Leashes and the Park Environment

In Cesar Chavez ParkThe City of Berkeley recently commissioned a study of the environmental status of the Off-Leash Area (OLA) at Cesar Chavez Park.  This study is an update to an earlier study done in 1997.  Jim Martin of the Environmental Collaborative in Emeryville prepared both studies.

A link to the current report dated December 5 2014 is here on the city website.  It is extensive and detailed, and it appends the 1997 report along with other material.  The report notes among other points that enforcement of the leash law in Cesar Chavez Park is poor to nonexistent, that the OLA in the park is not fenced, that unrestrained dogs tend to be disruptive of wildlife, and that the presence of plants that produce foxtails in part of the OLA has caused injury to a number of dogs.  After discussion, the report offers four possible options, namely:

(1)  Do nothing

(2)  Mow intensively in the OLA to reduce foxtails

(3)  Remove, replant, and manage current foxtail areas

(4)  Move the OLA to an area free of foxtails.

The fourth option, titled “Reconfigured Footprint,” recommends moving the OLA to the southeast corner of the park. This is directly next to Spinnaker Way and parking.  This area is irrigated and mowed grassland. It is free of foxtails and burrs.

In a table, the report sums up the pluses and minuses of each of these options.   I urge everyone concerned with the park to read and study the document.

The City invites comments from the public on the report, to be emailed to Roger Miller, Secretary of the Parks and Waterfront Commission, at rmiller@cityofberkeley.info.  Comments are due before January 21, 2015.

I wrote and emailed my comments to Mr. Miller this afternoon.  Here is a copy of my post:


