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Dog Beach could be sunk, at least officially

Dog Beach could be sunk, at least officially
Dogs enjoy their freedom at the dog beach in Newport Beach. (File photo | Daily Pilot)

The longtime unofficial "Dog Beach" between Newport Beach and Huntington Beach probably won't be getting legal status anytime soon following strong opposition from government agencies, environmentalists and neighbors.

Orange County Supervisor Michelle Steel, whose district includes Newport and Huntington, introduced an ordinance last year to allow dogs to roam off-leash along the county-controlled sandbar at the mouth of the Santa Ana River, straddling the cities' boundaries.

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The ordinance received initial support, but never received the second vote it needed to become official, and Michelle Cook, a spokeswoman for Steel's office, said she doesn't foresee that vote coming back to a supervisors' agenda.

Cook said Steel continues to support the idea of an off-leash dog beach, but critical feedback to an environmental study released last fall made the supervisor consider it infeasible at this time.

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Supervisors tentatively voted for the beach in April 2016. But they delayed the second vote in May over concerns that unleashed canines could harm two at-risk bird species; Cook said this was to await results of the environmental study, which came back in November supportive of the dog beach.

The California Coastal Commission, which would need to issue a coastal development permit for the dog beach, along with the State Parks department, the Santa Ana Regional Water Quality Control Board, the California Department of Fish and Wildlife and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, pushed back, stressing the area being habitat for the federally endangered California least tern and the threatened Western snowy plover.

Gail Sevrens, environmental program manager for the state fish and wildlife department, wrote that the state and federal wildlife agencies recommend that a dog beach at the mouth of the Santa Ana be "permanently abandoned so that the project avoids significant impacts to biological resources."

Orange County chapters of the Sierra Club, the Audubon and California Native Plant societies, along with local groups Still Protecting Our Newport and the Huntington Beach Wetlands Conservancy, also mentioned the bird habitats. A nearby homeowner gathered petition signatures citing the bird protections and quality of life issues for the neighborhood. And a lawyer representing nearby residents suggested that the county did not properly notify government agencies or community members about the environmental review.

Attorney Mark Massara said notice of the environmental documents was unprotected from the elements and ended up rumpled near the ground "where only a dog would find it," while notice of a since-completed county dredging project was placed only a few feet away in a plastic box.

"Please note the only noticing that was located in the vicinity of the project site is a wad of rain-soaked papers at the base of a trash receptacle – immediately adjacent to piles of dog waste," he wrote. "Obviously, no reasonable person would take that pile of refuse on the ground to be formal notice of a public review of important new coastal development."

Beach visitors must cross a strip of land within Newport Beach to access the county-controlled portion. Newport Beach City Councilwoman Diane Dixon, whose district includes that region, said the city will continue to enforce its leash and time of use laws in the area.

"We will routinely enforce as needed," she said.

Mike Glenn, a vocal Dog Beach supporter, said the beach is physically back – as of this week, swells had pushed enough sand back for the dogs to romp – and he wants Newport to allow dogs and their owners to cross the city patch of land to get to the county side. He was optimistic that matter would come to a City Council agenda, as Councilman Scott Peotter had recently suggested.

"Official or not, it's been used as a dog beach for 100 years, and that's not changing anytime soon," Glenn said.

Twitter: @Daily_PilotHD

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