Letters To The Editor: Rancho Laguna Park

A reader writes that the 1,800-person Rancho Laguna Park petition currently before the town needs to be addressed.


Patch was cc'd on a letter from a citizen to Town Manager Jill Keimach:


Dear Jill:

I have several issues with your communications with the community on the Town website and the Patch regarding yet another new plan for a fenced dog park at Rancho Laguna.  Both imply that receipt of input through these outlets will help the Town make a decision on this new fenced dog park plan.  Both fail to disclose that the Town can’t legally act on a fenced dog park until after the referendum election at the earliest.  They also fail to disclose that the Town has received input on many similar plans from numerous people over four years who made the effort to participate in workshops, citizens committees and town meetings. 

By implying that this new dog park proposal will somehow solve the Rancho Laguna issue, you are misleading the community and violating the spirit, if not the letter, of the referendum law.  By law, the Town must respond to the referendum in one of two ways: (1) it can repeal the ordinance in which case it cannot enact the same ordinance or anything similar for one year after the repeal, or (2) it can submit the ordinance to the voters in the November general election or at a special election.  Any action by the Town to approve or implement a fenced dog park at Rancho Laguna before that time would be in clear violation of the referendum statute.  It is unclear whether the Council can even discuss a specific fenced plan at this point without violating the law. The only possible use of the so-called input from these outlets would be to begin implementation of a plan sometime after the election assuming that the referendum is defeated.  If that is the purpose, seeking the input now is deceptive and a further waste of staff time and resources.  It also insures that the “acrimony” will continue at least until November, in spite of the disingenuous Patch lead-in stating that “town leaders are looking for a way around the acrimony.”

Moreover, this so-called “conversation with the community” is an insult to the 1800+ people who signed the referendum petition and to the referendum process itself.  The over 100 people who circulated the petitions actually did have conversations with the community, in person, actual dialogue, discussion, questions and answers.  To ignore the referendum input and describe these internet surveys as “conversations” is insulting and just plain wrong.

It is a further insult that you actually state that this input will be used to help the Town Council make a decision on Rancho Laguna Park.  The signatures on the referendum petition were legally verified by the County Elections office to be registered Moraga voters.  Why don’t you use that input?  Who are the people who will be responding to these internet questions?  You will have no way of knowing whether they live in Moraga, are registered to vote in Moraga, or even exist. 

The effect, if not the goal, of these “outreach” efforts is to confuse the community and give the impression that the inevitable and only desirable resolution of this issue is a fenced dog park. Your submission to the community of this new proposal while a fenced park at Rancho Laguna is the subject of a referendum without any explanation of when and how such a plan could legally be implemented does a disservice to the community.  It also appears to be a blatant attempt to circumvent the referendum process.


