Council nixes dog doo, doggie park
After more than two hours of discussion, head-scratching, public comment, legal inquiry and police guidance, the Sonoma City Council agreed Monday night to permit leashed dogs in all city parks except the Plaza and the Overlook Trail.
The council also agreed that people who want to keep chickens, rabbits and bees will no longer need a permit, but they must continue to comply with the code provisions governing numbers, placement and lot sizes for the various species of critter.
And despite some impassioned and prolonged advocacy by Mayor Joanne Sanders for including goats (and perhaps sheep and pigs) among the permitted animals, a council majority nixed an expanded livestock base.
But the rights of dogs, not goats, were front and center on the night’s agenda. Previously, dogs have been banned in all city parks and a recent spate of police department citations for dog-in-park violations has fired up Sonoma’s dog-loving populace. That crackdown – by coincidence or not – came on the heels of a concerted review of the city’s ordinance provisions governing all aspects of dog ownership, including the issue of vicious or dangerous dogs. Thus, the loosening of constraints on dogs in city parks came at a particularly ripe moment.
But there were, nonetheless, some specific conditions imposed on pooches in parks. And the council simultaneously rejected suggestions for a second city dog park on two parcels along Fifth Street West, or on a peripheral parcel at the Sonoma Garden Park on Seventh Street East.
Conditions for allowing dogs on 13 of the city’s 14 neighborhood parks included a reduction in allowable leash length from 8 feet to 6 feet and the requirement that leashed dogs will only be allowed in parks for which plastic bag dispensers and waste receptacles have been installed.
City staff estimated the cost of plastic bags with which to pick up dog doo could average as much as $60 per station a month, and installing the dispensers could run $200. An estimated $8,500 annual tab for dog poop bags and dispensers left some dog advocates shaking their heads, and Bob Edwards, founder of SVDOG, observed that dog poop bags “are perfumed and a great place to hide pot,” thereby perhaps suggesting a reason for high usage.
An informal understanding emerged that private parties will attempt to organize funding for the plastic bag infrastructure and re-supply, but the council was clear that no city park will be open to dog visits until the bag dispensers are in place.
Of greater urgency to some was a revision in the dog ordinance governing management of vicious or dangerous dogs. Police Chief Bret Sackett, who worked at length with SVDOG, Pets Lifeline and city staff to update the ordinance, said he attempted to draft language giving the city a certain amount of leeway, but that he was primarily guided by Title 9 of the California Food and Agriculture Code, which provides the soundest legal standing should the city end up in court over dangerous dog issues.
According to the language adopted, a dog can be declared vicious if it: commits an act resulting in the death of a person; commits two separate acts, without provocation, resulting in the death of another animal off the property of the dog’s owner; inflicts non-severe injuries on people on three separate occasions; attacks another animal on three separate occasions off the dog owner’s property.
The barking restrictions described in the ordinance were changed from prohibiting barking that can be heard from 100 feet away, to prohibiting barking that interferes with “the reasonable use and enjoyment of private residential property by continuous barking or howling.”
If two or more adjoining neighbors file a complaint petition, animal care and control officers can intervene.
Six members of the public (two of them City Council candidates) spoke in support of the ordinance changes, and following a break to allow staff to iron out a few minor revisions in its language, the ordinance was unanimously adopted by the council.
Proposals for a second dog park had no such unanimity, either on the council or among members of the public.
A resident living adjacent to the Fifth Street West site under consideration told Planning Department director David Goodison he was opposed to a dog park there, and there was no consensus on the council for supporting either site, although some sentiment was expressed in favor of a dog park at Maxwell Farms Regional Park.
In the end, the council dropped discussion of another dog park to end the agenda item.
Notable during the evening deliberations was a round of lavish praise for Sackett and his leadership in working with community groups and fashioning a revised dog ordinance.