an anti-homeless ordinance banning camping at all hours in public areas followed in late 2013.
Earlier that year, Anaheim's Community Service Department held a meeting where the idea of converting that area into a dog park was discussed, in an effort to push out the homeless. That didn't happen, as homeless have set up an encampment next to that area.
After the ordinance and construction of the dog park, homeless people are taking to the adjacent alleys by the Salvation Army at night to sleep on hard, uneven pavement. "I've stayed there many times, too," Johnston says. "Cops come through everyday, check and ransack everything." He puts the encampment after dark at around 50-70 pitched tents with a few hundred people.
"In central Anaheim, it's an optimal location," says Community Services Director Terry Lowe, talking about the dog park. As for the homeless? "Through the city's partnership with City Net, we continue to seek opportunities to work with the homeless population to provide needed services, a safe location for their belongings, and in the future a year-round homeless shelter," he adds. "That is still a top priority for us and we hope that will be accomplished soon."
Saturday's opening day festivities isn't the end of Anaheim's poodle party. Two other dogs parks are slated for Anaheim Hills and West Anaheim. There's also one more celebration in store for La Palma Dog Park. A finished monument dedicated to Anaheim police K-9s is planned to be unveiled at a later date. The city council originally pledged a $25,000 loan to the Bruno-loving Kash for K9s nonprofit before Anaheim's hotel industry fronted the seed funding.
"They don't know what to do with their money," Johnston says of the city before leaving. "They like to waste and spend it on foolish things."
Follow Gabriel San Román on Twitter @gsanroman2