Final county vote on allowing 'dog beach' near Newport is delayed

Newport Beach dog owners who hope their canine companions will one day be able to frolic legally sans leash at an unofficial dog beach are facing another delay.

Orange County supervisors had been scheduled to vote Tuesday on the second reading of an ordinance that would change county law to permit off-leash dogs along a stretch of sand straddling the Newport Beach and Huntington Beach border at the Santa Ana River mouth.

However, county staff removed the item from the agenda Friday because the environmental study of the area has not been completed.

Michelle Cook, communications director for Supervisor Michelle Steel, said the loosened regulations are expected to go back to county leaders for consideration by the end of the year.

The ordinance, which would designate the area as the first legal dog beach on county land, passed the Board of Supervisors' first reading in April but stalled in May over concerns from two environmental groups that having unleashed canines in the area could harm two at-risk bird species.

The Irvine-based Sea & Sage Audubon Society and the Huntington Beach Wetlands Conservancy sent letters to the county calling for the supervisors to reconsider because the land is a nesting site for the endangered California least tern and a winter roosting spot for the threatened western snowy plover.

Cook said the environmental report studied the bird nesting areas as well as the overall potential effects of having unleashed dogs on the beach.

The leash issue came to the forefront late last year after Newport Beach Mayor Diane Dixon said she was fielding complaints from nearby homeowners about unleashed dogs and unremoved dog waste on the sand.

In response, the city conducted an online survey to determine whether Newport residents would favor the city enforcing county leash laws at that beach. Hundreds of people responded, with the majority asking the city to leave the area alone.

In March, after two hours of passionate testimony from dog owners who frequent the spot, Newport's Parks, Beaches and Recreation Commission voted unanimously to reject a proposal to have city animal-control officers enforce leash restrictions there. The commission instead suggested the county look into designating the area as an official dog beach.

Dixon, city staff, dog beach advocates and Steel, whose district includes Newport Beach, began working on a proposal to that effect.

City officials have said that if county supervisors approve the change in regulations, they would discuss installing new fencing, as well as adding pathways, more dog waste bags and trash cans in the area to accommodate dog owners.

Dozens of dog beach advocates sent letters to the county in the past week supporting the ordinance. Several called the beach a "local treasure."

"The rough surf [that] smaller and older dogs face in other dog beaches is mitigated by a gentle stream of runoff heading out into the ocean," according to a letter signed by several supporters. "There are simply not enough areas available for off-leash socialization, and there is certainly no experience quite like the one we have with dog beach."