A real dog park priority

This may be how wars start.

Over dogs.

The great irony, of course, is that most of us profess to love our canine companions, and many of us would agree there aren’t enough places in this increasingly compacted world to let them run free. Or even, it seems, on a leash.

And so it comes to pass that, as the City of Sonoma prepares to take full ownership of and responsibility for the 98-acre Montini Open Space Preserve, the question of canine access promises once again to ignite rhetorical fireworks.

On a property where cattle still graze, and where humans will soon stampede in presumed large numbers, should not dogs be allowed to share the space – so long as they are properly leashed and cleaned-up after? That’s the question legions of Sonoma Valley dog lovers are asking as a 30-day comment period on the city’s proposed “mitigated negative declaration” (MND) moves toward a June 30 end point.

The MND declares that there are no negative environmental impacts that can’t be mitigated through such provisions as a mandatory 6-foot leash requirement, rules dictating removal of all doggy doo, creation of an alternative western boundary access trail, fencing to keep dogs away from sensitive flora and signage prohibiting dogs from the southwest trailhead that crosses State Park land near the Vallejo Home.

Should humans follow the rules, the dog impact on the Montini trail system could be minimal. And, after reading authoritative ecological analysis, we’re not much concerned about the wildlife impact of dogs in Montini anyway. Many studies cited in wildlife impact reports attribute the greatest impact on wildlife density to the presence of humans, with or without dogs.

So if the environment isn’t a legitimate reason to prohibit dogs on those 98 acres, what is?

Perhaps it’s the impact of dogs on humans that’s the issue, the rights of people to enjoy the Montini Preserve in the solitude of a dog-free environment. It could be argued that the 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 a couple of acres for a fenced-off and generously-landscaped dog park. Numerous people have already fingered the perfect spot – the relatively barren, ecologically insignificant and unappealing plot bordering the Field of Dreams, where a two-acre chunk could be redeemed with shrubs, grasses and other amenities and where there would be room for dogs to really run.

Such a true, off-leash dog park, we would argue, should have been the first priority for city consideration. Unfortunately, there does not appear to be any reference to such a proposal in the city’s proposed amendment to the Montini Management Plan, and the comment period for the mitigated negative declaration would not appear to offer any opportunity for consideration of such a park-within-the-preserve.

We would suggest that, through whatever legal mechanism available, and whether or not the city ultimately approves leashed dogs in Montini, that a higher priority is a first-class dog park behind the Field of Dreams, and that the City Council should take action to make it happen.