Wednesday Night’s Moraga Town Council Meeting Goes “Off-Leash”

The Rancho Laguna dog park controversy continues to show its teeth.


UPDATED: July 2, with clarification of council direction.

There was a lot of bark without much bite at Wednesday night’s Moraga Town Council meeting as a request from town staff for direction to gather more comments in the Rancho Laguna dog park controversy drew snide remarks from audience members and fueled terse exchanges between council members.  The meeting was punctuated by an exchange between Mayor Mike Metcalf and Councilmember Ken Chew that ended with Metcalf gaveling an impromptu recess out of apparent frustration.

The exchange was not related to a new ordinance or a politically meaty resolution, but by a request from Town Manager Jill Keimach to seek additional community input on yet another potential configuration of a fenced dog park in Rancho Laguna with the hope of finding common ground for all sides to end the increasingly acrimonious debate.

There was a flurry of questions and suggestions from members of the council, including a suggestion from Councilmember Trotter to include alternative plans referred to as Option C and Option D2.  Keimach asked for clarification and said that she had heard three steps to be taken forward: 1) to seek comment from the community on the fence proposal (map) that she had offered, 2) to seek comment from the community as to whether a "no-fence" option was desired, and 3) to seek comment from the community about a third possible option, at which point she mentioned both Option C and D2.  In the end, however, it was her proposed map and an option to leave the current off-leash hours in place that were approved for inclusion in the survey.

At its May 9 meeting, the Council adopted the second reading of Ordinance 236, which would have eliminated off-leash-dog hours at the park except in a yet-to-be-built, fenced dog park of less than 3 acres.  The Council’s vote unleashed a petition drive demanding that the ordinance be rescinded.  The County has since validated the petition’s signatures and the issue will return to the Council for action on July 11.  The renewed effort at finding common ground was aimed at providing options for the council when the ordinance returns for council action, which could trigger a referendum. 

A separate and more substantive agenda item related to the same dogged controversy established a new set of rules governing the use of the park by organized sports groups.  Rumors of a “sports complex,” or a permanent soccer field, goals, and bleachers, cast clouds of both confusion and suspicion over discussions about the proposed dog park.  An application for autumn use of the field at Rancho Laguna, filed in March by Eclipse Soccer, fueled speculation about the Town’s plans for the park.  Town Recreation Director, Jay Ingram, said that the intent of the new rules was to limit the use of the park by organized sports teams and not an attempt to re-task the park’s fields away from their current use.  However, a number of speakers saw the rules as an endorsement of organized sports use by the Town.

Councilmember Dave Trotter said that while he might support the proposed rules in principle, he questioned the timing of adopting them with the final configuration of the park still subject to a potential referendum.  Both Trotter and Metcalf voted against the new rules, while Councilmembers Ken Chew, Karen Mendonca, and Vice Mayor Howard Harpham voted to adopt them.

The new rules prohibit permanent bleachers, goals, and lines, and set clear limits on the park’s use by organized sports groups, like Eclipse.  Additional restrictions imposed on organized sports by the new rules include: No organized sports use on any Sunday, weekend organized sports use is limited to 12 Saturdays from mid March to mid June, and 12 Saturdays from mid Sept. to mid Dec.  The field is closed to organized sports from Dec. 15 to March 1, and from June 19 to Aug. 15.

Jon Chambers June 28, 2012 at 03:22 PM
Nice job on the summary, Sean and Patch. Last night's TC meeting was certainly contentious. I arrived at the meeting, hoping that the restrictions on sports use, and the new spatial separation plan proposed by town staff might lay the groundwork for further constructive discussions about how best to share the park's resources. However, as Sean notes, the tone of the dialog rapidly devolved into accusations and harangues. I guess we'll soon see if the "media outlet" comment process suggested by Jill Keimach can bring out a more constructive set of suggestions from our Town's citizenry.
Patrice Martens June 28, 2012 at 03:31 PM
Agree with Jon here. Fair presentation of this issue. For the record, who said "seriously?" when the recess was gaveled?? Wow.
Nicholas June 28, 2012 at 04:02 PM
Is "going off leash" the new "going postal?"
Andrew L. June 28, 2012 at 04:02 PM
Between Sean of Patch and Hannah, this site is unstoppable. What a great resource for timely local news.
Fritz 'Congodog' Stoop June 28, 2012 at 04:36 PM
I would like to propose that Rancho Laguna Park be designated a "Common Green". Common Green: An urban park including flexible open spaces with an open lawn area that serves as a recreation and social focal point for Moraga. The central lawn will be the main focus of the park, designed with multiple “rooms” offering a mix of complementary uses and large enough to support multiple simultaneous activities. The Common Green functions as unscheduled open space for uses such as picnicking and unstructured play, or for randomly scheduled public gatherings, performances and special events. The Common Green includes off-leash dog hours, community garden plots, landscaping, gathering areas, amphitheaters, space for public art, and/or hardscape areas. Recreational amenities may be incorporated as complementary facilities, but do not predominate. Examples of recreational facilities include tot lots and playgrounds, natural habitat informational areas, fitness courses and paved trails. Organized sports requiring scheduling, referees, coaches, uniforms will not be permitted as they tend to dominate such spaces and are a deterrent to activity driven by spontaneity and creative imagination. Moraga's school facilities represent ample flat lawn areas for organized sports. By establishing such a designation, the Town sets aside and protects a precious jewel of public land that represents and pays homage to our innate ability to enjoy unstructured leisure time.
J.D. O'Connor (Editor) June 28, 2012 at 04:42 PM
Agreed. But then, I'm biased. Thank you, Andrew!
John Onoda June 28, 2012 at 05:06 PM
This was really a nice piece of reporting. Thank you, Patch.
J.D. O'Connor (Editor) June 28, 2012 at 05:12 PM
Thank you kindly, John... for saying so. We thought so, too.
Fritz 'Congodog' Stoop June 29, 2012 at 01:30 AM
This article is a decent representation of the event, particularly in light of the severe space/time limits. I would urge Moragans regardless of position on this issue to come and see their local government at work. It can be enlightening in the extreme. A Town Council schedule of meetings can be found here: http://www.moraga.ca.us/calendar#7-2012
John Q. Citizen June 30, 2012 at 07:09 AM
The build-up to the TC meeting was palpable, as airwaves were flying with rumors, charges, and innuendo. Contrary to what I had been led to expect, the TC did not exhibit pettiness, querulousness or arrogance. Rather, they showed true grace and statesmanship, even in the face of some wild charge that 3 of them "listen to" a special guy. Far from being a charade, their proposal to eliminate permanent bleachers and goals was thought-provoking, earnest and reassuring. The trio, together with J&J staffers and their loquacious salesman JC, present a formidable challenge to park preservationists of all stripes, whether animal lovers, environmentalists, or Moraga traditionalists. The TC, as later confirmed by its two question neutrally-framed survey, is open-minded about how best to accommodate new sports fields, and has shown true creativeness in how to avoid referenda and great confidence in staking their political futures to a single issue. Truly inspirational .
Zoe Claire June 30, 2012 at 03:02 PM
It looks like the town is looking for a way to find a solution to this and I hope they do. When it comes to a sports field idea I hope they take the noise and traffic and mess the fields bring into consideration. The park was always supposed to be a quiet little neighborhood escape and not a place for organized sports.


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