Dogs in Montini? No; Dog park in Montini? Yes

Monday’s City Council meeting explored the prospect of amending the management plan for the Montini Open Space Preserve, to allow leashed dogs on the narrow trail that winds from the west edge of the Vallejo State Historic Park to the First Street West border of the 98-acre property.

It’s an enticing prospect for dog lovers and, we have come to believe, a bad idea. The reason, ironically, has much in common with the prospect of a citywide ban on the use of gas-powered leaf blowers – an ordinance approved by a 3-2 council majority that night – and the question of where your rights cross mine.

There is no question that our canine companions need and deserve more open space in which to romp and range. Proponents of a dog-accessible preserve point to the new, 1,000-acre Taylor Mountain Regional Park in Santa Rosa, with four miles of trails, on all of which leashed dogs are allowed. Taylor Mountain, we have to assume, is home to at least as much wildlife per-acre as the Montini Preserve and apparently Regional Park authorities weren’t concerned with the impact of dogs on the integrity of habitat for undomesticated creatures.

Well and good.

But Taylor Mountain’s very size, and the extensive reach of its trail system, would appear to help minimize, distribute and absorb the presence of dogs in a way the 98 acres and minimal 1-mile trail of Montini can’t.

In fact, after reading authoritative ecological analysis, we’re not concerned about the wildlife impact of dogs in Montini, partly because many studies cited in wildlife impact reports attribute the greatest impact on wildlife density to the presence of humans, with or without dogs.

Rather, it is the impact of dogs on humans that concerns us, and the rights of people to enjoy the Montini Preserve in the solitude of a dog-free environment. The impressive-but-limited trail constructed by the Open Space District isn’t wide enough or long enough to insulate hikers from dog impacts, and while Sonoma is an intensely dog-centric city, not everyone does – or should be forced to – share our canine passions.

On the other hand, the Montini Preserve is large enough, we believe, to easily surrender an acre or two for a fenced-off dog park where our four-legged friends could run free. And we are baffled by the dismissive attitude of the Open Space District to summarily reject such a use.

The postage-stamp-sized dog park next to the police station is smaller than many a Sonoma back yard and clearly doesn’t serve the needs of the community. Less than 100 yards away, within the boundaries of the Montini Preserve, there is abundant room for a fenced-in area of an acre or more, that could be easily landscaped and developed into an ideal dog park. Why that option – which we believe could easily be funded by dog owners themselves – isn’t being further explored, makes no sense to us. Likewise, as Sonoma County authorities develop a new master plan for Maxwell Farms Regional Park, we’d like to see them include analysis of a sizeable, fenced-off dog park within the terrain below the Boys & Girls Club facilities.

And we hope that the city and county can work with the Sonoma Ecology Center to explore other areas of the Valley where leashed dogs could have more access to open space.