Dogfights Among|Humans in Bay Area

     OAKLAND, Calif. (CN) — The Bay Area is going to the dogs, and courts will have to hash out lawsuits from groups who want to give pets room to roam, and others who want them kept on the leash.
     Dog owners sued the National Park Service on April 6 in Federal Court, challenging a rule that will restrict dog walking in the 80,000-acre Golden Gate National Recreation Area in three Bay Area counties.
     Then on Tuesday the Sierra Club sued the East Bay Regional Parks District in Alameda County Court, saying it failed to adequately study the environmental impacts of allowing dogs off leash.
     “The dog issue is an ongoing issue for every park district,” East Bay Regional Park District spokeswoman Carolyn Jones told Courthouse News. “It’s difficult to balance the interests of dog owners and bird watchers, for instance. You’re not going to please everybody.”
     The Sierra Club, joined by SPRAWLDEF (the Sustainability, Parks, Recycling and Wildlife Defense Fund) claims the East Bay District did not adequately analyze the impact unleashed dogs will have on a new trail segment at Albany Beach.
     The proposed trail is part of an attempt to build a 500-mile trail that links the entire Bay Coast.
     The segment at issue is slated for the 63-acre Beach Park, on the northwestern Alameda County shoreline, in the Berkeley and Albany city limits.
     The Sierra Club claims unleashed dogs can impose burdens on young families, the elderly and disabled.
     “An EPA study found 20 percent of bacteria in water was from dogs,” the Alameda County complaint states.
     SPRAWLDEF has already sued the district over the issue, during the first round of the project approval process, saying the project failed to conform to the Eastshore General Plan and did not consider impacts to offshore eel grass.
     Superior Court Judge Evelio Grillo dismissed some claims, but said the park did fail to adequately address the impacts of unleashed dogs in the park.
     The park then performed and circulated a Supplemental Environmental Impact Review, which concluded that because accessible areas of the park are being expanded, the impact of unleashed dogs will be so spread out as to be negligible.
     Jones said the park restricts off-leash dog access in ecologically sensitive areas of the park, including wetlands.
     “We’re more dog-friendly than other districts are,” she said.
     But the Sierra Club said the park’s policy analysis fails to consider impacts to people who are afraid of dogs or whose disability renders them vulnerable to free-running dogs.
     “(C)itizens testifying at the June 2 hearing included an ambulatory elderly man who noted that unleashed dogs had knocked his cane from under him at Albany Beach,” the complaint states. “An older woman testified that she was afraid to take children to the site because unleashed dogs had snatched a picnic sandwich from her hands.”
     Jones said the park district has to consider enforcement when it sets policy, and is reluctant to take police away from more serious issues.
     The Sierra Club asked the court to set aside the supplementary environmental impact report and do a new one that complies with the California Environmental Quality Act.
     In the previous, federal lawsuit, Save Our Recreation and three dog-owner groups claimed the Park Service had been “maneuvering to radically reduce” dog walkers’ access to the park for more than a decade before it issued a proposed rule on Feb. 24.
     The rule would restrict on- and off-leash dog walking to 22 sites in the 80,000-acre park that includes parts of San Francisco, Marin and San Mateo counties.
     “It is apparent that as part of its long-term ‘strategy,’ NPS has decided to delay production of and keep from public view certain records because it does not want those records to be used in connection with the public comment process for the Proposed Dog Rule, or in connection with potential future lawsuits challenging the various decisions of NPS to unlawfully restrict and reduce dog walking,” the federal complaint states.
     San Francisco Dog Owners Group and Save Our Recreation submitted an FOIA request in July 2015 seeking records on proposed dog walking restrictions from 1999 to present.
     The Park Service said it would cost $6,000 to produce the records, then agreed to waive the fee for a second FOIA request, filed in November 2015. But is has not yet produced the records.
     “NPS first tried to claim that it would cost many thousands of dollars to process the FOIA request as a strategy to block plaintiffs from gaining access to the requested documents. When that did not work, NPS decided simply to act as if the FOIA request did not exist, hoping plaintiffs would just go away,” the lawsuit states.
     In the Feb. 24 announcement of the proposed rule, defendant Golden Gate National Recreation Area Superintendent Chris Lehnertz said the park will continue to allow off-leash dogs in seven areas, including its most popular dog walking area, Fort Funston.
     Under the new rule, dog walking will also be allowed on nearly one-third of the park’s coastline and a third of the park’s trail miles, Lehnertz said.
     “GGNRA recognizes well-managed dog walking as a healthy and popular way to enjoy park lands,” Lehnertz said. “Under the proposed rule, the GGNRA would remain the most dog-friendly national park and the only national park in the United States to allow off-leash voice and sight control dog walking.”
     But the dog walking groups say the park failed to properly analyze the environmental impacts of the restrictions, including displacement of dog walking from the national park to other lands in the three counties, and other effects on the urban environment and traffic.
     The plaintiffs — Save Our Recreation, San Francisco Dog Owners Group, Marin County Dog Owners Group and Coastside Dog Owners Group — seek declaratory judgment and an injunction directing the Park Service to produce the records by a date that will allow them to participate in the rulemaking process.
     They are represented by Christopher Carr with Morrison & Foerster in San Francisco.
     Sierra Club and SPRAWLDEF in the Alameda case are represented by Kelly Smith in San Francisco.

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