The possible rule changes were released Friday as part of an Environmental Impact Report, which is open for public comment for 90 days. The folks at GGNRA may need at least that much time to wade through the various opinions -- before this morning's Forum had even started, more than 30 comments had been left. As of 4:30 p.m., there are 130.
And that's nothing compared to the responses we received to our Public Insight Network query asking folks to share their experiences with dogs in GGNRA. Almost 600 people told us how dogs impact their time in the park.
For those of you unfamiliar with the Public Insight Network, it's a way for people to participate in KQED's news making process.
One source who responded to the survey was Bob Planthold, who identified himself as a "physically disabled person who is aging." Planthold articulated his views so well that we couldn't resist having him on Forum. Here are some of the thoughts he shared:
Almost all staff, media, and public officials look solely at any issue from their individual perspective---and look around to their agile, adult, peers for validation, rather than look at all the vulnerable constituencies affected--whether a group of pre-schoolers going to a playground, seniors, a person with a guide dog, a class of 2nd-graders going to Crissy Field, an adult pushing a baby in a stroller and holding the hand of a toddler, or people with disabilities.
ALL of "us", and many others, are not so agile and fleet of foot as are the media, public officials, and staff who make these rules--so hazards like off-leash dogs are often ignored or minimized..
On the other side of the debate, Riley Kasarda captured the passion of many dog owners who feel that leash-free areas are critical to their dogs' health as well as their own:
I use the off-leash areas every day, 1-3 hours a day. It is the only way to adequately provide my dog the exercise he needs as well as the room to explore the environment without the unnatural confines of a leash or a small dog run. I do take my dog to various dog runs on occasion as well as long leashed walks around the city (up to 10 miles at a time), but neither could fully provide the physical and mental stimulation he needs to remain a healthy dog.
I also am a healthier and saner(!) person because of the availability to enjoy these areas with my dog...
Many dog owners suggested that off-leash recreation in GGNRA is part of what defines living in San Francisco. Several people said that they moved to San Francisco specifically because of its dog-friendly policies. Gina Barnett went so far as to rank off-leash access as equally important as San Francisco's other obsession -- food:
Residents of San Francisco pay a lot to live in this city and among the things we expect to get in return (besides a good opera company and fine dining) are some parks and areas of great natural beauty for recreation for ourselves and our canine companions. We certainly do not get a workable or efficient public transportation system! Let's at least keep parks open for people to bring their dogs and let them play off-leash.
Georgia Gibbs captured a sentiment expressed by many sources-- that dog owners' voice command over their dogs is not as strong as they like to think:
My dogs are leashed because they do not respond unquestionably to voice commands. One does now that she is older (5 years) but if we saw a wild animal I am not positive she would not give chase. Owners need to behave in accordance with their dogs personality, but I find often times they are behaving instead with an almost romantic idea of what their dog should be like...
Jennifer Scarlett says she takes her dog,whom she says answers well to voice command, to Ft. Funston at least once a week. Scarlett lets her dog off leash but echoes the call of many for more enforcement of existing rules:
I do see many owners who allow dogs on vegetation. I think some education and perhaps a few citations would rein this in quickly... Many dog owners and dog walkers need some stern guidance on appropriate behavior, (picking up feces, keeping dogs within sight and under voice control, abiding by park restrictions) but it is a relationship that can work. The more people who enjoy the outdoors--the more people who will in turn advocate for its preservation.
Many sources said that off-leash dogs are problematic for the elderly, but others, like James Krotzer, cited the importance of the companionship that the dog community offers:
...SF has a lot of retired residents who live alone. They are able to keep a pet for company and go to [Ft. Funston] for exercise and companionship with other retired folks. With the off-leash dogs, the risk of violence is virtually non-existent. It would take a very stupid mugger to attempt anything there. In my daily visits since retiring several years ago, I have never witnessed any problems like that.
And Lynn Keller was certainly not alone in citing GGNRA's proximity to a major city as a reason for more lax leash laws:
...This is an URBAN PARK serving a million people. This is not a pristine area of the wilderness. Why isn't the SF Board of Supervisors becoming more involved to represent San Francisco citizens who want and need off leash dog access throughout GGNRA??
It remains to be seen whether San Francisco's Board of Supervisors will become involved in the leash-law fight. Let's just hope that the debate remains more civil than the outgoing supes' recent vote for interim mayor.