Plan for restricting dogs at Ocean Beach has owners howling
On Ocean Beach, dogs are a sight as ubiquitous as surfers or chilled tourists. But a new plan to lay out rules for where and when canines can roam the strand has dog lovers in an uproar.
“I think it really fails in many respects to be something that people can support. It’s too restrictive,” said Suzanne Valente of the Ocean Beach Dog Owners Group.
The Golden Gate National Recreation Area has proposed a sweeping revision of its rules for where dogs are allowed and where they must be leashed. Park officials say that a big reason for creating the plan is to clarify an amalgam of historical uses, impromptu efforts to protect rare species and exceptions to rules that generally don’t permit dogs in national parks at all.
“Over the years we’re left with a situation right now of confusion, misunderstanding – right now, very few people can tell you where dogs can and can’t go,” said park spokesman Howard Levitt.
One of the core reasons for this confusion is a clash between the way people and dogs have been using the beach, and the mandate of the national park system Ocean Beach is part of. For many decades – perhaps more than a century – Ocean Beach has been a popular spot for people to play and exercise with their dogs. But the GGNRA, a unit of the National Park Service that manages Ocean Beach, Fort Funston and other open spaces, is required to protect the natural resources of its lands from anything that degrades it.
The law that spells out the mission of the NPS to preserve the natural environment requires that “the secretary of the interior shall protect it from uses that destroy the scenic and natural value of the area,” said Amy Meyer of People for a Golden Gate National Recreation Area. Meyer was a key player among the activists who persuaded the federal government to create the GGNRA in 1972.
At Ocean Beach, the GGNRA’s first option for new rules would create an officially recognized area where dogs could run without leashes, from Stairwell 21 on the Ocean Beach seawall – opposite the Beach Chalet – to the north end of the beach near the Cliff House.
The proposal also contains a range other options, from allowing dogs access to the entire beach with leashes required south of Stairwell 21, to allowing dogs access to the beach only north of Stairwell 21 and only if they are on a leash.
It’s not just Ocean Beach where the rules could change. The GGNRA’s proposal covers the entire park, including Fort Funston, Lands End and Sutro Heights, as well as Crissy Field and lands in Marin and San Mateo counties.
Valente, however, believes that effective management of dogs in the GGNRA requires a focus on behavior, not geography. Instead of requiring leashes in some places and banning dogs in other parts of what she sees as an urban recreation area, she said park managers should look toward ticketing dog owners who don’t clean up their pets’ waste and those who let their pooches harass other park visitors and wildlife.
“The conflict is not just this bird, or this beach,” said Valente. “I think the bigger conflict … is the sense of, what’s the legislative intent” of the creation of the GGNRA and San Francisco’s decision to turn over Ocean Beach and other city lands to the Park Service.
“The emphasis was on outdoor recreation, and the assurances were made that historical recreational use would be honored.”
But Meyer objects to the contention that the GGNRA is an urban park, with the exception of some relatively small areas.
“This is not an urban national park,” she said, save for the Richmond District side of Ocean Beach, parts of Crissy Field and areas around Fort Mason. “That’s a tiny percentage. The presidio is suburban, and the rest of it is rural.”
On Saturday the GGNRA will hold a meeting about the proposed Dog Management Plan, from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. at San Francisco State University’s Seven Hills Conference Center on State Drive. Meetings also are planned for March 7 at Fort Mason in San Francisco and March 9 in Pacifica.
Saturday’s event will not be a meeting with podiums and microphones, Levitt said. Rather, it will use an “open house” format where people can directly question GGNRA representatives about the proposal before they give written comments about it – whether at Saturday’s meeting, at another event, in a letter or online.
The entire proposed Dog Management Plan is available at some local library branches, and online at the National Park Service website.
As of March 4, the Park Service has extended its deadline for comments from the public, pushing the comment period back from April 14 to May 29.
To comment about the proposed Dog Management Plan, visit one of the open-house meetings; mail comments to Frank Dean, General Superintendent, Golden Gate National Recreation Area, Building 201, Fort Mason, San Francisco, CA 94123-0022; or comment online.
The GGNRA also has an information line at (415) 561-4728, but it will not accept comments on the plan on this line.