Trish Bare

Y. Pinchus July 03, 2012 at 05:35 PM
Again, it's not the same, the "same script" will not play out. Many of the things worth having take time, money, problem resolution and compromise. The journey maybe be stressful, take wrong turns, and waste time and money. We won't know if it's worth it until a solution is found. I think the solution maybe found in the Back 40.
Dennis Wanken July 03, 2012 at 06:08 PM
I was just reading an article about off-leash dog parks. It involved the City of Baltimore being fined by the United States Environmental Protection Agency for an extremely high bacteria count as a result of fecal matter in the soil. Baltimore had to pay the fine as well as remove the contaminated soil and import clean soil as replacement. Eventually, Baltimore terminated the off-leash dog park. Just thought it might be another related issue for this discussion.
Ryan July 03, 2012 at 06:17 PM
Sure, why not just copy in all of those "dog bites child" or "dogs barking causes neighbors to complain" stories in there. Google can find about 500 million of those, all totally relevant to the story right? You didn't even link to this explosive hard hitting evidence to ban dog parks across America and possibly the world if people knew what was good for them. Please share it if you could, thank you.
Diana Stephens July 03, 2012 at 10:12 PM
Unfortunately, I don't think the Patch gets as much attention as it might seem. It's usually the same people making the same comments, often anonymously, which strangely reflects the three Town Council Members and their handful of supporters. This is best left to the voters.
J.D. O'Connor (Editor) July 03, 2012 at 10:15 PM
Hi, Diana... I respectfully must wholeheartedly disagree with two of the three tines of your three-pronged statement. As for letting the people speak... we're all for that here AND at the ballot box.
Fritz 'Congodog' Stoop July 04, 2012 at 12:26 AM
2nd, The only way to ascertain the relative sizes of the various contingencies is to have the election, see which way the tail wags relative to imprisoning our beloved pets, and for whom the bell tolls regarding the new TC configuration. The stasis created by this relatively simply issue indicates to me that the current leadership as configured is at best ineffective and at worst ineffective. I pray there exists among our citizens a galvanizing figure that will shed light and promise on the future in lieu of the current stagnation. The letter is about malignancy caused by indecision and weak leadership. It is also about 'more of the same' strategizing. Doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results is a commonly held definition of insanity.
M. N. July 04, 2012 at 10:40 PM
2nd Gen wrote: "... a small minority trying to monopolize a Town resource for their own exclusive use." The concept of temporal separation is contrary to exclusive use. You know this to be the case, so why the hyperbole?
2nd Generation Moraga July 04, 2012 at 11:20 PM
@MN: I'm not sure what hyperbole you are speaking about. At a time when feedback from the general public should be solicited and welcomed, Ms. Bare's letter is attempting to stifle input. My comment above addresses that issue. Regarding your 2nd point about Temporal Separation: If the guidelines established by the Town had been adhered to, we would not have this issue today. Unfortunately the Off-Leash Hours and the "Clean your mess" guidelines have been generally and consistently ignored for years, creating the on-going conflict that brought us here.
Larry Tessler July 05, 2012 at 06:50 PM
We can debate whether the signing by 1800 petitioners reflects an opinion to keep the park as it is or whether these people simply wanted the off-leash hours restored until a suitable compromise could be worked out is up for debate. As part of the group that initiated the petition and as one whose wife collected many signatures I tend to lean toward the latter explanation. With respect to providing more input to the town, this is a good thing. But it also must be remembered that the Council agreed that a committee be formed to determine whether the original Plan C that split the park was a viable plan. I served on that very diverse community member committee and we determined Plan C was viable by a vote of 13 to 2. We recognized that the Council was not bound to accept our recommendation and so they didn't. What they did do, however, was to accept an alternate plan submitted by the minority faction. They failed to take an obvious step of turning this back to the committee for evaluation and possible adjustment. Thus, a referendum was initiated. As I've reached my limit of characters in this message, please read on.
Larry Tessler July 05, 2012 at 06:59 PM
To continue with my comment you will see out of order below: While some would like the park to remain as is with limited off-leash hours but no restriction for general use there are some that would like to see dedicated areas that allow more to use the park whenever without their fears of dog interruption or their fears of stepping in dog poop. The "New Plan" as presented by Town Manager Keimach resolves, in my opinion, both of these perceived problems. While a plan can not be initiated due to legal restrictions revolving around the referendum, wouldn't it make sense to agree on plan that could be implemented a year hence? One more observation. Currently the off-leash dogs have non-exclusive use of the park approximately up to five soggy hours in the winter and up to six hours per day in the summer. Everyone, except off-leash dogs, has use of the park up to 15 hours per day.
