Late last year the off-leash dog controversy came to a head with the December 15 meeting of the Santa Cruz County Parks and Recreation Advisory Commission. Over a year ago, the Commission requested that County staff produce criteria for off-leash dog facilities and an inventory of County Parks properties suitable for fenced or unfenced off-leash dog parks.
The four Commissioners in attendance on December 15 listened to the Parks Department Staff Report, which concluded “County Parks does not recommend further consideration of unfenced shared use areas where dogs would be permitted off-leash.”
Following the Staff Report, the meeting was opened to public comment on this agenda item. Many comments from off-leash dog proponents were loud and peppered with foul language, as they demanded that the Commission “give them” an off-leash dog area on “their beach.” The F-word was heard as often as in a modern motion picture.
The atmosphere created by off-leash dog supporters turned ugly and intimidating. Members of the audience expressing support for the Staff Report were repeatedly interrupted by rude remarks. When the public comment was closed and the Commissioners began their discussion, the off-leash proponents continued their interruptions, moving forward toward the Commissioners, waving and gesticulating, and taking pictures with their cell phones. At times the gathering felt more like a religious revival than a Commission meeting.
The process of careful government deliberation was destroyed by the unruly behavior of the off-leash proponents, replaced by an escalating mob atmosphere by those intent on getting their own way.
Unfortunately, the Commission Chair failed to control the abusive outbursts, even beyond the public comment period and into the Commissioners’ discussion that followed. Even worse, two Parks Commissioners rewarded the off-leash proponents and gave them legitimacy by taking their demands seriously and proposing a motion to recommend that the Board of Supervisors look into a pilot program for off-leash dogs on a County beach.
What message does this send to the public that looks to County Commissions to advise their Board of Supervisors on County policy? Is abusive and bullying behavior to be rewarded by obsiquious Commissioners? Is County policy to be determined by those who shout the loudest with the most foul language?