Oaklanders tote signs to showing their sympathies on the Lakeview Dog Park Proposal.
Councilmembers could not reach a quorum on the issue — needing at least a five vote majority — as four members voted for, three against and Councilwoman Brunner was absent. Both Lakeview Dog Park supporters and proponents of keeping Astro Park as 3.66 acres of "unprogrammed," grassy "visual respite" are going to have to wait another two weeks before Councilmembers hear the item again.
Two items on the agenda were focused on the dog park: An appeal of the Park and Recreation Advisory Committee decision to deny granting a Minor Conditional Use Permit for the Lakeview Dog Park, put forth by the Oakland Dog Owners Group; and a resolution denying said appeal, backed by a group called Save Astro Park - SAP. Conditional Use Permit is "a process which provides the city with the flexibility to determine if a specific use at a certain location will be compatible with the neighborhood," according to city zoning codes.
As the meeting turned to the dog park issue, Councilman De La Fuente joked, "We have no speakers on this item, right?" which was met with loud chuckling from the standing-room-only chamber, many toting signs and sporting a yellow paw print in support or a green "SAP" sticker in opposition.
For a solid four hours, the dog park debate held the floor, with passionate arguments coming from both sides. Those arguments, voiced by the 173 speakers on the issue, brought up a multitude of issues and framed the debate in many different ways — but main concerns seemed to return to the importance of preserving Astro Park as the rare green urban space that it is, and the necessity of a dog park in the area as Oakland has only five free dog parks and dogs are not legally allowed in any of the city's other parks (and definitely not allowed off leash).
Lakeview Dog Park supporters said the park would be beneficial in reducing car pollution from dog owners who drive to Alameda or Richmond to let their dogs roam free and would keep the dollars spent by those individuals who leave the city to exercise their dogs in the Lake Merritt neighborhood. One speaker held up a giant $10,000 check donated from the estate of a recently deceased dog owner and lover who had hoped to see the park built, demonstrating that funds for the project would mostly come from private sources. Supporters insisted that the park, which would be decorated with flowers, would be a visual enhancement — and that creating a dog park in the area would make the space more inclusive of everyone, specifically dog owners (which, they said, comprise 47 percent of Oakland's households — a whopping 11 percent greater than households with children in the city) who wish to use public parks with the companionship of their dogs.
SAP representative Brad McCrea called the issue in his opening presentation "the classic tragedy of the commons," and argued that the fencing off nearly a quarter of the open area of the park would infringe upon the many sports and other recreational activities that take place in the park. SAP supporters raised issues of safety for both children visiting the park and dogs, insisting that the four-foot fence proposed would not serve to adequately protect dogs from leaping out of the park. One opponent called the framing of the issue on part of ODOG and supporters as a civil rights issue (the right to use public space as a dog owner) "offensive," a sentiment that was echoed by others wanting to preserve the green space. Some dog park opponents suggested that another spot be selected for the park, including Oakland resident John Sutter, who said that green spaces should not be treated like vacant lots waiting to be carved up and that perhaps the deserted gas station near the area could be transformed instead.
Councilwoman Nadel, who represents District 3 where the dog park would be built, said that "gas stations are abandoned because they are full of toxins." Nadel voted to approve the appeal to overturn PRAC's decision and approve further dog park planning, as did Councilmembers Schaaf, De La Fuente and Kaplan. Councilwomen Brooks, Kernighan and Council President Reed (who shared with the crowd that he was the proud owner of two dogs, Smoky and Snickers Reed) voted against, agreeing with the SAP slogan that the Lakeview Dog Park Proposal is "the right idea but the wrong place." Councilmembers voted to move the issue to the Dec. 18 City Council meeting — a decision reached at about 12:50 a.m.
Although Councilmembers did not agree on the dog park issue, most voiced
concern about the stringent leash laws in Oakland. Kernighan said PRAC was due to begin the process of liberalizing dog policies in the city in upcoming meetings. Kaplan said the intensity of the evening's debate
demonstrated the necessity to change leash laws in the city and other
laws concerning dogs in public spaces.
"It shouldn't be this fraught, frankly," she said, smiling at the crowd of bleary-eyed Oaklanders shortly after the postponement was announced.
The two-week postponement was certainly anti-climactic after the hours of powerful speeches, but will continue the debate only a short span of time in light of the the 14 years the
proposal has been on the city books. If the appeal on behalf of creating a dog park goes through on Dec. 18, the Lakeview Dog Park proposal will have to return to PRAC, and if it is passed the park will be subject to a review one year after opening to reevaluate it's compliance with the CUP.
To read past Oakland coverage of the Lakeview Dog Park Proposal debate, click here and here.