THE FOLLOWING IS A RESPONSE FROM MEMBERS OF UNLEASH THE BEACH TO THE RON SCHAFER LETTER DATED MARCH 8, 2005 TO ELAINE POLACHEK, CITY OF SANTA MONICA.
April 29, 2005
Mr. Schafer’s letter asserts that the “California State Parks does not support an off-leash dog area at Santa Monica Beach”. To this we say, what of the Huntington Dog Beach, the Lighthouse Dog Beach, the Point Isabel Dog Beach which are all on state lands and allow off leash recreation. Why is Santa Monica to be deprived of an amenity clearly enjoyed by thousands of Californians in other regions? Especially when we have organized a large group of responsible dog owners/guardians (over 2500) who have been demonstrating for eleven months that we are ready and willing to support this in every way.
Mr. Schafer states that his mission is to “protect natural and cultural resources and provide opportunities for high quality outdoor recreation that should not affect the resources nor the recreational experience of others”. The Unleash The Beach proposal for a well-monitored pilot program will do both. We are environmentally concerned and have gone before the SM Environmental Task Force three times. Even though it was reviewed with tough scrutiny, the proposal still succeeded in winning the support of the overwhelming majority of the Task Force members. Susan Mearns’ proposal to support the dog beach pilot program as long as we provide water monitoring, adequate bags and trash receptacles, fiscal support and no significant impacts to any animal life were considered fair and reasonable by the scientists and other concerned environmentalists on the committee.
Therefore, we would like to address Mr. Schafer’s particular concerns as we had researched and presented for our city representatives.
First, the snowy plover: He mentions that Santa Monica State Beach is a habitat for this federally listed threatened species. Current research shows that zero to 18 birds have been observed wintering on our beaches between lifeguard stands 2 and 6 during the months of November through April.
The 1996 National Park Service study of Ocean Beach in San Francisco indicated disturbance of the Snowy Plover by humans and/or dogs occurred when they approached within 50 feet of the plover. We have seriously considered this factor and want to help protect the Snowy Plover. As evidence of this, it is important to note that the proposed location for the dog beach is approximately ½ mile or approximately 5 city blocks from the identified wintering site of the plover. We are confident that the snowy plover will remain undisturbed by dogs using the dog beach at the proposed location.
Mr. Shafer states that “dogs are considered predators by shorebirds including western snowy plovers.” The current primary threats to the Western Snowy Plover on our beaches include; people, crows, gulls, shrikes, kite flying, fireworks, mechanized sand raking, and pollution such as trash left on the beach. Crows, ravens and shrikes are the natural predators of the Snowy Plover. No current studies have found dogs to be predators of the Snowy Plover.
Mr. Schafer’s letter states that the effect of the dog beach on “shorebirds…could result in an enormous fiscal and/or legal impact to the City of Santa Monica. For example at Oceano Dunes State Recreation Area, State Parks is required by the federal and state regulatory agencies to create management strategies that cost DPR approximately, [sic] $500,000 annually.”
It is inappropriate and misleading to compare Oceano Dunes to the dog beach. Oceano Dunes is comprised of nearly 4,000 acres and 1,500 of those acres are open to off-road vehicular traffic and camping. Indeed, the DPR itself has stated that the “carrying capacity” of Oceano Dunes is 4,300 off-road vehicles per day. See Oceano Dunes State Vehicular Recreation Area Status Report dated June 13, 2000. Moreover, administration and management of Oceano Dunes requires compliance with erosion control standards, staffed entrance kiosks, placement of fencing along portions of the perimeter of the 4,000 acres and around isolated vegetation “islands” and wetlands in the dunes, revegetation of areas impacted by off-road vehicular traffic, removing vehicular motor fluids contamination, conducting various impact studies related to vehicular traffic and maintaining a retro photo baseline archive. None of the foregoing costs will be applicable to the dog park, which simply involves allowing dogs off leash on 1/10 of a mile of beach, which area will be maintained by our privately funded organization. Accordingly, any reference to Oceano Dunes is irrelevant except to reveal that Mr. Schafer’s letter is not wholly truthful.
Next, Mr. Schafer uses Huntington Dog Beach as a model to support his arguments against a dog beach in Santa Monica, based on issues of “public safety.” One of our members drove to Huntington Beach and visited with the Community Services Director, Ron Hagan. According to him there has been a decrease in the number of calls for service from police and marine safety responding to dog complaints. Staff estimates that approximately 90 percent of the users of dog beach obey the rules and regulations and are courteous to other beach users. She also went to the Huntington Beach Police Department and obtained a list of citations given at Huntington Dog Beach from 12/06/03 to 4/06/05. Out of the multitude of citations given, only two are directly involving animals, one being cruelty to animals on 2/16/05 and the other involving a dead animal on 3/06/04.
