PIEDMONT -- Dracena Park won't go completely to the dogs after a decision by the Piedmont Park Commission.

On Feb. 3, the commission unanimously approved a compromise it is recommending to the City Council. The decision came after several public meetings, in which dog lovers clashed with neighbors and other park users over off-leash areas, perceived abuses of the rules and alleged safety concerns over dogs running amok.

The woodsy park is a popular gathering place for dog owners to socialize while their dogs run and play. But it's a victim of its own success.

"The volume of dogs has increased and (owners') attention to the dogs has decreased," said resident Steve Frasier.

The majority of speakers at the meeting were supportive of expanding the off-leash areas, including use of a lawn area at the park's southern end near Dracena Avenue.

"This is a punitive effort. I am sad to see this (plan)," Jean Hanson said.

Susan Greer told the commission that much of the dog park acreage in Piedmont is not usable because of the city's topography, including steep areas and ravines. There are other dog parks at Linda Park, a portion of Piedmont Park and Blair Park -- 16 acres of off-leash use in town.

Commissioner Jonathan Levine headed up the three-member subcommittee that painstakingly researched the legislative history at Dracena, how dog parks operate in other cities, the existing ordinances and usage. Clouding the issue was a lack of any earlier document designating off-leash paths in Dracena and ambiguity in the city code.


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"There was no right or wrong answer in the spirit we approached (our recommendations)," Levine said. "Our findings are that the current use (by dogs) is far greater than what is permitted by code.

"The current signage is not helpful, it is vague. There is a lack of adequate enforcement. "The hours at the dog park -- 5 a.m. to 10 p.m. -- are too long for a residential neighborhood. Other parks are sunrise to sunset."

The commission adopted the subcommittee's recommendations adding a provision that bench areas near the lawn be moved back to accommodate those without dogs to sit, or dog owners with dogs on leash.

According to a map provided with the staff report, nearly three-quarters of Dracena Park would be an off-leash area, where owners could run their dogs in a loop through the park. Entering off Dracena Avenue, dogs must be on leash a short distance until they reach the designated off-leash paths that run nearly the length of the park. There have been reported incidents of dog owners letting their dogs out at the curb, then catching up with them after they park the car.

An on-leash "buffer zone" is proposed that runs from the entrance off Dracena to the southernmost tip of the park and makes up about one-fourth of the park space.

Off-leash hours would be changed to 7 a.m. to 8 p.m. weekdays and 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. weekends.

Dogs on leash would be permitted on the lawn area subject to the provisions of the city code. A dog water fountain would be installed to avoid discarded water bottles on the property. Signs should be redone to clearly explain "do's and dont's" at the dog park. Citations would be issued by Piedmont animal control officers to those not following the rules. Some amendments to the city code will be necessary to implement the commission's recommendations.

The controversy over dog uses at the park spiked after a June 2015 meeting where dog owner Milo Gaillard submitted a petition with 100 signatures requesting that dogs be allowed off-leash in the lawn area.

"(Dog) use has evolved larger than intended," Parks and Project Manager Nancy Kent said. "It has remained a sporadic problem. We want a logical and good experience for dog owners as well as other users."

Dog owners argued that part of their experience is to socialize with others while their dogs are off-leash.

"My dog doesn't have to be off-leash to talk to someone," Commissioner John Lenahan quipped.

Commissioner Mary Geong emphasized the importance of posting maps of usage at the park, "to let people know this is a community park, not just a dog park."

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