Dogs could get more beach time

Dog owners will likely have more playtime with their pets on city beaches.

The City Council voted Tuesday on a first reading to prohibit leashed dogs on the beach after 9 a.m., starting June 15 and ending Sept. 10. This is an hour longer and almost three weeks more than the current rule, which keeps dogs off the beaches from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. June 1 to Sept. 16. The new rule was recommended by the Recreation Committee, backed up by a packet of 350 signatures.

"We heard from dog lovers and from people who wanted to keep the same hours, and we really got a lot of input from the marine safety people and the Police Department," said committee Chairwoman Rebecca Meekma.

"The main issue for lifeguards is keeping people safe, and they don't want anything to distract them."

Because lifeguards mostly don't come on duty until 9 a.m., the committee felt comfortable adding the extra hour in the morning, but not with the request by dog lovers for an extra hour in the evening. The lifeguards indicated summer beaches are still too crowded at 5 p.m. to push the ban back to 6 p.m.

The purpose of the prohibition is to reduce conflicts between beachgoers and dog walkers at times when the beaches are most heavily populated, according to the staff summary of the proposal.

"There should be a time for people to walk on the beach without being greeted by sometimes overfriendly dogs," said Marcia Klosterman, who supported the old schedule.

Councilwoman Jane Egly also supported the old schedule and cast the only "no" vote on the extension, but denied she is anti-dog.

People can find the tranquility they seek on South Laguna beaches under the jurisdiction of the county, which doesn't allow dogs on its beaches at any hour, Meekma said.

Pet owners who do not pick up after their pets also raised some hackles.

"Laguna Beach is a bird sanctuary and I wonder why we did that when I see all the pigeon droppings on the boardwalk," said Councilman Kelly Boyd.

Boyd said he walks from Main Beach to Heisler Park at 8 a.m., four days a week and seldom sees similar offences by dogs.

The issue of extended beach time for dogs and their owners was brought to the council by Stacy Dugger as a private citizen. However, she became so involved she applied for and was appointed to the Recreation Committee.

She would have liked the morning hour extended to 10 a.m., but said the lifeguards made their case for the 9 a.m. cutoff.

Extending the date to June 15, she said, was more in line with school and lifeguard schedules than June 1.

From mid-September to mid-June, dogs on leashes are allowed on the beaches until 9 a.m. and after 5 p.m. Dog owners who let their pets run free at any time on a beach can be fined $100.

The ordinance must be approved on a second reading before it will go into effect.

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