If Dogs Run Free
By Olin Ericksen
February 28 -- Despite dogged opposition from environmental groups, as well as several state and county officials who claim that canines and beaches don’t mix, the City Council Tuesday will likely back a resolution for a pilot program to let Fido run free at a Santa Monica beach.
As part of a resolution in support of a state bill that would establish an pilot off-leash dog area at nearby Dockweiler State Beach in Playa del Rey, Santa Monica council members will likely request an amendment carving out a similar dog beach in Santa Monica.
If they do, Santa Monica would join Long Beach as the only other city in Los Angeles County with a dog park on the beach.
Making the dog beach in Santa Monica a reality, though, could be as hard as teaching an old dog new tricks.
Legislative approval is must, and while the idea has the backing of several animal groups and pet lovers, it is staunchly opposed by environmental groups and state officials charged with guarding one of California’s most precious resources -- state beaches.
The State Parks department spoke out against the bill for a variety of reasons, according to the City staff report, including concerns “that dogs can present a potential safety threat to visitors, other dogs, wildlife, and park personnel when not physically restrained.”
County lifeguards are also against the bill, saying that policing dogs could “distract them from their primary mission of protecting swimmers,” according to the report.
In addition, opponents worry about the feces and urine dogs would leave behind.
Environmental groups -- from the Malibu chapter for Surfrider, to Heal the Bay, to the Natural Resources Defense Council and several Audubon societies -- have all spoken out against another dog beach in Los Angeles County because of the effects that dog waste will likely have on the bay’s already struggling ecosystem.
“While many dog owners are responsible, not all will clean up after their dogs,” the staff report acknowledges.
The report cites the fact that there are 175,000 licensed dogs in Los Angeles County, although proponents of the bill say research indicates there could be as many as a million dog owner households in the county.
With so many pets, advocates say, Los Angeles County is significantly underserved when it comes to dog beaches. Of the 57 designated dog beaches in California, only the one in Long Beach is located in Los Angeles County.
Proponents -- who include the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, State Humane, United Animal Nations, the California Federation for Animal Legislation, as well as numerous individuals -- point to dog beaches in cities such as Long Beach, Huntington Beach and San Diego to show that the off-leach areas on the coast can be successful.
In the meantime, the entire issue has been a political hot potato for legislators and County Supervisors. The County Board has remained silent on the issue, while Assembly Member Ted Lieu has asked for more research on the bill before he carries it.
The bill’s original author – Mike Gordon – died while in office and has since been replaced by Lieu.
If the resolution is passed, the bill would still need to weave through several legislative committees before it is approved, according to the report.
The item is on Tuesday night’s consent calendar.
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