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 The Council’s vote unleashed a petition drive demanding that the ordinance be rescinded.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.