City dogged by dog issue
THE SONOMA CITY COUNCIL will be discussing the Montini Open Space Preserve and the future of dog access Monday.
A special tribute to Niels Chew, and a discussion (with possible action) on the transfer to city ownership of the Montini Open Space Preserve on Monday, will highlight the first City Council meeting since Feb. 11. The Montini discussion is also expected to address the issue of future dog access.
The tribute to Niels Chew, who died Feb. 25, will be led by Mayor Ken Brown and will honor the businessman, philanthropist and volunteer who had a major impact on the lives of countless Sonoma Valley residents (see story at right).
A city takeover of the Montini Preserve has been under discussion since 2010 and has reached the stage of possible completion, but will first require agreement on terms between the city and the Sonoma County Agricultural Preservation and Open Space District, which currently owns the property.
The City Council adopted a resolution of intent in March 2011, expressing interest in taking over the property. Since then, a plan and bid to manage the preserve has been received from the Sonoma Ecology Center, and the city’s development code and sphere of influence have been amended to allow for the city’s necessary annexation of the land. The city has also pre-zoned the land, and the Open Space District is completing specifications for a $350,000 trail system on which it plans to begin construction in March.
The district also prepared a 44-page management plan to guide future use and development of the preserve, and that plan may become a bone of public contention Monday because it bans preserve access to dogs.
The proposed transfer was made possible when California State Parks, which was originally expected to take possession of and manage the 98-acre property, declined in the face of the state’s budget crisis. But the management plan was written to State Parks specifications, including the prohibition against canine visitors.
But that rule has angered a contingent of Valley dog lovers who have argued that there are insufficient opportunities for outdoor dog recreation and that the acquisition of 98 acres of open space should include plans for their dogs.
Former 1st Supervisorial District administrative assistant Jennifer Hainstock addressed the council in a Feb. 28 letter, arguing that the management plan should be revised as a condition of acquisition.
According to Hainstock’s letter, “The management plan was prepared with the understanding State Parks was going to take over the property. State Parks does not allow dogs and therefore a ban is included in the management plan. Since Open Space is now claiming veto power to the management plan, the management plan should be revised now that the City is going to own the property to reflect the City’s desired uses. Examples: leashed dogs, dog park, mountain bikes, horses etc.”
Whether the city can or will revise the plan is open to interpretation, and that issue is likely to arise during the public comment period as the transfer is discussed.
Hainstock further expresses the belief that the Open Space District won’t oppose a reasonable dog access policy and that all but one of the county’s regional parks allow leashed dogs.
Arguments raised against dog access have to do with their negative potential impact on wildlife, a nuisance factor for visitors and the basic issue of hygiene.
Also on Monday’s agenda will be:
• A proclamation declaring March as Big Read Sonoma County month; a proclamation declaring March Community Center Month; a presentation by the Sonoma Community Center on phase 2 of its ongoing renovation project; and a presentation by the Open Space District on Montini Ranch Preserve, prior to the transfer discussion.
• The council will also be asked to approve the temporary installation of the 50-foot wide, 10-foot tall “Sonomawood” sign promoting the upcoming Sonoma Valley Film Festival that was erected last year by local school students.
City staff are opposing approval of the sign on the Plaza, arguing that is too big, is standing too long, obscures views of city hall, encourages hazardous behavior when tourists step into the adjacent street in order to take photos of it, and that it is considered signage or advertising, rather than an artistic statement.
The sign was designed and erected by students at Creekside Continuation High School and has become a matter of considerable pride to those involved, who insist it is, in fact, a work of art.
• Finally, the council will consider possible action on amendments to the fiscal year 2013 operating budget.
The City Council will convene in the Community Meeting Room, 177 First St. W., at 6 p.m. Monday, March 4. The public is invited.