Oakland residents will have to wait another two weeks to find out if the city is one step closer to having a designated doggy area at the Lakeview park.
For almost 12 years, residents and city officials have debated whether to section off nearly 20,000 square feet of Astro Park at the corner of MacArthur Boulevard and Lakeshore Avenue to create a run for off-leash dogs or leave the area “green.” During Tuesday night’s council meeting, hundreds showed up wearing yellow and black paw prints on their shirts to show support for the park, while others brought signs that said “Not Sustainable.”
The dog park plan was originally introduced by councilwoman Nancy Nadel, and the project sponsor is the Oakland Dog Owner’s Group (ODOG), an advocacy group for more dog parks and off-leash spaces in the East Bay. The plan was originally introduced in 2002 as part of the city’s master plan to develop more activity around the Lake Merritt area.
But over years the proposed dog park has become a battleground between dog lovers and opponents who feel the location is not right for off-leash dogs. Some opponents of the plan believe the park will ruin the quality of the area and that the dogs will pose a danger to small children at the nearby tot lot.
During a May 2012 planning commission hearing, over 100 residents spoke, many bringing up concerns about how the park would affect the existing area, security issues, increased demand in parking at the park, and possible odors or health issues the park could cause. The commission denied the application for a conditional use permit at that time. ODOG appealed the committee’s decision. But at last night’s council meeting the council heard almost four hours of testimony about whether they should reverse the committee’s decision.
“I love dogs and I love Lake Merritt, but I don’t love this dog park,” said Maria Aldareti who was one of nearly 120 people who spoke during the meeting’s comment period. “We need to find more places in the city.”
“I would love my dogs to be social, but not at Astro, it’s too small,” Michelle Hutchins who told the council. “My dogs have been attacked, I have witnessed dog fights at dog parks and they are known not to be well maintained—they stink.”
But supporters say that with the nearest dog park almost two miles away, the new play area would provide a fenced area for owners to exercise their dogs and a section for both large and small dogs. Supporters of the plan also believe the park can bring the community together and will beautify the park.
“My dogs help me make life decisions,” said Nara Dahlbacka, who said she moved to Berkeley because of the lack of dog parks in Oakland. “This park would mean I could move back to Oakland. This [is] a smart growth idea.”
But because of the tough economic times, some councilmembers questioned where the funds would come from to build a fence for the dogs and maintain the site. The city would have to assume some of the costs of cleaning, making sure the park has proper signage, removing trash from the area and dealing with complaints.
According to a November report from Assistant City Administrator Fred Blackwell, if the city approves the area, it would pick up 40 percent of the total cost developing and maintain the park, using funds that have been previously allocated. The city’s partnership with ODOG would pay the remaining costs for the initial construction.
“Where is the money going to come from?” asked District 6 councilwoman Desley Brooks.
Ultimately, council members decided to delay the appeal vote to the next council meeting on December 18.