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Dogs Have Their Day In Moraga, Sans Leash

Moraga's Town Council backs down from the controversial ordinance that ended off-leash dog hours at Rancho Laguna.

There were fewer bared fangs and more wagging tails Wednesday night as the Rancho Laguna dog park issue returned yet again to the Moraga Town Council.

Calls for cooperation and healing after the often heated debate over the park’s use preceded a 3-2 vote to rescind Ordinance 236.  The controversial ordinance ended off-leash dog hours in Rancho Laguna Park except in a fenced area yet to be approved by the Council.  Backlash from the original passage of the ordinance in May, lead to a successful petition drive calling for a voter referendum on the Council’s decision.  Wednesday night’s vote by the Council to back down, followed a unanimously approved motion to accept the County’s certification of that referendum petition against 236.

Council members Ken Chew and Karen Mendonca voted against rescission.  It was Vice Mayor Howard Harpham who cast the swing vote, breaking ranks with Chew and Mendonca.  The three originally cast the votes that won passage of 236.  Harpham cited the Town’s greater need to focus on passing the upcoming sales tax initiative aimed at shoring up worn roads as motivation to end the controversy.

Councilmember Dave Trotter, when pressed by Chew about the next step at Rancho Laguna, hinted at the possibility of continuing discussion of the issue after the November election.  The Town Council is barred by state election law from taking action on a 236 re-boot for one year.

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James Coleridge July 13, 2012 at 03:23 PM
Yes. Well said and I agree. The same can be said about those complaining about noise here. Do it and your criticized as being anti sports, anti kids, anti music. There is a tendency for people here to believe what they do is right while anyone who believes differently is wrong, or old, or a nut. People need to open their minds to others and LISTEN to what they are saying if we're going to make it through together.
Douglas Home July 13, 2012 at 03:33 PM
Well said, Robert. Your mention of cost-benefit analysis struck me hard. I brought this concept up at a TC meeting some time ago and could not believe the response. Harpham said, "To compare the cost-benefit or risk-benefit of off-leash dogs to other things done in parks does not make sense". At that moment - it became perfectly clear what the problem was.
Jon Chambers July 13, 2012 at 03:38 PM
Doug, please remember that off-leash activities are not a right, they are a privilege, granted by a Town ordinance (225) that creates an exception to the general County law requiring animals to be on-leash in public. Further, Ordinance 225 imposes four conditions on off-leash activities at RLP, summarized as follows: 1) Animals must be "under a person's (voice) control" 2) Animals only permitted off-leash during designated times 3) No off-leash animals in parking lot 4) No off-leash animals during "any event approved or sponsored by the Town" These rules were established for public and dog safety, and to minimize conflicts between different types of park users. My personal experience, and the many comments on the Town web site and at various TC meetings demonstrates that some dog owners fail to follow all four rules. For dog owners that don't like rules (2) through (4), these ruled don't apply at Mulholland (rule 1 still applies). Suggesting that people who are afraid of dogs, or don't like to have their peaceful use of the park disrupted by dogs, should go to the Commons strikes me as unnecessarily insensitive and divisive. FCS suggested a different approach--education and enforcement. Although his suggestion seems impractical to me--it hasn't worked over the past four years, don't see why it would work in the future--at least he had a suggestion. You just want people who disagree with you to go someplace else. That's not helpful.
Ryan July 13, 2012 at 03:44 PM
"Nice play structure, don't get me wrong, very grateful to everyone for this. However it feels like the kids are fenced off from enjoying the rest of the park. AGAIN, this is my perception. How is this compromise?" The kids are fenced in because kids are curious and like to roam. Would you rather lose your dog or your child? Most play areas are fenced in for the kids safety, so people/animals can't just walk off with one of them because parents aren't paying attention. They are fenced in for their own protection but your attempt to say they are fenced away from the park so the off leash dog people can have their fun is pretty entertaining. Nice spin.
