Sunday, August 15, 2010

Dog Parks in Pacifica

Let me first explain the genesis of this problem.  I have lived in Pacifica since 1978 and although there were always leash laws, they were not enforced.  Off-leash recreation was happening, but never was an issue.  In the year 2000 time frame, then Mayor Jim Vreeland made a specific demand of the Peninsula Humane Society and the Pacifica Police Department calling for the strict enforcement of the leash law. 

This demand was made without public notice or comment. However, no provision was made at the time to provide any areas where residents could exercise or play with their dog(s) off-leash.  At that time, as is the case today, there existed no public area where one could play the most basic time-honored game of fetch with their dog. As many Pacificans suddenly became the recipients of very expensive off leash tickets, a huge outcry ensued and the city’s Animal Advisory Commission was asked to address the problem.  As a member of the Animal Advisory Commission in 2001-2002, it was estimated by several sources, including the Peninsula Humane Society, that 40% of Pacifica households had at least one dog.  In fact, there were actually more dogs in Pacifica than there were children.  We held many meetings with the public to ascertain whether a dog park or other off-leash area was desired by the Pacifica population.  It was indeed a big quality of life issue for Pacifica residents.  
As to the issue of expense of a dog park, one needs to consider the point raised by many dog guardians that they, as taxpayers, pay for the education, day care, school lunches and park/recreation facilities utilized by the children of this city without complaint.  Is it so unreasonable for these taxpayers to ask for an opportunity to recreate with their dogs?  Many of these dog guardians are senior citizens who have lost spouses and friends and live with their dog as their only companion.  These seniors strongly preferred an enclosed dog park, because many suffer from disabilities and are unable to run or hike with their dogs.  The best choice for an enclosed dog park was and still is Lower Frontierland Park

The area is not usable for any other park purpose because the landfill has created methane gas seepage.  Coastside Scavenger/Recology provides the city $75,000.00 annually for rehabilitation of this area.  The City has year after year misappropriated that money for their own desired purposes as part of the General Fund.  I have in my possession plans for a dog park at Lower Frontierland (with parking) as drawn up by Scott Holmes when he was the Director of Public Works in that time frame.  It is important to note that Scott Holmes was indisputably highly involved in our environmental projects here in Pacifica, and he believed this was a great use for Lower Frontierland.  Does someone have an objection to the $75,000./year being spent for the purpose for which it is specifically earmarked? 

Other citizens preferred hiking trails they could utilize with their dogs off-leash—Mori Point being the most popular.  No cost to allow people to hike with their dogs on trails.  Would any of the dog park detractors support lobbying the GGNRA for that policy?  Pacificans turned over Mori Point to the NPS/GGNRA and we do not derive any revenue from our generosity.  Is it too much to make a small demand regarding the usage of this area?  

Other Pacificans wanted an accessible beach to play with their dogs—Esplanade Beach is not accessible to the vast majority of the population.  We selected Sharp Park Beach south of Clarendon for that purpose.  The SPB location was ideal because natural boundaries already existed, there was no habitat for any threatened or endangered species due to the construction of the berm, and we even obtained approval from SF Recreation and Park Department for the use. 

There would be no cost to implement this area as an off-leash area except perhaps a few signs.  

Open your mind to the possibilities—they are within reach despite the poor economy. Certainly the overall economy was not an issue back in 2000 - although Pacifica has always seemed to be in a recession.  Further, who is to say people won’t come from out of town to utilize our off-leash beach/trails/park and actually spend money here?  Dog guardians DO spend money—proof of that is the business model Carmel has built in part because it is a dog-friendly environment. 

Yet these same critics of off-leash recreation seem to have no problem with the fishermen who come to Pacifica to fish or crab at the pier or the surfers who come to surf at Linda Mar beach.  These two groups are notorious for spending little or no money here, and the fishermen leave a litter mess as well.  

For many of us off-leash recreation areas are a quality of life issue. This is why we pay our taxes. Neighboring cities have accepted their responsibility to provide off-leash recreation areas to their residents. Only in Pacifica, where open space far exceeds developed space, is it so difficult to find a small area where our best friends can thrive.

Suzanne Valente


Lionel Emde said...

"Coastside Scavenger/Recology provides the city $75,000.00 annually for rehabilitation of this area."

No, the ratepayers of Pacifica pay that as a fee over and above the basic cost of providing garbage collection. The other fees (franchise fee, AB939, contingency) are over and above the basic cost of the service as well.

Kathy Meeh said...

Lionel, yes, $75,000 different side of the same issue, for which Pacificans who pay for trash collection are billed. Think there is currently about $1 million in that fund, and money has been spent on Frontierland park itself. How long has the $75,000 per year continued, and also how much cost is estimated to eliminate the methane gas and restore that land? Or, is this additional fee a forever thing because a nice park was built over the problem?

It sure seems like enforcing a "dog on leash" ordinance without setting-up locations for dogs to run was really not a plan. After all these years, currently Pacifica POOCH is in regulatory process to establish one Dog Park in back of Sanchez Artist Center, let's support that.

As you've mentioned Suzanne, other cities in the bay area pay for and maintain dog parks in their cities as part of civic provisions. Whereas the last 8 years in Pacifica has been economic disaster under the currently "no growth" city council. Nothing escapes "pay for it and maintain it yourself" volunteerism-- all part of the self-inflicted "no money, tax Pacificans" plan, I guess.

Even if pro-economy candidates (Arietta, Vellone, and Stone) are voted-in, this city will struggle for years. The alternative is unthinkable.

Lionel Emde said...

Not clear on what you're saying about the Frontierland Park fee. Wagner has the most data about it that I've seen, so ask him.

As for your favored slate, I know very little about their positions on the issues. When we get detailed answers from all the candidates, that'll be the time to decide.

Kathy Meeh said...

Lionel, specific to Frontierland Park. Is there a plan to rehabilitate? If so what is it, how much does it cost, and when does rehabilitation happen?

The city Frontierland Park Fund has accumulated about $1 million (city budget).

Lionel Emde said...

According to my attorney's research,
"The Frontierland Park Remediation Fee is also imposed based on a potential and future use of a service ... Pacifica has no immediate plans to utilize these funds for services to Pacifica's refuse collection customers."

So if they have a plan, it's on a shelf somewhere perhaps.

Kathy Meeh said...

Lionel, got it. So, the plan may be do nothing other than park related activities, and continue to charge Pacificans $75,000 per year through Scavenger services "based on a potential and future use of a service".

What Wagner may have is total revenue collected, how long that's been going on, and some idea of how that money is being spent. In any event haven't heard of any toxic clean-up activity or proposal there.