Dog beach issue is on a tight leash

It's been a year since I first wrote about the controversy over Newport's unofficial dog beach by the Santa Ana River jetty.

Since the land is owned by the Orange County Flood Control District, and the river is controlled by the State Lands Commission, throw in the city of Newport Beach, and this becomes a jurisdictional stew of multi-bureaucracy confusion over enforcement.

Add to that dog lovers who want to keep this property off-leash, and others who do not, and we could see another battle like that of the fire rings, especially now that the state Coastal Commission is involved as well.

To recap, in March Newport's Parks, Beaches and Recreation Commission rejected a proposal to have the city's animal-control officers enforce leash restrictions. Commissioners felt this task should fall to the county.

Newport city officials and county Supervisor Michelle Steel, who supports the dog beach, began looking for a solution.

An ordinance to legally designate the area for dog lovers passed the Board of Supervisors' first reading, "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 Daily Pilot reported.

Last June, county staff presented a dredging proposal, which had been in planning stages for more than a year.

Though dredging the area would most likely remove the sandy swath on which off-leash dogs love to romp, the tides should restore the sandy beach. And no one really knows how long that will take; could be weeks, months or longer.

It's pretty hard to predict nature, but it's easy to predict that this project will continue to ignite controversy.

On Dec. 14, West Newport resident Bruce Boyd sent emails to county and city officials, stating his neighbors would be most impacted by the dog beach.

Boyd's letter explains why he and the 71 neighbors who signed his petition are against the dog beach.

"We are very concerned about the nearby areas that are protected for the least tern and the snowy plover," he wrote of the birds.

And, he claims, there is a "declining living environment," where children are afraid to play, due to the "the increasing number of dogs, not only on the beach but also on the sidewalks, streets, parks and surrounding areas."

Advocating for the dog beach is former Newport council candidate Mike Glenn and resident Jonathan Pedersen.

Last year, Glenn started an online petition in favor of the project, garnering 5,841 signatures so far.

"They have a petition with 71 (and only 33 households), so we are looking at about 82 times more people — literally a 99% issue," says Glenn.

Glenn and Pederson argue that if the Coastal Commission is taking the position that it needs to give permits to cities and counties before allowing dogs anywhere, then its default position appears to be a de facto ban on all dogs from all beaches.

That, of course, is now what's happening in practice. Dogs are allowed off-leash in Huntington Beach and on-leash in Laguna Beach, for example, and beach cities up and down the state have a tapestry of laws allowing pooches.

Right now leashed dogs are allowed on all Newport beaches before 10 a.m. and after 4:30 p.m.

But the off-leash area remains in a gray area.

"If the Coastal Commission believes that we need their clearance for that — we never got it," says Glenn, arguing that dogs and their owners have been using this beach for decades without issue.

"With endless miles of coastline between the bay and the ocean, we are talking about the last remaining 300-foot stretch of land to keep open for our dogs," says Glenn. "All we want to do is to keep a very, very small stretch of land as its historic use."

Glenn and Pederson take exception with any Coastal Commission objection, saying there is no land alteration, change of use, scientific proof of an impact to water quality or proof of limited public access.

The issue is clearly heating up. It will be interesting to see what stand Newport's council will take here with an election year looming in 2018. We've seen how passionate dog lovers are.

Newport's unofficial dog beach issue could now impact the entire coastline. And in dog-friendly California, get ready for the fur to fly.

--

BARBARA VENEZIA lives in Newport Beach. She can be reached at bvontv1@gmail.com.

Copyright © 2017, Daily Pilot
EDITION: California | U.S. & World
58°