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.

Future discussion

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

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(13) comments

JimSullivan

Here is the online Dog Mgmnt Plan meeting minutes and upcoming agenda's:
https://parks.smcgov.org/dogs-at-SMC-parks?fbclid=IwAR3rz-Pi5xpkb6CdOqj8VfMlHbUE5GoA4xmugJjC2NHtfIL9lz2tJiHw24g

curiousquadrangle

This process seems very similar to what happened with the GGNRA...Where the goal was always to get rid of dogs on trails versus have our public officials come up with a plan that works for their constituents. One of the things that makes areas like Half Moon Bay and El Granada great to visit is that people can bring their dogs and enjoy outside activities. I walk my dog off-leash on the Pillar Point Bluff and on the local trails and beaches daily. She loves the exercise, and so do I. The problem is that these proposed changes put the percentage of off-leash areas FAR BELOW anything that corresponds with the percentage of dog owners on the coast. I'm also confused, because when I'm out walking or running, most of the other people on the trails/beaches are people with off-leash dogs. While it's true (and unfortunate) that not everyone picks up after their dog, it's also the case that people don't pick up after themselves. I don't know that dog poop is any more or less of a problem than human litter, horse poop, trash washing up on shore, etc. And in fact, many of the people I see picking up trash are the very people with off-leash dogs.

If we want to maintain the very things that make our coast an AWESOME place to live and visit we need to come up with a sensible plan for multi-use. It's very possible for bird watchers, dog lovers, horse riders, and mountain bikers to coexist peacefully...We just need to plan together and respect the many ways there are to enjoy the area.

The first step would be having meetings during the evenings or weekends and ON THE COAST so that the impacted people could attend. So many of us want to be part of the process, but have full-time day jobs and are thus unable to participate.

Sallysmith

I find that the recent management changes in the San Mateo county park system unacceptable. Not only do these new managers not know what they are doing, they are spending tax payer dollars without consulting with the public or listening to park user’s concerns. My family has been a part of this community on San Mateo’s coast for over 10 years and I have never had an encounter with a dog or dog owner that was anything but delightful. I do not understand what Peggy Jensen is trying to accomplish besides taking away the rights of county residents who use the parks peacefully. Jensen and staff have excluded the public in their decisions ever since they took over management last year. They hold meetings during the day, when most everyone cannot attend. And they haven’t considered holding their meetings at a location on the coast, which is where they are proposing to conduct their wasteful pilot study. None of it makes any sense. They are supposed to be working for the public, not fighting and punishing us. Our dog is 12 years old. I doubt he will live long enough to see the end of this study. Our yard is not large enough to provide him with adequate exercise and he loves to retrieve his tennis ball more than anything in the world. It breaks my heart that they are threatening to take away his livelihood for no reason at all. It also makes me wonder why we are paying taxes to San Mateo county when the most important right we have is about to be taken away from our community.

Vallemar2

I have yet to see reasonable arguments AGAINST having dogs on county park trails. Since many of us have been walking dogs both on and off leash for months or even years it seems like there should be some already collected body of evidence that dogs are a problem on these trails. One isolated incident should not be used against all dogs and dog owners, most of whom are careful to control and to clean up after their dogs as well as picking up after other less responsible trail walkers both human and canine.
I have seen humans dig up plants and toss trash including glass bottles on the trails. I have seen mountain bikers and horses dig divots in the trails with tires and hooves that contribute to erosion.
I have yet to see any real damage to our trails done by dogs.
Another point which hasn’t been mentioned: women have been accosted while walking in our nearby park; I would argue that having a dog makes the trails safer for their owners particularly in more isolated areas.
Can park administrators review past incident reports and reveal exactly what sort of dog related problems they are seeing that they feel the need to enforce trail restrictions or even restrict the trails still further? Making a “study” which will take months to years simply makes no sense in use of time or money.

friendlygoldenretriever

i don’t mean to interrupt. but i think you are fabulous. i think everybody is fabulous. even you, peggy jensen. why would you want to keep me away?

