OWN VOICE. ~ InPerspective by Gregg Dieguez —
Following the midnight lead of the MCC, on Feb. 9th, the County Planning Commission voted to reject the off-leash dog-walking pilots at Pillar Point Bluff and Quarry Park. Previously the MCC changed their minds on the off-leach dog-walking issue at midnight on Jan. 26th, which likely contributed to the Commission’s vote. But this issue isn’t over….
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I heard unofficially today that the County will revisit the off-leash pilot program once again, this time limited to just Quarry Park. There was broad agreement that Quarry was suitable by the MCC, even by Green Foothills, SurfRider and others. The dispute was over Pillar Point Bluffs, where environmental care-takers disagreed strongly with the “no harm” claims in the County’s mitigated negative declaration. And because Parks came forward with an ‘all-or-nothing’ pilot program on Feb. 9th, both sites were denied. I’m not a biologist, so I had to accept the study provided by County Parks. However, I’m also not a fool, and if that NegDec were correct, complete, and unbiased, it would have been a first in my experience (anyone remember the top of Montara Mountain?). So there were grounds for skepticism about impacts of dogs on the Bluff. I still thought a pilot made sense because, without it, we’ll continue to have law-breaking dogs without their impact being documented. And, who knows, it might have worked.
But researching and listening to this dispute raised for me two issues that go beyond the specific pilot programs proposed. I’m no longer a dog owner, so technically I don’t have ‘a dog in this fight’, but I was one, and I understand the benefits of a canine companion to both mental and physical health for humans. And I understand that the mental and physical health of dogs requires exercise and exploration which cannot be attained in a fenced-in ‘dog park’ – unless the dog is very small.
The first issue is Recreational Equity. San Mateo County stands alone in its lack of recreational opportunities for off-leash dog exercise. Only a very small percentage (8%) of San Mateo County Parks allow dogs at all, and most of those are on-leash only. Yet, horses are allowed almost everywhere. If you hike, you know that horses leave more poop than dogs, and their hooves are more erosive on trails. But you also know that mountain bikers are even more erosive trail users, and more dangerous (typically only the younger ones). And I didn’t hear anyone asking to restrict bikes at Pillar Point Bluff, so there’s more to the anti-dog bias than environmental impact. In fact there is a large list of Pros and Cons presented to the MCC on the off-leash issue, some of them fascinatingly contradictory (a list in is footnote  below).
I submit that off-leash access to County Parks should be proportional to the number of households owning dogs. Dog groups claim this is 40% of the County, which I found hard to believe. However, a simple annual audit of dog licenses would be a method of establishing the relevant percentage. I also saw a pro off-leash SMC petition, which surprisingly none of the emails to the MCC seemed to mention, and it has over 260,000 signatures. (However, it seems only 81,000 of those are from California and who knows how many are in our County). There was a 2019 petition with about 267 local signatures submitted to the MCC email. Once that percentage is established, either the park hours or the park trail miles need to be adjusted to allow dog owners the recreational opportunity we allow humans and horses.
What’s the Underlying Problem?
After my mother died, my Dad remarried and we moved to San Mateo County for 6 years, into my early teens. Aside from the step-mother, it was a great time of my life. We used to get on our bicycles and ride around to go ‘exploring’ in the ‘forests’. Sometimes with our dogs. Always with baseball caps, never with helmets. And what should amaze people today are several things: 1) our bikes weren’t stolen when we emerged from the ‘forests’, 2) we never got ‘caught’ for doing anything ‘wrong’, and 3) there was a ton of open space in which kids could do all this. And by “open space” I mean “space where no one seemed to care if you played”, as opposed to some form of legal designation. The difference today, and I submit the Real Problem here in San Mateo County, is that we’ve overpopulated to the point where dog owners and non-doggers and equestrians are all fighting over these small, inadequate scraps of landscape – lacking space for proper nature exercise for man, dog and horse alike.
So if there’s one thing I’d ask people to consider it’s this: how about LESS people, and MORE open space? How about we STOP state-mandated density increases which undermine our water security, overburden our sewers, and cause conflict between people with different lifestyle preferences? Asking for a friend.
What can we do about these issues?
A. Segregate the hours of use at County Parks by time of day with the duration proportional to the number of households owning dogs. If some parks must remain without dogs, then increase the proportion of available hours at those allowing dogs, until the hours available across all parks equates to the dog-owning proportion of County residents.
B. GIS-based dog collars. Some hikers said there’s a new technology dog collar which can be programmed based on GIS data to exclude dogs from certain areas. Similar to home electronic dog ‘fences’, the dog is shocked if it attempts to cross a boundary. If this is true, it could be used to solve the problem of dogs running into protected areas. If it’s not true, then here’s a market need for a talented inventor.
C. The other thing you can do is vote into office people who support your views. If you didn’t like the MCC changing its mind at the last minute without public comment on the revised letter, or if you want a different position represented on this issue, there will be seats up for re-election this fall, almost everywhere. If you don’t get involved in government, someone else will, and you’ll get the government you deserve.
D. Speaking of Voting, how about a County-wide Initiative Measure to require Parks’ facilities to be open to residents with animals in proportion to the number of people owning them? This could have the beneficial effect of increasing licensing of dogs and other animals, with increased County revenues. Then, if 40% of people own a dog, 40% of parks (and/or park acreage and/or park trail lengths) must be open for off-leash dog recreation. We heard last night that horses are allowed on virtually all County Parks because rich, white horse owners in Woodside, et al, have the money to control our elected officials with campaign contributions. How about we have proportional Park availability based on pet representation?
E. Stop Adding People: There’s an emerging initiative petition called “Our Neighborhood Voices” which will allow cities, towns and counties to pass their own rules which override State zoning requirements. It’s not a complete solution to real estate investment-driven overpopulation mandates, but it’s a start. Let’s stop adding to our density problem now, and continue to debate the proper allocation of our very limited recreation space among dog/horse/people populations, as I’m sure we will.
F. Your Idea Here: ______________________________
 Even Small Dogs Run?!
I was hiking in GGNRA a few years ago when a young lady in running gear came streaking by, trailed by what looked like a chihuahua. I exclaimed surprise, and she said as she disappeared out of sight “He’s a DOG…..”. So even the small dogs benefit from a good distance run.
 Poop Matters Though horse poop is biologically much more degradable than canine poop. https://www.reconnectwithnature.org/news-events/the-buzz/dog-poop-vs-wildlife-poop-not-all-animal-excreme
 Pros and Cons on Off-leash Dog Pilot.
The table below summarizes arguments from over 200 emails and calls I received. Two arguments I found fascinating were those regarding disabilities and racism. On disabilities, one person argued off-leash dogs should be banned from the Bluff because they disturbed her service dog, whom she required for access. Another diabled person argued that Quarry Park terrain is too difficult for her to navigate, so she needed the Bluff to exercise her dog. On Racism, it was argued that dogs were used to suppress slaves and should thus be restricted for the fear they engender in people of color. A counter-argument was that horses were used for the same purpose, yet they are permitted in 90% of County Parks.
Mr. Dieguez is a native San Franciscan, longtime San Mateo County resident, and semi-retired entrepreneur who causes occasional controversy on the Coastside. He is a member of the MCC, but his opinions here are his own, and not those of the Council. In 2003 he co-founded MIT’s Clean Tech Program here in NorCal, which became MIT’s largest alumni speaker program. He lives in Montara. He loves a productive dialog in search of shared understanding.