This research is backed up by the statements of Martin Senat, President and Founder of the Huntington Dog Beach Preservation Society who states that “their representatives are complimented by both lifeguards and police” as they work closely with them. Dog beach is “probably the cleanest one mile beach and water in HB out of the 8 ½ mile stretch, and in our presentation to the Commission and with expert advice, we showed evidence that the environment is not affected.”
Mr. Schafer’s letter says “there is concern for the probable interaction between dogs and stranded marine life.” We have contacted several marine mammal rescue groups and all express similar sentiment to those of Joe Cordaro of the National Marine Fisheries Services. He said there is no objection to unleashed dogs on the beach, as long as pet owners show responsibility to prevent interaction between the dogs and a stranded sea lion or seal. He agrees that our dog guardians could help educate pet owners and could contact SM animal control in the event of a stranded marine mammal. We could also incorporate appropriate information in our signage and help educate the public.
Mr. Schafer says, “Off leash dog use is viewed as a local recreational need.” And yet pristine dog beaches like the one in Carmel, and also Huntington Beach can supply statistics showing the improvement in business as the cities are visited by dog enthusiasts from around the state. We know we have a very popular beach in summer. The one tenth mile we are proposing is the least popular area as the parking lot adjacent is never full, according to the manager of the adjoining Perry’s Food Stand. We would be willing to discuss possibly closing the beach on holidays and maybe weekends in the summer. In the winter months, the area is almost totally deserted now. We would be enhancing the use of our natural resources.
The health and safety issues as they relate to dog feces and dog urine are brought up in Mr. Schafer’s letter and also cited as objections by Jonathan Bishop of the California Water Board, Walt Dougher of the Beach Commission, and Alan Reed of Surfrider Foundation. These concerns are often brought up and yet they are unsubstantiated in the studies done at other dog beaches.
The literature is consistent on two points:
Dog waste does not adversely impact the health conditions of beaches in any measurable way. In fact, the hypothesized objections to dog parks in worst case scenario projections (such as pollution, disease, risks of injury and bites) have been demonstrated by statistics to be nonexistent or, at most, on a par with the risks of other human activities in public places.1 Moreover, off-leash areas, as opposed to on-leash parks have even fewer incidents. (2)
Thank you for taking the time to look at the facts. We have spent many hours compiling these, and in addition to dozens of dog lovers who have helped research early on, the latest round of response has been particularly helped by the direct efforts of : Gary Cadish, Susan DeRende, Bruce Favish, Risa Freeman, Elaine Gervasi, Mary Hubbel, Alan Krugel, Ian Landgreen, Joy Oaks, and Georja Umano.
Documentation and Notes:
1- Olson, Betty, PhD, Senior Scientist - Review of Results of a Limited Assessment of the Dog Zone, etc. “Hence the dog zone may be no better than the restricted area (for fecal coliforms), but it also appears to be no worse.” p. 3 and also see Tech Report Table 3. “Differences for both of these constituents (ammonia nitrogen and nitrate) between the dog zone and restricted zone were not statistically significant.” p. 4
There were occasional tests that came in with detectable coliform numbers (though on retest the numbers were normal), but the report the scientists concluded: Olson - p.3 “ The reason may be the impact of birds on the shoreline.”
Peters, Steve, Water Quality Specialist, County of Santa Cruz, “Two other immediately recognizable sources are the rock that sea lions use and a rock that is used by seabirds such as cormorants and seagulls. Both are these sights are within a half-mile and up-current.
Tetra Tech Report p. 4 - “Animal waste sources can be less important from a public health standpoint, because most animal pathogens do not cause disease in humans.”
“Dog urine is considered to be sterile.”
2 Hester, Phil, Director of Parks, Recreation and Marine “Based on Animal Control records, there has been no dog bite (to humans) reported at the Dog Zone.”
Hester also noted that over the three month pilot, there were only a dozen incidents at all reported where, say, a dog chased a jogger or crossed the path. Given the number of users, this is extraordinary.
Positive benefits such as the dramatic reduction of human waste and the attendant bird waste from scavengers (both of which have been shown to transmit disease) by dog beach volunteer clean-ups actually improve a beach. Other benefits, such as personal safety from human malfeasance when dogs are present, should not be forgotten when weighing the total impact of a dog beach.The factual nature of these reports reveals that the vehement rejection of the very idea of dog parks stems from an unreasonable fear of dogs. In this regard, the concern that aggressive dogs are a threat to people and other dogs, is unfounded, given that in all existing 59 dog beaches in the State of California, there have been no issues of liability to any municipalities or the state from dog issues. Moreover, if an altercation were to arise, which would be rare, it is taken care of among the dog guardians. Indeed, this is borne out by the experiences in the SM dog parks