2nd Generation Moraga July 05, 2012 at 07:42 PM
Larry: I find your comments refreshingly honest and on-point. 1) Your insight into the primary reason many signed the petition seems VERY accurate. 2) As you were directly involved in the recommendations to the TC, can you briefly quantify the differences between your committee's recommended proposal and the final proposal the TC accepted - and between the final proposal and the current proposal from Ms. Keimach.
Larry Tessler July 05, 2012 at 08:19 PM
2 Gen has asked me to describe the differences between Plan C, the plan accepted by the Council and Ms. Keimach's plan. Briefly, as I interpret it, Ms. Keimach's plan is a version similar to Plan C with the general configuration re-set to provide more efficient space allowed for general use. It also allows for the dogs to enter their space with no interruption to the general use space. The plan accepted by the council was proportioned such that while dogs could roam, ball tossing would not be practical for those dogs who really like to run way out. In the interest of full disclosure, please understand that I am not speaking for any others on either the dog park committee or the referendum committee. These are my interpretations and my opinions. I have no connection with LaMorinda Dogs other than to have made small monetary donations at two of their picnics and, from time to time, to present compromise options.
Jon Chambers July 05, 2012 at 08:32 PM
2nd Gen, as a fellow Committee member that served with Larry, I can tell you he is reasonable, and listens well to others. While I don't always agree with him (for instance, as he knows, I disagree that the Committee vote was 13-2), if there is any possibility for compromise, it will center around Larry and people like him. For example, Trish Bare, the letter's author, also served on the Committee, and takes a very different approach from Larry. I think Larry's summary of the issue is fair--it illustrates that he listens to others. I understand that a compromise agreed to now couldn't be implemented for a year, due to the referendum, but it still might be a good idea to seek a compromise. With the required implementation delay, acting on the compromise would require a great deal of trust from both sides--both sides would worry that the deal might be changed to their detriment during the year waiting period--but that's the nature of compromise, sometimes you just have to trust. I'd like to see a compromise, it will be interesting to see how this works out.
2nd Generation Moraga July 05, 2012 at 08:35 PM
Larry: Understanding that you don't speak or represent LD, were there LD members on the committee that developed and ultimately supported plan C? I have repeatedly asked for someone from the off-leash group to explain how 1.9 acres of fenced and dedicated off-leash space is not acceptable, and they have yet respond with an explanation. Perhaps Mr. Chambers can weigh in on whether the plan submitted by Ms. Keimach would be an acceptable compromise versus the plan the TC approved (which I understand was developed by him).
Larry Tessler July 05, 2012 at 09:26 PM
Well, you're testing my memory now. As I recall the committee was widely diversified. Representation did include LaMorinda Dogs. There was also a horse person (she has a dog but doesn't use the park for dog purposes), a person very knowledgable about everything soccer (he was in favor of the Plan C proposal as he felt the park was suitable for practice only), a couple of people on the Park and Rec commission, several citizens like myself who live in different sections of town, a person from Lafayette who comes to the park, three with lawyerly backgrounds. I would say virtually everyone came with one degree of bias or another. I think everyone came with the desire to compromise including LM Dogs. Only one, in my estimation, felt the committee was rigged (my word, not this individual's). As far as I know, no one who wanted to serve was denied the opportunity. We met three times in three different locations. Plan C was marked out on our visit to RLP. Anyone who wanted to was given the right to move the markers around. The 1.9 acres isn't necessarily about total space but rather how the space is configured and the makeup of the surface area. For example, some riparian area was included in the 1.9. Of course, this area would not be usable by the dogs. Also, the 1.9 was about the split between dirt and turf. Finally, I believe Jon Chambers is pretty much on board with the JK "New Plan."
2nd Generation Moraga July 05, 2012 at 09:35 PM
Mr. Tessler: Thanks for contributing this background. In the end one would think there is adequate space to accommodate ALL desired uses at RLP, and this type of "discussion" is critical to the success of any "compromise" solution. It appears that Ms. Keimach's plan addresses all constituencies. I do not know the specifics of the referendum law, however even if the plan can't go into effect for an additional 12 months, it would be an acceptable long-term solution. Here is to hoping that everyone can be as reasoned as you.
