Dog owners and open space lovers were second in number only to lovers and haters of gas-powered leaf blowers at the Oct. 7 City Council meeting when the question of whether or not canine access could or should be allowed in the Montini Open Space Preserve.
The 98-acre, hillside parcel will revert to City of Sonoma ownership sometime next year when it passes from the control of the Sonoma County Agricultural Preservation and Open Space District, which provided an $11.5 million share of the $13.9 million it took to buy the land from the Montini family.
During Open Space District ownership, a management plan was developed to guide use and long-term management of the property which had originally been intended for transfer to California State Parks.
That transfer plan dissolved along with the state’s budget plans following successive years of deficit spending in Sacramento, and the city happily stepped up to catch the ball. But because state law bans dogs from access to state park trails, the Open Space District management plan incorporated that ban in its official language.
During an unofficial conversation with Open Space District General Manager Bill Keene, City Councilmember Steve Barbose understood him to say that the district could amend the management plan to remove the ban on pets so that the city would have the subsequent freedom to make its own decision on the issue.
But somewhere between the time of that conversation, and the preparation of official transfer documents and protocols, removal of the pet ban fell through the cracks. As a result, while the district communicated general willingness to respond positively to a post-transfer request to amend the management plan, it expressed no interest in delaying the transfer process for the months it said would be required to amend the plan, a delay it warned that could endanger the transfer itself.
The transfer process therefore proceeded with a dog ban locked into the management language.
Before the City Council on Monday was the question of whether or not council members wanted to initiate a process to attempt a management plan amendment, estimated to take between six and nine months and cost $7,000.
Complicating that decision was the need to address several issues, including:
• An environmental analysis that would be required in order to demonstrate that the presence of dogs would not have a significant impact on the habitat values of the preserve. A biological consultant would need to be retained to perform the evaluation.
• The city would need to analyze and demonstrate the consistency of an allowance for leashed dogs with the terms, conditions and conservation purposes of the Conservation Easement that established the preserve.
• It would be necessary to address how this allowance would interface with the city-owned Overlook Trail because the two trail systems will be connected by proximity and dogs are prohibited on the Overlook Trail.
• The necessity of addressing how this allowance would interface with the trailhead at Fourth Street West and the trail segment that runs though a portion of the Vallejo Home State Park. The western end of the Montini Preserve is accessed by a new $350,000 trail being built by the Open Space District, and running through the edge of the Vallejo State Historic Park property off Fourth Street West.