OAKLAND -- A proposed Lake Merritt dog park remains in limbo as city leaders begin studying alternative sites they hope won't engender as much opposition as the one proposed for Oakland's Grand Lake neighborhood.
Mayor Jean Quan, hoping to diffuse the turf war, refused to cast a tiebreaking vote at Tuesday's City Council meeting to either approve or kill a proposed dog park at the corner of MacArthur Boulevard and Lakeshore Avenue adjacent to Interstate 580.
Quan said the proposal had become so divisive that the losing side would file a legal challenge that would drain city resources. With both sides unable to reach a compromise, city officials on Friday searched for alternative sites and recommended two locations in park space farther down Grand Avenue.
Quan told council members Tuesday that she wanted time over the holiday break to vet the sites and meet with stakeholders "to see if we could not get into nuclear warfare lawsuits that the city has been known for."
One of the proposed sites is the grassy area along Bellevue and Grand avenues across from Fairyland at the entrance to Lake Merritt. The other site is a wooded area of the park closer to Perkins Street between McElroy Fountain and the Lawn Bowling courts.
Dog park supporters said they had been told for years that the area of Lake Merritt suggested by Quan was off limits because it is a bird sanctuary.
Oakland Planning and Zoning Director Scott Miller, however, said such a designation wouldn't necessarily preclude a fenced-in dog park. "Both these sites are far enough away (from the lake) that we didn't see them as a problem for birds," he said.
Although several alternative sites have been considered in recent years, Miller said the city hadn't truly scoured its options around Lake Merritt until last week.
The alternative sites also could present obstacles from nearby residents, birding groups and Fairyland, which opposed a previous alternative site adjacent to its theater.
Fairyland's C.J. Hirschfield said it was too early to comment on the proposed sites.
Grand Lake residents were largely opposed to a dog park at Lakeshore and McArthur, which would fence off about one-quarter of a large grassy expanse that is a frequent home to soccer games, football catches and children's games. About 2,200 people signed a petition opposing the park location.
Dog park supporters have said the facility -- which would be the city's sixth dog park -- is desperately needed and that there would still be enough grassy area for other activities.
The battle reached its apex earlier this month during a three-hour public hearing in front of the council. Council members that night, and again on Tuesday, couldn't muster the necessary five votes to approve the project or kill it.
The mayor's move leaves the dog park with uncertain prospects.
Under council rules, Quan again can choose to break the tie at the next scheduled council meeting in January. A vote in favor of placing the park at Lakeshore and MacArthur wouldn't preclude the city from later scrapping that site in favor of pursuing one of the alternatives.
If Quan again declines to break the tie, the City Council, which then will have three newly-elected members, could choose to vote on it anew or delay voting while Quan and city officials continue seeking a compromise site.
Quan had asked the council to hold off voting Tuesday and give the city until April to see if an alternative was feasible.
The next council, which takes office in January, will not include the dog park's political champion, Councilmember Nancy Nadel.
Nadel said the newly proposed sites would increase park construction costs and fumed when Quan asked the council to hold off on the issue. "On the moment that we're about to vote ... suddenly there's interest for yet another wild goose chase for a site," she said.
Nadel's successor, Lynette Gibson McElhaney, has supported finding an alternative site.
Dog park opponents cheered Quan's push for a last-minute compromise, while supporters grumbled.
"It's very disappointing that people wouldn't step up and take a vote," said Emily Rosenberg, co-founder of the Oakland Dog Owners Group, which has been pushing for the park for 12 years.
Council members supporting the dog park proposal were: Ignacio De La Fuente, Rebecca Kaplan, Libby Schaaf and Nadel. Opposing it were Larry Reid, Desley Brooks, Pat Kernighan and Jane Brunner.
Contact Matthew Artz at 510-208-6435.