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Lake Merritt is not a place for a dog park (Community Voices)

Oakland Booty, another great dog sit by greenkozi,

Oakland Booty, another great dog sit by greenkozi,

Earlier this year, the Oakland Planning Commission denied a permit to build the dog park at Lake Merritt. Dog park supporters will be appealing the decision at the Dec. 4, City Council meeting.   

When this issue came up before, it proved to be very divisive.  Many came to speak out passionately against it. However, many supporters argued that dog owners would be responsible. This contradicts what I’ve seen. For example:

There was a “No Dogs Allowed Sign” at Lake Merritt. Right next to it, I saw a man playing fetch with his dog.

  • Many dog owners do not clean up behind their dogs. Thus, more and more yards around Lake Merritt (even a church and a senior citizen home) have added signs asking people not to allow their dogs to defecate on their yards. Those signs are ugly and distracting - unfortunately, many feel they are now necessary.
  • One time I was at a patio restaurant. A couple walked two large dogs through the patio. The dogs were as tall as the tables. They casually licked and sniffed tables as they passed them. The owners were too busy talking to notice. I often see people walking with dogs off leashes.
  • One time, I walked past a man walking a large dog. The dog lunged at me aggressively.  “Sorry,” the man said sheepishly, “For some reason he hates black men.”

Not all dog owners are so irresponsible, but enough have been to make the dog park a divisive issue. For example, no dog park supporter can guarantee that no dog will urinate or defecate near the children’s playground. This may not be an issue at other dogs parks in Oakland because they are tucked away in less busy parts of the city.  However, the proposed location at Lake Merritt is heavily used.
Dog park supporters can’t guarantee that some dog owner will not assume his or her dog is “special” and walk the dog through the playground or off leash. They seem not to realize or respect the fact that some people fear or hate dogs. Some people have allergies to animals.
While I understand some people see their dogs as their “children,” they should respect the fact that many others see them as animals.
Dogs have their place, but the lake is not one of them. I once asked a man with a large dog how did he keep it in an apartment. He said, nonchalantly, that he kept it crated all day and walked it a couple of times a day. That is cruel.
Dogs deserve better. The area around Lake Merritt is densely populated and not conducive to dog ownership. And this is the cost people make when they choose to live near the lake.
However, if the dog park is approved, perhaps we should ban dogs from the rest of Lake Merritt. However, I doubt it would be followed. I see unleashed dogs all the time despite signs that say keep your dog on a leash.

Oakland Local invites other views on this topic: contact with you post or essay. To follow more coverage of this topic see

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Kheven LaGrone is the editor of "Alice Walker's The Color Purple," a collection of literary criticism on the controversial novel. He was also the curator of Coloring Outside the Lines: Black Cartoonists as Social Commentators at the San Francisco Main Public Library and Laney College Library. Kheven LaGrone is currently curating "Remember My Name: Black Genealogy Through the Eye of An Artist" which will exhibit at the San Francisco Main Public Library later this year.

"One time, a dog did something I didn't like, so NO DOGS!"

Incredibly lazy thinking. We all have isolated negative experiences, drawing absolute conclusions from them is called stereotyping. This is just silly.

Also, Mr. LaGrone doens't know his facts. Dogs ARE banned from the rest of Lake Merritt. Leashed dogs are banned from almost every park in all of Oakland. 

Mr. LaGrone's bad facts go hand in hand with some faulty logic. The proposal is for a dog park, surrounded by a fence. There is no proposal for dogs in restaurants. And the dog that growled at him (and was restrained by it's responsible owner) could still be out there, because according to Mr. LaGrone, that incident didn't happen in a fenced dog park, but on the street, where dogs have always been legal.

Dog owners have very few legal places in this city to take their dogs. Oakland needs to create new dog parks and to repeal the law that bans leashed dogs in all Oakland parks.


I have to agree here. I'm not a dog owner. Logic would dictate that if owners had a place to take their dogs, they might not be using peoples lawns and parks where they're not supposed to be. I don't feel that the circumstances the writer used have anything to do with why Lake Merritt should or shouldn't have a dog park. I run the lake several times a week. I know it well and personally feel there is plenty of room there for a dog park and it shouldn't interfere with playgrounds or anything else. Also, if the dog ban was enforced around Lake Merritt, it may cause people with dogs to demand a public dog park. Because there is no enforcement, dog ownrers pretty much all ready have a dog park....the entire lake.

Wow, what a terribly written and poorly thought out article.  If you are against have a dog park around Lake Merritt, that's fine.  But to use a series of "One Times"  as the part of your your argument is just silly.  One time you saw a dog sniff a plate and lick a plate at a restaurant so there shouldn't be a dog park at Lake Merritt?  Huh?  Never join a debate club Kheven. 

Owners don't exactly have the entire lake to use as a dog park. A dog park should offer space where dogs can run free and play with each other, the lake doesn't have that. Also, the ban on dogs at the lake is enforced, just totally randomly. Every once in a while somebody gets a $300 fine and is stunned and surprised and angry about it.

Over 100 people have been shot dead in the streets of Oakland, and you're obsessed about a dog park near Lake Merrit?  Your priorities are completely backwards, and they just point the that Giant "priviledge" sign hanging around your neck.

Here's an idea, lets turn the green around Lake Merrit into a giant community garden to provide free food for the hundreds/thousands that are starving in the streets right now in the neighborhoods outside of Piedmont and Lake Merrit.  All that goose crap should be great fertilizer.

I would like to add a few points for clarification:


1.  The controversy is specifically over the Lakeview location.  Lakeview is a prime location in Oakland.  Animals don't need prime locations to play.  Oakland has other dog parks.

2.  At the Planning Meeting, Lakeview Dog Park supporters argued that dog owners would be responsible for cleaning up behind their animals.  I argue that there are many owners who would not be responsible.