Douglas Home July 13, 2012 at 03:45 PM
Bingo, Tony and James. You've hit the nail on the head. What you're talking about is called "LIFE". Bad things happen. Annoyances happen. These are things we have to deal with. Or, change your location Some, however, always look to government to regulate bad things happening, and fail to realize that the solution lies within themselves. The State passed 300 laws this year almost entirely about "our protection". At this rate, we'll all be wearing full body armor by government mandate and you won't have to worry about being injured by my dog anymore. Shazam! Problem solved.
Tony Rodriguez July 13, 2012 at 03:57 PM
Or we could do what 90 percent plus of other towns and cities do and not allow any off leash use, or we could decide that "life" doesn't include having a town provide dog exercise areas (hard to square concern about over-regulation with expectation that government has to set policy around how much space there is for people to run the dogs they chose to acquire/purchase). Shazam.
Ryan July 13, 2012 at 05:14 PM
90% of other towns? Since everyone on here likes verified stats, signatures, etc could you please elaborate? Sure, good idea lets all decide on what "life" means and make sure that the town doesn't allow for this kind of freedom for dog owners. They should just buy a bigger yard or go to mulholland ridge right? Seems very similar to yours and Jon's complaints about people shouting down the other side as irrational. Since the off leash hours are here for another year, why not use this year to air your concerns to the dog owners directly so that they can adjust their behavior so that you can enjoy the park with them. I imagine your complaint is more philosophical than physical thou so good luck with the next 12 months.
Ed Sharp July 13, 2012 at 06:07 PM
"...because parents aren't paying attention"? If I have my kids in a play area, I'm paying attention to them. Is RLP a giant park such and we are going to lose track of our kids or not pay attention to them? Not likely. Fenced in for their own protection? From what, the dogs? So by your logic, the kids shouldn't leave the play area when it's off leash hours....for their own protection as you say. Nice. I love dogs. I've had dogs (black labs, golden retrievers, Airedales.....) Never was a cat person. Dogs are great. However, the bottom line is I will take my kids out there, whatever time of the day it is, and if I have any issue with a dog jumping/getting near/etc., yes, all bets are off and MPD will be en route.
Disappointed July 13, 2012 at 06:08 PM
Wow. I see a lot of people here not able to hear the other side. Everyone seems to be standing their ground instead of trying to find middle ground. I haven't been part of this over the past 4 years - and I think I'm glad for that. There are many many dogs owners in this area. Just as there are many many families. Most cities in the Bay Area do have dog parks. i was recently at Nations in Moraga sitting at a table next to a table with a couple of men talking about this issue. May I clarifying, spewing their very one sided opinions loudly for the entire restaurant to have to endure. They thought they were absolutely right. They knew that everyone who thought otherwise was "an idiot". If these are these men are typical of the people who have been debating this issue I can see why not resolution has been found - and will not be found. There are two sides to every issue. Both sides need to be heard by each other. Honestly, this shouldn't be this difficult. There is a solution that would satisfy both sides. If both sides would get off their high horses and openly listen.
Tony Rodriguez July 13, 2012 at 06:34 PM
I generally decline to correspond with anonymous posters, but I will note (1) that off-leash advocates have cited the rarity of off-leash venues, so perhaps substitute "parks" for towns (and a higher percentage) to clean up my point, and (2) that there is a disconnect between complaining about too much government and telling people they should just go to The Commons, and at the same time wanting government to provide a dog run and citing Mulholland as inconvenient. That's not shouting anyone down, it is pointing out a double-standard that is clouding the discussion. I will be exercising my freedom to enjoy RLP. We will see how that goes. It will go a lot better if dog owners heed FCS's advice. FInally, at least by law, the topic is not closed to the TC for 12 months, and we will see if the fall brings the will to adjust the current every-evening-is-offleash arrangement, and to make headway on a long-term space-sharing solution. I agree, however, and will endeavor to do my part, that the topic could use a rest for a while.
Jon Chambers July 13, 2012 at 06:34 PM
Totally agree with you Disappointed. See my comment above (#4 in the thread). My main beef is that there isn't much listening happening. And while there are some on both sides that will listen, and that are willing to compromise, they worry that even if they are willing to compromise, the more doctrinaire folks won't accept the compromise.