I write as a Berkeley resident who has visited the park since about 2004 and visited it regularly, almost daily, since 2007.  Since 2007, my visits to the park have usually been in the company of my wife and a medium-size dog.  On numerous occasions, my wife and I allowed the dog to run off leash in every area of the park.  At no time did any park personnel advise us that this was a violation and that off-leash use was restricted to a limited area in the middle of the park.  We have also on numerous occasions taken the dog to the Pt. Isabel dog park, and on several occasions to the dog park in the Ohlone Park strip.  I have read the Biological Resource Assessment and would like to offer the following comments.
(1)  Our dog loved running and chasing tennis balls.  We would park in the parking circle at the end of Spinnaker Way and, yielding to the dog’s animated eagerness to play, we would start throwing the ball to him immediately, usually in the area where kite flying is most popular.  It was a long walk to the designated Off Leash Area (OLA) and restraining the dog’s fresh energy until we reached that area required a lot of effort. In the absence of enforcement, we took the easy way out and let him run off leash.  It would have been helpful if the OLA were located closer to parking, or parking were located closer to the OLA.  Note that at Pt. Isabel and also at the Ohlone dog park, parking is available immediately adjacent to the OLA.
(2)  Our dog, even though he was a runner and herder, really did not require ten acres to get the exercise he needed.  He ran himself ragged and did fine in the much smaller area of the Ohlone dog park, and on many other occasions we exercised him and ourselves on private property in a long driveway or a quiet back alley or an empty lot.  In my experience, an OLA is not so much a service to the dog as to the owner, because it relieves the owner of the need to control the animal. This quality is particularly valuable where the dog is not well trained, is overly energetic, does not know how to heel, strains or lags on leash, lunges this way or that, growls and snaps at other dogs, and is otherwise a strain on the owner’s patience. Letting such an animal off leash offers little if any benefit to the dog but is undeniably a relief to the owner.  But even the most troublesome animal does not need ten acres.
(3)  The nearby Pt. Isabel dog park is a wonderful and unique place for dogs.  I can understand why some dog owners would like to clone this environment at Cesar Chavez Park.  However, by my observation, Pt. Isabel is not a wonderful place for any other living creature.  There is some bird life in the adjacent water, but the land area looks barren of anything much beyond a scrubby ground cover.  As the Biological Resource Assessment correctly notes, unrestricted dog activity is inimical to wildlife. Left loose, dogs trash the environment.  I love dogs but I also love nature.  I want a park with as much abundance and diversity of plants and animals as a converted landfill can possibly sustain.  Since the nearby Pt. Isabel decisively tips the balance in favor of dogs, the balance in Cesar Chavez Park should tip decisively in favor of nature.
(4)  Leash enforcement at Cesar Chavez Park has been and will remain practically impossible because the OLA is poorly marked.  This is not for lack of effort on the part of park management, but because the current boundaries of the OLA are too amorphous and extensive to allow fencing.  People walk dogs off leash all over the park in part largely because there is no fence to mark the area.  Signage without barriers will always be ignored, particularly where it is easy to navigate off trail.  I do not know of any other unfenced OLA in the city.  If the distinction between on-leash and off-leash uses in the park is ever going to be viable, the OLA needs to be fenced.  This means that the OLA needs to be of a size and at a location where fencing is economical and practical.  If this cannot be achieved, then off-leash activity needs to be prohibited in the park as a whole, as it is in most other urban and regional parks.
(5)  Our dog got a foxtail in his ear and we ran up a veterinary bill to get it removed.  Why did that happen?  Because we let him run off leash in a foxtail area.  If we had kept him on leash, he would not have been injured.  Does it make any difference whether the foxtails were inside or outside the vaguely marked OLA?  In my opinion, no, and we’re not even sure where it occurred. It was up to us as owners to protect the dog against obvious natural hazards, regardless of where they were located.  The City should not be asked to provide an OLA that is free of any and all hazards (wasp stings?  snake bites?  trip holes? other dogs?).  The fact that plants with foxtails grow in part of the current OLA proves only that the OLA is too large and/or poorly located, and should be scaled back or moved.  It is much more reasonable and effective to move dogs than to try to eradicate and recultivate acres of land.
(6)  Summing up, the Biological Resource Assessment offers four possible options for treating the OLA.  In my opinion, the fourth option — “Reconfigured Footprint” — is the best of the lot.  It has the important advantage of being convenient to parking, thereby eliminating the long walk from car to dog run, when dogs tend to be hardest to control.  (Some thought might be given to adding additional parking.)  As for the size of the proposed reconfigured area, the key consideration is to provide complete fencing and gating.  There will also be costs for ground cover such as bark chip, tables, benches, water, billboard, etc.  Measures to repair the environmental damage at the center of the old OLA should also be factored in.  I also agree with the Assessment that this option has the advantage of putting to rest the long-standing frictions that the configuration of the current dog run area has generated. Cesar Chavez Park is big enough for everyone to be happy; we just need to figure out how to arrange the pieces on the map so that conflicts are minimized.  In my opinion, the Reconfigured Footprint option could be a win-win for everyone who loves the park.


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2 thoughts on “Leashes and the Park Environment

  • I am a local owner of two small dogs. BEWARE: Small dogs are at risk in the Off-Leash area from other, larger, more aggressive dogs whose owners do not have them under voice control. My husband and I previously owned a large dog that was never in danger of being chased or harmed by other dogs because if his size. We could take him to Cesar Chavez Park or Pt. Isabel off-leash and not worry. Today our two small dogs were chased by a pit bull named “Bella” in the Off-Leash area of Cesar Chavez Park. The pit bull was wearing a “prong collar,” which speaks volumes about the dog’s inability to be controlled even when it is ON leash! One of the two pit bull’s owners tried chasing after the dog, as it chased aggressively after my 2 dogs, but she was not successful in catching it. The other owner (her boyfriend?) stood by and did nothing. My friend who was with me began yelling at the owners to get their dog under control, and the male owner became upset with my friend! saying that MY dogs had started the chase! Then, for some inexplicable reason, he began yelling at us that we are racist — he is Asian and we are Caucasian. Oh boy! Never going there again with my dogs. Crazy people who don’t know or care about the required etiquette in dog parks + the danger of aggressive behavior from dogs (and their crazy owners!) in the Off-Leash area.

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