More time for the beach

NEWPORT BEACH — Dogs should get an extra 90 minutes on ocean beaches, year round, the Newport Beach Parks, Beaches and Recreation commissioners decided unanimously Tuesday evening.

The vote was the second time in four months the commissioners decided to extend dogs' beach hours by an hour in the morning and a half-hour in the afternoon.

Over the summer, City Council members at first seemed poised to give dogs even more time — but then they backed off and asked the commission to take another look at ordinance changes.

Currently dogs are banned on beaches between 9 a.m. and 5 p.m. year round. Last spring, several dog owners asked for longer hours, which they say are needed, especially in winter when it is dark before 5 p.m.

The commissioners will send the latest proposal to the council for consideration and possible implementation. They also asked that the council not extend beach hours for dogs on harbor beaches, like on Balboa Island, where water quality is an issue. And they asked that council members seek funds to provide doggy bag dispensers along some beach areas.

Commissioner William Garrett also wanted to ask the council to consider increasing fines for dog owners who violate municipal code by letting dogs off leash or who do not pick up dog waste. In the end, the commissioners decided to ask staff to research increasing fines but won't include that in their council recommendation.

More than a dozen people attended the commission meeting, testifying for and against adding to the hours dogs can be on beaches.

Several people testified that they preferred a suggestion that council members made this summer, which would have removed all dog restrictions on beaches between mid-September and mid-May.

Dog owner Shirley Reinker told the commissioners she had collected 300 signatures on a petition seeking the removal of dog restrictions.

Greg Reinker held up a sign that he said showed how easy enforcement could be if the dog hours were increased.

"We support strict enforcement of littering laws and the off-leash laws," he said.

Others testified that having no restrictions during winter months could draw more dog owners, many of whom could prove irresponsible. Residents complained of stepping in dog waste, having dogs jump over fences onto their property. One man said he was attacked and bitten by dogs while he jogged on a beach in 2006.

Lifeguard Battalion Chief Jim Turner testified, saying that it was a mistake to think of beaches as having two seasons — high and low.

"We get hot days in May, warm weather in September, spring break in April," he said.

Lifeguards and animal control officers all believe there should be consistent, year-round rules, he said.

The issue is scheduled be on the council agenda for Nov. 23, staff said.

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