Debating off-leash dog hours: La Jolla Parks & Beaches board tables action on issue

Amid a standing-room-only audience Monday evening, Sept. 22 in the library’s community room, the La Jolla Parks & Beaches advisory committee heard arguments in favor of and against a proposed one-year trial period for a limited off-leash dog area in La Jolla.

The board listened to more than an hour of presentations and public comments before deciding to table the discussion and potential vote to next month’s meeting.

Those in favor

Speaking as a proponent of the off-leash area, proposal co-author Nancy Linck of La Jolla touted the benefits of allowing dogs to run on the beach off-leash, and acknowledged doing so when she moved to the area in June 2013.

“The dogs got socialized and exercise, and we met and got to socialize with our neighbors. It was a wonderful experience for newcomers to the area,” she said, adding in her experience, those who allow their dogs to run off-leash self-police each other when it comes to dog waste and behavior.

“That all ended in May when the city was asked to start enforcing leash laws vigorously, even early in the morning. I was sad about that and met others who were as well. So, being a lawyer, my thought was, we need to change the law. We need to legalize the activity.”

Linck began circulating a “Dear Neighbor” letter to gather feedback, and reportedly received more than 100 e-mails — just four of them negative.

Based on the feedback, she and two other residents drafted a proposal, suggesting legal off-leash hours only before 9 a.m. in a limited area.

The proposed area is Marine Street Beach (north of Marine Street up to the dividing area known as Horseshoe Point), with an alternative site at WindanSea Beach (south of Playa del Norte to a natural barrier near the beach access point).

Linck said her group is not looking to designate the area as a “dog beach” similar to ones at Ocean Beach and Fiesta Island. Proposal co-author Scott Staub addressed concerns that have been brought to their attention. He explained the group found a study of off-leash dog areas conducted by UC Davis that provided guidelines to make the areas successful. They used it as the basis of their plan for La Jolla.

“The primary concern with providing an off-leash dog area is safety, at least for me that would be the first thing I would look at,” he said, noting the UC Davis study reported “injuries to people and dogs from dog bites at legal off-leash areas are rare.”

To keep incidences low, suggestions included not bringing puppies to off-leash areas, supervising young children and only allowing dogs in the area that are receptive to vocal commands.

Proposal proponents also suggested not bringing dogs that bark excessively, and limiting the number of dogs each person can bring to three. These regulations would be posted on a sign at beach entrances.

Regarding sanitation, Staub said his experience reflected Linck’s in that he has seen dog owners police themselves, picking up dog feces and any other trash they find.

Staub said early morning hours and lack of parking would deter out-of-towners and keep usage at a minimum.

“Other dog areas have parking, we do not have parking (specifically for that area), so it is a disincentive to those users to come here,” he said, questioning who would come out to La Jolla, find parking, run their dog and return home to clean up — all before they have to go to work.

Those opposed

With each side allotted 30 minutes, those in opposition had their chance to present. As part of the basis for her disapproval, Barber tract resident Cynthia Chasan explained that the geography of Marine Street Beach and WindanSea Beach are not the same as other off-leash areas or dog beaches.

She said Ocean Beach and Fiesta Island have natural barriers between the beaches and nearby homes, public parking, trash cans and access points so the city can maintain the areas.

The same, she said, cannot be said for Marine Street Beach, and that WindanSea, although having trash cans, is densely populated and frequently used, even before 9 a.m. She displayed time-stamped photos of the area before 9 a.m. that showed children on the beach.

Regarding the natural barrier that would define the off-leash area, Chasan and others questioned whether they would be effective borders, and who would enforce compliance.

She also expressed concern that signs defining the rules dogs and dog owners must abide by would have to be posted at each beach entry point, and she showed the crowd what the sign at another San Diego dog area looks like.

Insisting she is not against the concept, but the location, Chasan said she and others she spoke with would be more amenable to another location. She suggested Cuvier Beach (though Chair Dan Allen said the area goes by many names), behind the Museum of Contemporary Art in La Jolla or La Jolla Shores. Chasan said these areas have similar assets to Ocean Beach and Fiesta Island — public parking, trash cans, access points for city cleanup crews and distance from residences.

Other concerns raised came from those who reported being “nipped at” and “knocked over” by off-leash dogs, and those who witnessed aggressive canine behavior.

Observing that the La Jolla Parks & Beaches board needs to look at the issue “at length and in depth,” Allen suggested the discussion continue at next month’s meeting, 4 p.m. Monday, Oct. 27, at a location to be announced.

Any vote taken then would be passed to the city’s Department of Park and Recreation for consideration. To contact the group, visit LaJollaParksAndBeaches.org

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