Coastsider24

What seems to be missing in this process is lack of data driven decisions. The latest statistics for San Mateo County (2010) reflect there were ~257,837 households. The American Veterinary Medical Association estimates that 38% of all US households own one or more dogs; that means roughly 97,978 households in our county have at least one dog. These animals are family members to us and we deserve to have space to roam and play with them on our public lands. Our County Parks belong to all of us and it is the governments obligation to find compromise solutions pertaining to access. There are areas such as Pillar Point Bluffs and Quarry Park on the coast that are rural in nature and have accommodated both on-leash and off-leash dog access for decades and we the people are advocating for it's continuance. Way too much of our public land is restricted either by Federal, State or County governments so we have no choice but to stand up for what we believe is ours. And I am tired of hearing from people that want to hike the trails without dogs; there will never be 100% consensus on this issue so the choice is to either allow a vocal minority to determine how our parks are used or work with all constituents to craft a working compromise.

Surfgirl

I am lucky to have grown up on the Coastside. There are certain things that make the coast the coast. Having open space to recreate with our dogs is one of those things. People come from throughout the Bay Area with their dogs to hike, eat at our dog-friendly restaurants and shop in Half Moon Bay. County Parks' dog walking policies not only affect families, but affect the many dog-friendly businesses in our community. It's worrying that parks officials in Redwood City are making decisions without knowing our communities, parks history, and the positive impact that being dog-friendly has on our local economy. Like many folks, I cannot take the day off to attend a 2pm Monday meeting in Redwood City. I signed the petition to keep our coastside parks dog-friendly and to give Peninsula residents some trails that allow dogs. www.tinyurl.com/SMCDogWalkingPetition

bearsbox

All meetings are open to the public, please consider attending.

If unable to attend,please send comments to:
pjensen@smcgov.org

Tom H

Thank you, Anna, for this very thorough story. The link to the county parks pages shows meetings on Mondays at 2 pm. Just wondering if anyone knows if these are open to the public and what other ways, if any, we can provide input. I cannot attend in the middle of the day but feel it's necessary that my city be represented in these important deliberations.

gooddoggies

County Parks is not conducting this process in good faith. I attended their 2pm meeting on January 7. At the meeting, they tried to make their Dog Working Group sign off on a long list of parks where dogs should be banned. This is without any public input. It looks like this process is designed to keep dogs out of county parks, not provide more access. To truly represent voices from various communities of San Mateo, county parks should be transparent... advertising and holding these dog management meetings after work so that dog owners (who are most affected by this new dog ordinance) can be part of the conversation. Walking our dogs in our communities should not be a crime!

Naranja

Let me get this straight. County Parks spends several years to designate 6 areas where dog walking has been in practice for even longer, and now it wants to study those same areas to consider the effects of dog walking? Note to bureaucrats: wrong study. Open up new areas where it hasn’t been in effect and study that effect. And don’t drag it out for years, spending exorbitant sums of our taxpayer money. Here’s another tip: hire a parks director with deep experience who can manage parks, recreation and conservation.

frangooch

Call me crazy, but I'm an old guy, who has had owned walked dogs his whole life, and for some reason have never felt the need for a scoping process, dog access pilot, Dog Plan Work Group, or a bureaucratic hack like Jensen telling me that it's ok to do what I've been doing since before she was born. Her disingenuousness should be noted here: far from encouraging public input, she refuses to hold public meetings in the evening when most people can attend; she has publicly stated that she is doing us a favor because dogs have not been allowed at all on Pillar Point Bluff, Quarry Park, etc., before, when, in fact, they always have. The whole "plan" is a time consuming waste of money designed specifically to restrict dogs, at a time when more, not less, open space for dog play is needed.
The Parks people need to get their story straight before they start making rules for others. Somehow the county has turned the simple act of walking your dog into something akin to seeking legal immigrant status, and this law has the whiff of the Border Wall of San Mateo. Knock it off.

Naranja

You are far from crazy.

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