Jon Chambers July 13, 2012 at 08:54 PM
Amy, think you are correct that no agency is compiling a list of RLP incidents. My comments were based on my personal experiences, and on anecdotes from others. In response to Doug's comment that dog parks are safe, he might be right if the safety metric only considers fatalities to people. Dog deaths at dog parks are distressingly common. Data on people being bitten in dog parks is hard to come by, but a GGNRA study indicates bites are reasonably common. See the following--a bit dated: "Dogs biting visitors, aggressive behavior toward other dogs and/or people ... and visitors being knocked down are the public safety concerns related to off leash dog walking ... GGNRA's tracking of dog-related incidents during a 3-year period (1998 - 2000) reveals a total of 54 reported dog bites. Between January 1, 2001, and June 16, 2001, there have been 13 reported dog bites. According to protection rangers, these numbers reflect a small fraction of the total occurrences, reported and non-reported." Dog bite fatalities average about 30/year across the US. Don't know if any happened at dog parks, haven't reviewed every story. See http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_fatal_dog_attacks_in_the_United_States for details. Last October's dog mauling at RLP was reported to TC, and is well known among Lamorinda Dogs leadership. It doesn't appear to have changed their opinion--they seem to think that since the aggressor dog was put down, the problem has been solved. I'm not convinced.
Fritz 'Congodog' Stoop July 13, 2012 at 09:07 PM
T-Rod, Most communities are larger and more diverse demographically. We are an allegedly educated, well-to-do, thoughtful populace. We avoid known aggressive breeds, which are a major contributing element for requiring spatial separation. Does our community possess the sophistication and maturity to have an fence-free off lead park, which not long ago was the norm? My take is that the ONLY missing component is the absolute commitment by owners to TRAIN, SOCIALIZE and SUPERVISE their animals. An object analysis of your own dog either qualifies or disqualifies it from an untethered, multi-dog scenario. If you have even the slightest doubt of your dog's ability to be loose among other canines, then GO ELSEWHERE. A more subtle, difficult to imagine or accept concept is the potential aggression linked to leashing a dog in a park full of the unrestrained. Dogs are extremely territorial and a short lead clearly defines and limits Fido's turf (with master at its center). This intensifies the animal's instinctual 'defend/protect' programming and almost ensures 'growling' or a dustup of some degree. It also leaves the leashed dog fewer options and no room to maneuver. A loose pet, assuming it has been properly socialized, it is actually safer in this instance. This and other essential canine behavioral subtleties are all part of informed dog ownership. They can save you and your dog from many unanticipated but avoidable situations.
Peter Kendall July 13, 2012 at 09:15 PM
@ Steve Cohn, who wrote above: "Talk to Tom McCormick who got voted out of office after trying to develop a teen center in Orinda (not for that but because he was too outspoken on another topic). " Tom wasn't too outspoken about his stance on debris blower regulation; he was candid, a trait we appreciated (even if it may have led to his defeat). This fall, two Council candidates in Orinda will have ample time to articulate their views on Orinda's debris blower problem, and well before election day!
Mike Huston July 13, 2012 at 09:50 PM
The kids ARE fenced in for their own protection. Any play structure close (within some number of feet) to a parking lot has to have a fence to prevent kids from getting run over. it's the law and a bit of common sense, which seems to be not so common. Please leave the innocent dogs out of it.
Opti Bob July 13, 2012 at 10:21 PM
I think we should just keep suing the town of Moraga that seemed to turn out really well.
Douglas Home July 14, 2012 at 02:46 AM
Well, Jon, it looks like we may finally agree on something - that human fatalities or life threatening injuries are not a significant risk at dog parks. I would also agree that dog on dog attacks are the most significant dog park risk - by far. By unleashing our dogs at the park, we are accepting that risk. We all understand that. I don't believe you've ever said it, but certainly members of the Town Council have. They try to equate dog on dog attacks to dog on human attacks. There is simply no comparison and they do themselves a grave disservice by trying.
Douglas Home July 14, 2012 at 02:51 AM
Ed, Crime Doggie is right. Cars are the risk - not dogs. This is why State law mandates fencing around playgrounds near roads and parking lots. There is no such requirement between playgrounds and dogs.
