City Council members decided to let dogs go off-leash in numerous city parks Tuesday, legalizing something that many residents at Tuesday's council meeting confessed that they were already doing.
"I've been studying this issue for about eight years and I have found that it works very well," said council member John McAlister, who said he used to bring his dog to Cooper Park every morning where a group of residents said they haven't had any conflicts or issues with letting their dogs off-leash during a regular time every morning, from 8:30 a.m. to about 10 a.m., despite the fact it wasn't legal. "I used to be part of the group but my dog passed away last Wednesday," McAlister said, his voice breaking up. "I can no longer enjoy the crowd but I see great benefit in this."
The council ended up voting 5-2 to allow dogs off leash at several parks for a one year trial: at Cooper, Bubb, McKelvey and Eagle parks Monday through Friday from 6 a.m to 10 a.m.; at Whisman park seven days a week from 6 a.m. to 10 a.m. and from 5 p.m. to a half a hour past sunset; at the Cuesta "dog training area" seven days a week from sunrise to sunset; and at the Cuesta Annex seven days a week from 6 a.m. to 10 a.m.
Council members Chris Clark and Ronit Bryant opposed the plan, proposed by McAlister, because of the inclusion of the Cuesta Annex. It's a place where Bryant noted that a rare great Blue Heron hunts, and that she'd prefer if the city consulted with wildlife preservationists before allowing off-leash dogs there. A representative of the Audubon Society said there wouldn't likely be an issue, but declined to go on record about it.
Council members said that having posted times for dogs to run off-leash could prevent conflict with residents who would like to avoid dogs.
"I'm also a dog owner and I have the cutest dog imaginable but not everyone likes him," Bryant said. "We do need to respect that fact that not everyone" wants to be around dogs. Dogs do bite, members said.
Council members rejected a recommendation from the Parks and Recreation Commission to build two new fenced parks, one at a parcel along Shoreline Boulevard near Eagle Park (costing up to $40,000), and another at Rengstorff Park costing $30,000. Both would have been be simple, fenced-in areas with a water fountain. Council members balked at the cost and at using up more space at Rengstorff, and residents complained that it wasn't a good idea to have dogs along busy Shoreline Boulevard.
The Parks and Recreation Commission recommended only two new off-leash areas, one at Whisman Park and another at Cuesta Park. A resident complained that many more parks were originally proposed for off-leash areas, such as Thaddeus Park in the Monta Loma neighborhood, but the commission removed them from the proposed trial program. All but two of the approved parks (Whisman and Eagle) are south of El Camino Real.
One resident used expletives to describe the city's only official dog park, far removed from residences at the north end of Shoreline Boulevard, saying that the crushed granite surface hurts dogs paws.
The city also has a new dog park at the Merlone Geier's "Village at San Antonio" development on San Antonio Road, which is open to the public. National statistics indicate that Mountain View should have two dog parks, while a survey of 30 Bay Area cities found that most cities have "at least one dog park, and the vast majority are fenced," said parks and open space manager Bruce Hurlburt. Menlo Park, San Carlos and Foster City all have off-leash dog programs in city parks.
Council members asked if the new time limits would be enforced and City Manager Dan Rich said that, like most things, it would be on complaint basis. "We don't have the resources to be out there every day," he said.