Jon Chambers July 05, 2012 at 10:01 PM
I generally agree with Larry, but as noted above, we have some differences of opinion. The Committee included two LD directors, and, by my estimation, seven LD members/supporters (someone like Larry that participates from time to time in LD picnics, etc.) Plan C was developed by LD, and its president. I wouldn't say that the Committee was necessarily "rigged", but from a minority perspective, it was an uphill battle to suggest changes to Plan C. The committee was organized by an LD director, and someone I think is an LD member, so it certainly had strong LD representation. Some constituencies weren't represented--e.g., Camino Pablo PTA president was invited, but couldn't join due to time conflicts. To be fair to the organizers, they put the Committee together on very short notice during spring break week, so it was difficult to to get parents of school age children to participate. There were two elements of Plan C I disliked: 1) Scale--originally, 2.7 acres, but reduced by riparian areas, as Larry notes. That is roughly half of RLP's programmable space 2) Prominence of fence--bisecting RLP on a diagonal, between entrance drive and amphitheater. I proposed D1 and D2 to address both concerns. TC selected D2. Jill Keimach's plan also addresses both concerns, and connects the dog park to the parking lot (D2 didn't), which seems important to LD, and doesn't bother me. If TC had sent the issue back to Committee, we might have come up with something like Jill's plan.
Scott July 06, 2012 at 02:16 AM
A month ago I went to the dog park. A woman with a clipboard approached me and mincing no words asked if I was a registered Moraga voter, I said yes. She asked if I would like to preserve the dog park and avoid the town councils suspension of the off leash hours. I said yes and signed. Last week I went back. My kids were playing and loving the newly installed play structure as my dog played. As I stood there two gentleman(who were in a circle with the woman who asked for my signature that night) came up to the play structure. They were studying the height of the gate handle and commenting with some satisfaction that the measurements were out of compliance with this law or that law. It was clear they didn't care for the play structure and had their own agenda. The energy that night from the kids playing on the newly installed structure was jubilant. In fact everybody enjoying the same park on a beautiful night with no problems....it was Mayberryesqe. I regretted my decision to sign the petition. I was not aware of the various proposals until now and am saddened by all the acrimony that makes more sense now. This park is a great resource for the whole community let's get a grip and work it out.
Jon Chambers July 06, 2012 at 02:39 PM
Whichever side of the issue you are on, the following link to Los Gatos Patch shows the situation in Moraga is not unique. Los Gatos has a different fact pattern--they currently have no off-leash hours, and are proposing temporal separation (two hours) as a potential step towards a fenced, off-leash areas. The petitioners are challenging the temporal separation plan. Otherwise, the debate is similar. http://losgatos.patch.com/articles/petition-opposes-off-leash-dog-pilot-program
Mike Huston July 06, 2012 at 05:51 PM
Scott, Like all of these issues, we get fringes from both sides. I helped collect signatures. The only reason many of us signed the petition was because of the awful way the Town Council and 2 dissentors to the Plan C proposal squashed an agreeable compromise. Had the TC had the good sense to maintain off-leash until a compromise was found, we wouldn't be where we are. I've been coming to the park for over 10 years with dogs. Personally I love the new play structure. It is a great addition and provides some of the fenced separation needed to keep dogs out of the play area. Being a dog owner, it seems you appreciate the multiple use of the park. I don't know any "off-leashers" who object to sharing the park. In fact it could be great way for kids to learn more about dogs and be comfortable around them rather than being instilled with fear. I hope you don't regret your signing the petition. There are many of us - see Larry above - who are reasonable.
Jon Chambers July 06, 2012 at 06:15 PM
Mike, as one of the two dissenters (and also a dog owner), I'm sad to hear you say you felt we "squashed" a compromise. I don't have space to go into the issues with Committee dynamics, but suffice it to say that on the Committee, when it came time to vote, we weren't even permitted to consider any changes to Plan C--literally none (Larry suggested possible changes, in addition to the two dissenters). We weren't allowed to vote on alternative locations. Finally, the often reported 13-2 vote for Plan C counted votes in favor from members who weren't at the voting meeting, and likely opposed the Plan. I offered to take the lead on asking Council to hold off on ending off-leash while further compromise was discussed, or while a different solution (such as back 40) was studied and built, there was no interest in this either. Since compromise wasn't possible on the Committee, I brought alternatives to Council. Larry is correct that Council could have sent the alternatives back to the Committee. I hear what you are saying about the Council's decision to end off-leash--I didn't like it either. However, I understood it--TC was seeking to bring an issue to closure, rather than continuing the multi-year debate. It seems the debate will last at least a while longer. Mike, what do you think of Jill Keimach's plan? Do you see it as a reasonable way to share the park? It seems reasonable to me.