Douglas Home July 14, 2012 at 03:06 AM
Yes, Jon, but the same goes for driving cars. That, too, is a privilege. And yet, virtually none of us obey the traffic laws. Should we outlaw the automobile? If we did, it would save 1.2 million lives per year worldwide. WOW! Talk about selfishness. We're so wrapped up in our need for convenience that we're all willing to let 1.2 million people per year pay the ultimate price for it. Make no mistake - I'm a guilty as anybody in my love of the automobile. What really amazes me is that 1.2 million people a year do not die because of automobiles - they die because of piss poor driving habits. And yet - nobody seems to make mention of it. We're more concerned about dog parks, I guess.
Fritz 'Congodog' Stoop July 14, 2012 at 05:03 AM
T-Rod (cont.) Let's see if I can finish the thread without earning the axe. One day recently I was at RLP early with my Congodogs (3). A couple (50 ish) arrived with two dogs, one of size (50 lbs) and one little guy (5-10 lbs). They free the larger animal and my dogs do the standard sniff check and soon they are chasing one another, new pals, having dog 'fun'. They have had PeeWee in their arms and as they lower him to the ground they slap a lead on him (mistake #1). PeeWee lays his ears back and puts his tail solidly between his legs. My pups see the new addition and run over to meet and greet. My guys are not size conscious (human thinking), they are simply wondering what PeeWee has to offer. PeeWee, utterly unsocialized, starts barking and biting. My dogs do not retaliate but stick around to see why PeeWee's all upset. Then (mistake #2) they pick PeeWee up. Now my dogs think its a game and jump up on PeeWee's mom playfully, no biting, lots of tails wagging. Peewee's mom goes ballistic and kicks at my dogs violently. I am right there, 3-4 feet away. I suggest she put PeeWee down and let them associate untethered. Mom looks at me as if I am insane and offers some very unsociable words. I leash my pups and walk away. As we pass while walking the scene repeats, duh. So I beg them. Back off a dozen feet and put PeeWee down, no lead. I leash mine and release them one by one and in three minutes, they are all playing like lifetime pals. Not rocket science.
Robert Strauss July 14, 2012 at 05:01 PM
Works for me.
Douglas Home July 15, 2012 at 10:26 PM
Since my "just go to The Commons" comments clearly don't sit well with some, let's take a survey, shall we? Somebody please give me just ONE reason why going to The Commons in lieu of RLP is a compromise to a person not wanting to be around dogs? Is it distance? Is it facilities? Is it parking? Please ..give us a clue. So we don't waste a bunch of time - please refrain from the entirely self centered "I don't want to" or "Why should I have to?" response. We've heard those already.
Jon Chambers July 15, 2012 at 11:13 PM
I could turn this around, and say "why don't you just take your dog to Mulholland", but think I already know many of the answers to that. But there are some very valid reasons why our family generally prefers to go to RLP vs. Commons. 1) Distance--RLP is an easy walk, Commons is a drive. 2) Flat turf, limited trees. For kicking a soccer ball, playing flag football, flying model planes, throwing frisbees, etc., RLP a much better configuration. 3) Not usually as busy--getting picnic tables can sometimes be an issue at Commons, rarely at RLP. 4) Access to EBMUD trails--we often do a family hike on the trail out to the reservoir, or up the ridgeline, and want to end with a picnic at RLP. That doesn't work the same way at Commons. Finally, there's a perverse irony that we can't realistically bring our dog with us to RLP during "dog hours"--he's not the type who mixes well with all the other off-leash dogs in that particular environment (although he does OK at Mulholland or Redwood), and keepng him on-leash while other dogs are off-leash doesn't work, as FCS correctly notes. That's a problem that spatial separation would solve.
