SAN JUAN CAPISTRANO, Calif. — When Jenna Burgdorf sat at a picnic table enjoying San Juan Capistrano’s new dog park recently, the 20-year-old had no idea she was violating park rules regarding footwear.
The culprit? Burgdorf’s open-foot sandals, or flip-flops.
City law prohibits the simple staple of Southern California beach life from being worn at the city’s new dog park. The regulation is based on recommendations from a state insurance agency that protects the city from legal liabilities, but members of the five-person Parks, Recreation and Senior Services Commission call it ridiculous and want it overturned.
“I’m a Southern California girl. The only time I get out of my flip-flops is if it’s snowing outside,” said Jenny Friess, commission vice chairwoman. “I don’t think we need to really be telling people what to wear on their feet.”
Commissioner Steve Behmerwohld questioned the rationale of the ban and said the commission should have had a chance to review the rules before they were posted.
“So if a woman goes out there in stiletto heels, that’s more safe than somebody in flip-flops?” Behmerwohld said.
The city already paid for a sign that lists the regulation, and city employees say they back keeping it on the books. They gave commissioners more information about the reasoning for the law at a meeting Monday, and commissioners took no action to overturn it.
Flip-flops have been prohibited at Los Rios Park for at least a few years, said City Manager Karen Brust. Brust did not know the details of the law’s history or if it applied at parks other than Los Rios and the Joe Cortese Dog Park, where it is listed on park signs. She said she’s awaiting more information from the California Joint Powers Insurance Authority. Brust said the city adopted the rule on recommendation of the agency, which provides liability insurance to San Juan Capistrano and about 120 other cities in California.
No one enforces the ban, but it has saved the city from at least one potentially costly mishap involving a woman who filed a claim with the city after a piece of playground surfacing at Los Rios Park punctured one of her flip-flops. The city attorney’s office refused to pay the woman anything, citing the flip-flop ban.
Cynthia Alexander, the city’s community services director, said concerns about rattlesnakes and the lack of protective fencing at the park also prompted the ban.