Larry Tessler July 06, 2012 at 06:57 PM
Scott, I'm sorry you had a bad experience at the park. On the other hand, please consider your's as an anecdotal experience. Anecdotally, other than the seemingly low use of the play structure, I and others I know (all of us with off-leash dogs) like and are proud of such a structure. Also, anecdotally, in the past several days two children, one 6 and the other about the same age, asked if they could throw the ball to my dog. They did and we all enjoyed the experience. My dog is the 3 legged Border Collie mix. Come say hello when you see me or my wife. Now, please consider that without your signature there would be zero off-leash dogs out at RLP and no hope of arriving at a solution that would be acceptable to the majority of Moraga residents, only to those who don't want any off-leash dogs at all.
Larry Tessler July 06, 2012 at 07:10 PM
Jon, I'd like to add my perspective to your comments. First of all, it was my understanding that the Town Council asked that the committee evaluate plan C. They didn't ask for any radical changes and they didn't ask us to evaluate alternate sites. We did, however, review the general viability of 3 other sites: Across from St. Mary's, Mulholland Ridge and the back 40. Second, you may also recall that Plan C was staked out on the grass. Extra stakes were provided and all were encouraged to place those stakes or even move the ones placed if they had a better idea. I must also restate that the TC asked us to evaluate Plan C. I had no illusions that even if we did vote for the plan that the TC was under any obligation to accept our recommendation. Our elected officials had every right to review and accept alternatives. And, in fact, they did. They accepted yours. At the risk of sounding like a broken record, the TC should have turned the plan back to the committee for evaluation. If Plan C, which you opposed, could be evaluated, why not evaluate D1 or D2? Fortunately for the two of us, should the Keimach plan be agreed upon then we will have the best elements of both C and D1-2. Maybe in a year or so we will see a new way for all to use the park.
J.D. O'Connor (Editor) July 06, 2012 at 07:11 PM
@Larry -- Lamorinda Patch is particularly fond of three-legged dogs.
Jon Chambers July 06, 2012 at 07:52 PM
Larry, I appreciate both your tone and your content. I agree with virtually everything you are saying, particularly your comments about the Keimach plan. I know we disagreed about the Committee's mandate from Council, and I guess we still disagree on that issue today. But the bottom line is, we still have an opportunity to compromise, and I'm hopeful that reasonable people like you and Mike can help us find a compromise that's truly agreeable to all.
Mike Huston July 10, 2012 at 04:47 AM
Jon, Jill seems to have seen the light, but too late. Putting up a distraction that even the TC had not seen until the night of revelation was ridiculous. The next step is leaving the park as is for the next year, at least, or putting it on the ballot and perhaps revisiting Plan C or other design. If the voters of Moraga want a fenced dog park we will find out. We will also find out if the TC as it exists now will continue, which will be another factor in the ultimate disposition of RFLP. I would rather we didn't carve up the park, but I can certainly live with a fair compromise that is not imposed by a vocal minority faction on either side.
Larry Tessler July 10, 2012 at 05:11 AM
Mike, Jill's proposal really isn't too late. Whether the referendum goes on the ballot or not and if it does and it wins or loses the TC can't act with a similar proposal for a year. Thus, the Keimach proposal is really something that if agreed up would be a plan in waiting, i.e, waiting for a year to pass before such a plan could either be implemented or, God help us, undergo further debate.
Larry Tessler July 10, 2012 at 05:15 AM
Hey, J.D., thank you and the Patch for liking 3 legged dogs. Mine is the girl with the missing back leg. There's another out there with a missing front leg. Both are an inspiration to us all. Love their indomitable spirits!
Tony Rodriguez July 10, 2012 at 06:47 AM
I disagree with the notion that the topic is off-limits for one year. I don't see that in the statute -- because that is not what the statute says. It says a repealed ordinance, or if the ordinance is submitted for voter approval and fails, shall not again be adopted for one year after repeal or failure to win approval. So let's not have incorrect readings of the law fuzz up finding and implementing a solution.
J.D. O'Connor (Editor) July 10, 2012 at 01:57 PM
Morning, Larry... well, ANY animal actual, but particularly those with the type of spirit you mention. Humans with these attributes elicit similar feelings. Give your girl a Patch Pet for us. All best...


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