In an effort to scope a set of rules for dog access at San Mateo County parks, a work group comprised of county officials, park rangers, dog owners and Peninsula residents of a variety of backgrounds are digging into discussions of which parks dog owners should be allowed to take their pets to and where they can let them roam without leashes.
The effort to explore how the county’s existing ordinance can be shaped to better meet the needs of dog owners and others using the parks has already been years in the making, with a dog management advisory committee formed in 2016 to explore best practices for access to trails and outdoor areas. At its Oct. 23 meeting, the San Mateo County Board of Supervisors weighed the committee’s progress and opted to change its ordinance so dogs are prohibited from county parks in all but a handful of parks and trails owned by the county Parks Department.
Though the ordinance had prohibited park users from bringing dogs to county parks for some time, the county since accepted ownership of park properties that had historically been open to dogs, such as Pillar Point Bluff, Mirada Surf and Quarry County Park near Half Moon Bay and El Granada, explained Deputy County Manager Peggy Jensen, who is currently serving as the county’s interim parks director.
With a goal of identifying parks where county officials can run on-leash and off-leash dog access pilots, the Dog Pilot Work Group will research best practices employed at parks in other jurisdictions, consider feedback from park rangers and evaluate how well dog access currently allowed at some trails is going, said Jensen.
Having served on the dog management committee and as a current member of the Dog Pilot Work Group, Christine Corwin, president of the Coastside Dog Owners Group of San Mateo County, said she is glad the discussions are happening. But the Moss Beach resident noted there is a need for dog-walking access now, and expressed concern word about the meetings has yet to reach those most affected by the county’s ordinances.
“The reality is that dog owners need more dog walking access now, not five or 10 years from now,” she said. “We’re having meetings to … look at where dogs should and should not be in county parks. The public should be weighing in on this.”
Noting some coastside parks have allowed dog walking for some time before they came under county ownership, Corwin hoped coastside dog owners offer a model for dog-walking in open spaces, one that could be used in other parts of the county.
To highlight the concerns dog owners have voiced in recent years, Corwin’s organization started an online petition garnering more than 44,000 signatures and asking officials to consider expanding dog access at county parks and trails and allow off-leash dog walking at some trails.
Pushing for access
Noting other Bay Area counties allow dogs on most or all of their parks, Corwin said many dog owners feel the San Mateo County Parks system is behind in terms of allowing dog access. Estimating there are some 200,000 dog owners in San Mateo County, Corwin argued they are good stewards of the open spaces they use.
“Every day they’re out there picking up litter and helping to keep county parks clean,” she said. “I think our county parks are better because dog people can access them.”
Jensen said the Dog Pilot Work Group is expected to meet monthly for the next 10 months or so with the goal of exploring best practices for on-leash and off-leash dog access and developing rules that make sense for specific county parks or trails. She said the group will also consider the effects of dog access at the county parks where it is currently allowed to gauge impacts to natural resources, interactions between dogs and bicyclists or joggers, and compliance with leash requirements, among other measures.
“We want to get an assessment of how is this affecting every aspect of our parks,” she said.
As a lifelong dog owner, Redwood City resident Janet Dudley said taking her young German shepherd for daily walks at the off-leash section at Stulsaft Park, which is owned by Redwood City, has been critical to her dog’s health. Noting dogs usually don’t get a chance to run and let off steam, Dudley said she was surprised to learn of the contraction of dog access at county parks, especially the requirement that dogs need to be on leashes, until a pilot program is scoped.
Dudley said the Dog Pilot Work Group’s first meeting last week was the first time she learned of the scoping effort, and wondered whether one of the first steps in the process could have been to expand dog access at county parks instead of restrict it. Though dogs are still allowed at Pillar Point Bluff, they need to be on leashes, noted Dudley, who said she was not alone in taking her dog there for off-leash walks previously.
“If they turn that into an on-leash only area … it’s a takeaway,” she said. “I’d like to see an expansion, not a contraction.”
Jensen looked forward to future conversations with the Dog Pilot Work Group to determine where dog access makes the most sense in the county, and also weighing research and feedback throughout the process to ensure all park users have a positive experience.
“I think we’ll work hard to come to consensus,” she said. “We’ve gotten clear direction from the board and we’re looking forward to working with the work group.”
Visit parks.smcgov.org/dogs-san-mateo-county-parks for more information on dog-friendly trails in San Mateo County parks. The San Mateo County Dog Pilot Work Group’s next meeting will be held 2 p.m. Feb. 4 at the San Mateo County Board of Supervisors Chambers, 400 County Center in Redwood City.
(650) 344-5200 ext. 106