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Orange County

Orange County may be close to lifting leash law on stretch of beach

Jako, an 8-year-old silver Labrador, splashed into a pool along the mouth of the Santa Ana River late Friday morning, then returned to the sand with a green tennis ball for his owner to toss. The game of fetch went back and forth until Jako stopped to greet another dog and the two ran off to play.

Jako, along with a host of other dogs both small and large, frolics sans leash on the stretch of county-controlled sand. Technically, they are outlaws.

Orange County law states that off-leash dogs generally are not permitted on county beaches. But over the years the stretch between Newport Beach and Huntington Beach has become a de facto dog beach, where canine owners from around the county go to play with their furry friends.

The dog owners want it to stay that way. And it would under a proposal by county Supervisor Michelle Steel that aims to lift the area’s leash law.

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“I try to come down here with Jako every day,” said Newport Shores resident Glen Davis. “We don’t have backyards around here, so this is a convenient place to take our dogs and let them roam like they should.”

Steel, vice chairwoman of the Board of Supervisors, is proposing that the county change the current ordinance so the board can designate the first official off-leash area in unincorporated Orange County since the restrictions were enacted in 1975.

She announced the idea Friday during a news conference at the proposed dog beach.

The Board of Supervisors will consider the ordinance change at its next meeting April 26. The plan would have to pass two board readings before the leash law could be changed. The earliest it could be lifted is June.

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“This is just common sense,” Steel said. “I don’t want people to be scared that if they come down here with their dogs to play that they’re going to get a ticket.”

The issue of leash laws on the beach came to the forefront late last year, after Newport Beach Mayor Diane Dixon said she had fielded complaints from homeowners about unleashed dogs and dog waste being left along the beach. The city launched an online survey to determine whether residents would favor leash laws being enforced on the county property. Hundreds responded, with the majority asking the city to leave the area alone.

The area isn’t regularly patrolled by the Orange County Sheriff’s Department, so it’s difficult for deputies to cite people who aren’t following the rules, city staff has said.

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

If the plan is approved, Dixon said, the city would put up additional signage, install doggy bag dispensers and add more trash containers along Newport’s side of the beach. Newport also would consider adding a paved path to improve beach access, she said.

“This is a win-win,” Dixon said of the proposal. “It’s a way to meet residents’ needs and the needs of our four-legged friends.”

hannah.fry@latimes.com

Fry writes for Times Community News.

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