Oct 20 2015

Neighbors and Dog Owners Discuss Dogs in Upper Dracena Park

Report on Saturday, October 3rd an informal “brain storming” session in Upper Dracena Park

by Piedmont High School student Elizabeth Docter

    You wouldn’t think dog poop held so much power. But on October 3rd, 2015, the participants at the public discussion to address restricted dog use of the grassy area at the top of the park, dog use hours, off leash fines, and other concerns hosted by Park Commission and Public Works staff with an Animal Control officer spent two hours discussing just that: Piedmont’s “puppy poo-problem.”  In the months prior, a petition signed by 107 people was brought to the Park Commission presenting the possibility of changing the lawn area off of Dracena Ave. from an on-leash into an off-leash area for dogs.

    Piedmonters from all over town were present: dog-owners; parents; and neighbors alike were gathered because of a common passion for pets, parks, and poop.  Captain Jeremy Bowers and Officer Monica Hueston started off the meeting with friendly statements on the current patrol situation.  There is only one animal control officer on duty at a time, and they are in charge of patrolling more than just Piedmont’s four parks because of their contract with Emeryville.  Because they have so many parks to patrol, they generally rely on phone calls from neighbors who report an issue.  Captain Bowers urged the neighbors at the meeting to continue calling when they saw something, because they depend on those calls to know where to go.  They finished by reminding those in attendance that they do what they do because of public safety, and they will support whatever decision is reached.

    Dr. Elaine Pico, speaking for those in favor of the lawn becoming off-leash, finds that this change wouldn’t be harmful to the area.  She argued that the area isn’t used by children or picnickers of any sort, and this change would give the lawn a second-coming, a rebirth of dog attention.  Others complained that the ravine, currently an off-leash area, is not enough room for owners to throw balls for their dogs without hitting other walkers.  Dogs also seem to prefer grass on their paws, making the lawn a perfect area for running.

    On the other hand, neighbors from all around the park came to the meeting to strongly oppose this prospect. Don Eidam mentioned that he finds dog business left behind in the park on a daily basis, primarily from dogs that wander away from their owners while off-leash.  In response to this, Terri Ashton mentioned that she stepped in some dog poop on her way to her spot on the grass.

    Dogs, who are taken off leash legally in the ravine, are allowed to wander off on their own unsupervised, even wandering across Dracena Avenue into the homes of neighbors across the street.  “We have had many uninvited 4-legged guests in our home and yard over the years.  Last week I found a boxer in my family room slobbering all over the contents of my purse. We even had a dog pee on my living room sofa once. I usually grab them by the collar and walk them down to their owners on the grass below. Sometimes they haven’t even noticed they were missing yet,” explained Tami Becker, a resident whose home overlooks the lawn.

    Over the years, Becker has seen the increase of dog droppings left behind and has begun to worry about having more dogs wander across the street to innocently enter her home.  If the lawn were to become completely off-leash, she fears that more dogs would walk across the street more often, becoming an even bigger hazard to cars on the streets.  Many other neighbors were in agreement; they were worried about the possibility of more dogs wandering around the streets unwatched, because they see it happening often already.

    Because I’ve spent many hours at Dracena Park on my own, I felt prepared to speak on the behalf of those opposed to this possible change.  As a kid, I remember having my lunch eaten and being chased out of the park by unguarded dogs who roamed into the open lawn.  If the upper lawn were to become off-leash, dogs would have more access to a bigger space, which would make it harder for owners to keep track of their beloved pets.

    I found many of the statements and arguments made by those in favor of this change came across as extraneous.  One woman created an unnecessary issue by calling out to a younger neighbor, insisting that they could “work together” if he didn’t push people like herself away.  Another woman slipped in a mention of her profession, working with children who have disabilities, not to add to the argument but to create sympathy.  One neighbor was called a “doomsayer” because of her fear resulting from dogs peeing on the currently green grass.  In each of those cases, I felt uncomfortable and frustrated that people were creating issues out of nothing.

There isn’t a foregone outcome in this argument now, and there won’t be for quite awhile; the Park Commission isn’t planning on voting for at least a month.  They do, however, urge  those interested and impassioned by the issue to step forward and present their voice.  If this is you, stop by City Hall for a Park Commission meeting — maybe I’ll see you there!

Editors Note: Opinions expressed are those of the author.

3 Responses to “Neighbors and Dog Owners Discuss Dogs in Upper Dracena Park”

  1. Elizabeth, Poop doesn’t have “power” (unless you consider the methane) but hyperbole does. Anecdotal claims of past offenses, hypothetical predictions of what would come of the park and sympathetical appeals sidetrack what should be a rational and factual discussion. The meeting was convened in response to a petition signed by over 100 residents from all over Piedmont asking that the Park Commission consider off-leash access to the lawn. The Commission has convened a sub-committee to investigate the feasability of this proposal. This is very consistent for Piedmont and typically leads to the development of use-restrictions to off-set impacts to the neighbors – see lights at Beach, Sunday games at Coaches and weekend use of Becker Field. The Park Commission will certainly consider the comments of the neighbors but really has to conduct an objective assessment of the condition and use of the park for the greatest good of Piedmont. Off-leash dog use permits in Piedmont have doubled from 400 to 800 over the past years and dog ownership in general is on an upward trend.

    Off the top of my head, a modest chain link fence along the side of the park on Dracena Avenue of the type at the Aturna entrance would solve the wandering dog problem. Phone calls to PD would resolve enforcement of the poop law. Incidents such as you experienced are a consequence of a bad dog owner, not off-leash laws. I suggest a limited off-use of the lawn from 4:00 to 7:00 on weekdays would be highly policed by the users, mostly residents, who want a clean lawn for their own and dog’s use. Overt offenders would certainly be callled out.

    One related issue is what will come of dog use in this park? Claims have been made by opponents and staff that with the installation of the bridge and rain garden, the beauty of the park has to be preserved. Off-leash dog use is compatible with both but City staff is now recommending a faux rock creek be installed the length of the path from Park Way to Artuna. How will that impact dog use of this park? Is Dracena Park morphing into Crocker Park where no off-leash dog use is allowed?

    Elizabeth, I hope to see you and other Civics students at the next meeting of the Park Commission, Wednesday November 4, 5:30 in City Hall. Off-leash use of the lawn will be discussed but no decision will be made by the Park Commission. All residents are encouraged to attend. Send comments to mfeldkamp@ci.piedmont.ca.us.

  2. Excellent writing, Elizabeth. Better than many Chron articles. Insightful and informative at the same time. Good balance in presenting different points of view. Thanks for filling me in! I have used the park in the past and hope to do so again, so I was very interested in the dimensions of the controversy. Your article was perfect for that.

  3. I use the Dracena Dog Park almost every day. I feel so privileged to live in Piedmont and walk with my Golden Retriever, Tina. in this magnificent park. As far as I can see, there is not a dog poop problem. Most of the dog owners pick up their dog poop and, occasionally, that of others. I can count the times that it has been necessary==twice in two years.Everyone is very friendly and it is a wonderful opportunity to chat with others and make new friends. The people who live across the street have the opportunity of living in a place where they have a forest outlook instead of other houses.They probably considered that before purchasing their homes. The vast majority of dog owners are cognizant of people who do not like dogs and try to be mindful regarding their preference. Hopefully, we can come to an understanding that will be good for everyone.

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