Fritz 'Congodog' Stoop July 16, 2012 at 12:01 AM
TSS (Train, Socialize, Supervise) is a mandatory element of dog ownership. An intelligent dog owner that, for some reason, wants to tether a dog in an off lead setting simply drops the lead until introductions are made. This assumes the tethered dog has been successfully trained and socialized and will respond to voice commands. The leashed canine at the off lead park is something of a rarity and most times occurs with under-enlightened folks that are convinced it is the proper posture for introduction. When one of my charges has a medical treatment going on or some other condition is present that make a leash necessary, he/she stays home, period. They get an on-lead neighborhood walk in lieu of the romp. Dropping the lead temporarily does not seem difficult, but who knows. Another element that has escaped scrutiny thus far is 'whole' (un-spayed or castrated) animals. My dogs had their glory days in the confirmation ring and lure courses before they ever saw an off lead park. Hormones bring out primal urges and behaviors that no degree of TSS can nullify. You bring a 'whole' animal to the off lead park and you should be asked to leave at once. I met a woman at RLP that told me that her bitch was in season again, but was not concerned because all the males appeared to be 'cut' (dog talk for neutered). Insane. The process greatly reduces the drive, but not entirely. Please keep them away until "fixed".
Fritz 'Congodog' Stoop July 16, 2012 at 01:10 AM
"One reason a dog can be such a comfort when you're feeling blue is that he doesn't try to find out why" Anon.
Tina Chambers July 16, 2012 at 02:05 AM
Fritz, while I agree that a "drop the leash" strategy might work for some dogs, I'm not convinced it's the right strategy for every dog in every environment. Our dog is a Shiba, and has a strong alpha personality. While he's not truly dog aggressive, he can be assertive and "bossy" with other dogs. His alpha side has a tendency to set other dogs off without any aggressive acts on his part, particularly when he joins an established pack hierarchy. For example, there's a Great Dane in the neighborhood, who walks fine with a couple of other local dogs, but goes off whenever Tahoe walks by. We have to be careful to give them a wide berth. There's no way I'd allow Tahoe off-leash with that particular dog. He's done fine with other alpha dogs off-leash--he used to love to run with a small pack of three Irish Wolfhounds. Anyway, my main point is that leashes are sometimes necessary, because they help keep incompatible dogs apart from each other, and it's much easier to keep dogs separate than to break up a fight. That said, I agree with your point that off-leash dogs usually get along better than on-leash. The most volatile combination is a mix of off and on leash. Finally, I think your "TSS" approach may be necessary for some of the owners--like the owner of the in season bitch you describe.
Fritz 'Congodog' Stoop July 16, 2012 at 05:53 AM
Tina, TSS is mandatory whether that (or any) dog ever sees an off lead park or not. Dogs need to know where they stand and who is boss. It is comforting to them to understand what you expect of them. Then all one need be is consistent with them as the less they are forced to "go primitive" to solve situational dilemmas, the more assured they are. "Tahoe" the Shiba may not be off lead material. Doesn't make him a bad fellow, just not a candidate for free form canine sociability. My boy, "Ozzie" was not at all an off lead prospect throughout his (thankfully short) show career. Once finished with that stuff, he was bred twice then 'cut', it took some training cycles to get him to drop the need to dominate (all 25 pounds of him!) everything in sight and now he is a charmer. He excelled at lure coursing, as well, but when the race was over he required swift bundling. I had no illusions about him ever qualifying to be off lead compatible, some perfectly fine household pets should stay clear of off lead scenarios. Up to a point, the issue cannot be forced and I was ready to keep him on lead and away from off lead parks, but fortunately he mellowed. Leads in off lead scenes put a lot of pressure on the leashed dog. If you have any doubts, find a way to ease them into it. A large place like Point Isabel has a great deal of land and mid-week, mid-day visits (when numbers are down) is a good place to begin.
Douglas Home July 17, 2012 at 04:03 AM
Here's a great article presented to me by someone who prefers to keep out of the "dog fight" . Accordingly, I'll take responsibility for it :) http://www.nycoffleash.com/html/index2.htm
Jon Chambers July 17, 2012 at 04:50 AM
Good article Doug. Of course, like most issues, there is always a counter-opinion. The following article takes the other side of the argument. It primarily cites risks to the dogs, but also notes risks to people who frequent dog parks. The author is a dog trainer, and like many trainers, thinks dog parks are a very bad idea. http://leerburg.com/dogparks.htm?set=1
Fritz 'Congodog' Stoop July 17, 2012 at 02:10 PM
Doug, Thanks for the validation.

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