More than 100 people came out to speak at a San Francisco Board of Supervisors committee hearing at City Hall today on a federal proposal to restrict parts of the Golden Gate National Recreation Area where dogs can go without a leash.
The hearing at the board’s Land Use and Economic Development Committee was called for by Supervisor Scott Wiener in response to the proposal issued in January by the National Park Service.
The proposal would reduce the size of off-leash areas for dogs at 21 different parts of the Golden Gate National Recreation Area, including Ocean Beach, Fort Funston, Crissy Field and Fort Mason.
The recreation area includes parts of San Francisco, Marin and San Mateo counties.
At the start of today’s hearing, which was preceded by a large rally held outside City Hall by off-leash proponents, Wiener said he has “serious concerns about the proposal,” particularly its possible effect on city parks if the off-leash areas at the national park are reduced.
Wiener said San Francisco got a preview of this last month when a tsunami warning caused the closure of much of the recreation area’s coastal areas, and some of the city’s parks were overrun with dogs and their owners.
The supervisor invited park service officials to the hearing, and Frank Dean, superintendent of the Golden Gate National Recreation Area, came to speak in favor of the proposal.
Dean, who said he has a dog named “Ranger,” said the park service is only proposing “a balance, not a ban” of off-leash dog areas.
He said, “I don’t believe the current situation is tenable,” due to visitor conflicts with dogs, and the degradation of park resources from the pets.
Another supporter of the plan, Michael Lynes, conservation director of the Golden Gate Audubon Society, said his organization was worried about “our habitat being treated as disposable goods,” and “while dogs in San Francisco have owners who love and care for them, wildlife is under the guardianship of all of us.”
San Francisco’s Animal Care and Control Director Rebecca Katz argued though that the draft environmental impact report the park service issued along with its proposal “does not clearly show off-leash is a primary (factor) or has any impact on wildlife.”
Many of the people who spoke during the public comment period of the meeting voiced their disapproval of the proposal.
Amiliana Puyana runs a dog walking business and said, “I don’t even want to imagine my day-to-day life” if the plan is passed.
Puyana said restricting off-leash dogs would likely lead to more incidents because of overcrowding in the smaller areas where they would be allowed.
But other speakers said something has to be done because the dogs already cause harm.
Betty Bortin said on July 27, 2010, she was riding a horse at Fort Funston when a Great Dane attacked her horse, which fell on her, tearing her rotator cuff.
Bortin said the owner did nothing, and because of the lack of restrictions in the national park, there were no ramifications for the owner or dog.
Dean spoke again near the end of the hearing, acknowledging that this is “a difficult and challenging issue for us all” and saying today’s hearing “was very informative for us.”
He encouraged people to provide further comments at the park service’s website set up for the proposal, www.nps.gov/goga/parkmgmt/dog-management.htm.
At the end of the hearing, the committee voted in favor of a resolution to put the board on record against the park service’s proposal.
That resolution will now go in front of the full board at its meeting on Tuesday.
Dan McMenamin, Bay City News