By Jim Shilander
The San Clemente City Council unanimously approved allowing leashed dogs into 10 additional city parks Tuesday, an increase from the current two.
Beaches, Parks and Recreation Director Sharon Heider noted that there had been a great deal of “passionate discussion” on the issue, from both sides, in considering the proposal. According to the new rules, dogs will be allowed on leashes in the additional parks. Citations for failure to pick up dog waste will be increased to $100 from $50, and could be increased if the owner is found to be guilty more than once. No dog beach access was included as a part of the proposal. Dogs will also not be permitted in playground areas.
Heider said the parks identified for access were dispersed throughout the city, so as to not overwhelm certain parks. They were also used less frequently for recreational sports, she said.
The city did not include monies to pay for dog waste bag stations at the parks themselves. Heider told the council that the city had found that providing bags does not necessarily mean that waste would be picked up more often, such as on the Beach Trail. Heider said providing the bags is ultimately the responsibility of the dog owners themselves, and that the city has found peer pressure to be an effective way to get people to take care of the problem.
Resident Gregg Lipanovich said he favored the proposal. The council had erred in previously limiting the dogs to two parks after a successful pilot program there, he said.
Resident Mark Slater agreed. He said many residents with dogs simply flouted city rules anyway and were more likely to not pick up after their dogs if they weren’t allowed in parks.
“The way of pushing back (against the city) is to leave it (the waste),” Slater noted. He actually advocated allowing for dogs to access city beaches as well. However, he said the effort could be helped if the city provided bags.
Other residents, however, spoke in opposition.
Curly Snider told the council that he had seen too much dog waste along the Beach Trail, where bags were provided by the city, as well as in Forster Ranch. Snider said as a non-dog owner, he resented having to pay for bags only some owners would use. Snider asked the council to scale back the proposal to five parks.
Another resident, Hugh Limebrook, asked the council to consider the effect of additional fecal runoff into the ocean. He noted the pollution near the state park, where owners routinely let there dogs off leashes. As a surf community of note, he said, the city was doing a disservice to those who used the water for recreation by approving the proposal.
Council member Lori Donchak said she saw the increased access as a way of potentially getting people to think more about the city’s dog licensing program, perhaps seeing it as more of a responsibility to keep the parks clean. Fellow council member Tim Brown said he opposed future beach access, but felt the parks were “an untapped reserve,” for dog owners.
Council member Chris Hamm suggested revisiting the bag issue in future years if funding sources could be found. Heider noted that the city could also consider fenced dog runs in certain parks in the future, which would allow dogs to go off-leash in fenced-in areas.
Dogs are currently allowed in Mira Costa Park and Verde Park and will continue to be. The new parks to allow for leashed dogs include: Bonito Canyon Bicentennial Park, Leslie Park, Linda Lane Park, Max Berg Plaza Park, Marblehead Inland, Parque Del Mar (excludes Park Semper Fi), Rancho San Clemente Park, San Luis Rey Park, Talega Park and Tierra Grande Park.