3.  If dogs are currently not allowed at the Lake, but owners bring them anyway, can we assume they will "follow the rules of Lakeview Dog Park"?


4.  I gave a few concrete examples of irresponsible dog owners around Oakland (I could have added more).  If I did not give those examples, you probably would have argued that proof.


However, one interesting point was made in the comments.  If dogs are not supposed to be at the Lake, Oakland could generate a lot of revenue if it cited those more of those people walking dogs around the Lake.

People without dogs leave trash at the lake all the time, so we shouldn't have parkland for anyone.

Someone once knocked my table at a restaurant, so we shouldn't have parkland for anyone.

A kid at a playground once kicked me in the shin, so we should not have playgrounds. 

All these arguments are flimsy and silly. The fact is that there are a lot of people with dogs in Oakland, and that will NEVER change. Most of these people are law abiding citizens, who vote and pay taxes. Instead of listening to false stereotypes like this, and fear mongering, why don't we provide these people with a small, safe, legal place to go? 


The question here is about sharing space.  As a non dog owner I feel it is important that our parks also serve this large number of Oakland residents.

But the issue this writer brings up is very real.  The worst advocates for dog parks are the large number of irresponsible dog owners. 

No MAX, it is not just one dog once, it is almost every park almost all the time. 

raising two sons in Oakland has been made more difficult by dog owners who feel that the rules are not for them, not right now, not their dog. 

It has been a long time since I have gone to Mosswood Park, my closest park, and found the field free for kids to play catch without a dog off it's leash to deal with.  That is after many people, self included, went out on a limb to have a dog run at Mosswood Park.  At the time some neighbors said that we were inviting the off leash crowd to take over the whole park all the time.  They were right and we were wrong. 

Let's see some responsible sharing of the space and some more responsible dog ownership before we start putting more dog runs into our parks.

I would like to respond to your additional points:

1. This location goes unused 80% of the time. And, it's not just dogs that would be using this spot. Dog parks are for people.

2. Yes, dog owners would be responsible for cleaning the dog park. Other Oakland dog parks have been so well maintained that the group that manages them has received UNSOLICITED letters of praise of businesses nearby as well as from Oakland Public Works.

3. There will always be people with and without dogs who don't follow rules. There are literally thousands of dog parks world wide. People, for the most part follow rules.

THANK YOU for this opinion piece, Kheven. Dog owners play fast and loose with the truth when it comes to discussing dog behavior and their own. There is no way that dog owners will be accountable to park users who do not wish to have contact with their pets. Every dog will be special, loving, and friendly and therefore exempt from the rules. Anyone who objects to crotch-sniffing or "playful" nipping by their four-legged family members will be derided and dismissed.

When dog owners actually lay out a detailed, concrete plan to police themselves, we can talk about a dog park. But the chances of that happening appear to be slim considering the contemptuous attitude bursting from the comments of dog park supporters above. 

Want a "small, safe, legal" place for your pets to roam? Then follow up on creating a dog park elsewhere. There are other spots to consider, but dog owners also seem to want to carve out a place for themselves in an area that they find most convenient and scenic. Such arrogance. It's so selfish of them to own pets they cannot provide for. The public shouldn't have to subsidize dog ownership. Get a bird, a fish, or a cat or any other animal that can live happily and healthily in the confines of your private home.

I am a dog owner in Oakland and let me first say that in general Oakland is not a dog  friendly place at all.  I have been taking note of the many places a dog park could exist.  I've also spent alot of time in dog friendlier places and have taken notes on how their dog parks look and how they treat dogs/owners.  I'm in the West Oakland area which is FILLED with excellent places for potential dog parks.  

As far as Lake Merritt for a dog park location.  I would have to recommend taking a look at one of Foster City's Dog Parks where  a relatively small fenced-in area split in half one side for small dogs the other side for bigger dogs would be the best bet for the Lake Merritt area.  To start with.  I would have to agree that AESTHETICALLY, its hard to imagine where to put a dog park by Lake Merritt.  Given that Lake Merritt is one of our more beautiful landmarks of Oakland, I'd like to see that beauty preserved.   If by the "Lake Park Area," means by the library, the above mentioned park in Foster City may work there..  There's really not alot of flat open space around the lake that isn't already taken by Fairyland, Playgrounds, the Garden etc.  So the dog park would have to be small wherever its placed by the lake.

IN WEST OAKLND HOWEVER, there are SEVERAL OPEN UNUSED spaces that a dog park is not only conceivable but in some cases would be an improvement to lots that only bring down the aesthetics in the neighborhood.  The best dog parks are often in industrial areas.  i.e., Point Isabel in Richmond, right below Costco.    IN FACT, not only should there be a dog park, lets get a Costco that employs Oakland residents in West Oakland as well!! (And by dog park I don't mean a huge open one like Pt. Isabel, but something somewhere between Pt. Isabel and Foster City dog park.  Where its fenced in, kept up, pretty to look at and big.)

tracybee, you sound like the epitome of arrogance. Sorry, but dog ownership is a natural, normal thing, and has been for thousands of years. As a resident and home owner, I pay taxes to the city of Oakland to maintain these parks. I even, unlike many non-dog owners, actually go into the parks every month to help maintain them. I'm joined by MANY dog owners. But, my recreational needs are not being met by the city of Oakland. The public provides for all kinds of things: children, soccer players, lawn bowling (check out the prime real estates being taken up for the exclusive use of lawn bowlers near the lake). Why do lawn bowlers get to be subsized by the city, and not me and the huge percentage of dog owners in this city?

I don't particularly care for kids, but I realize they're an important part of the human experience, and are important to their parents. I gladly share parks and other public conveniences with parents and kids, even though i don't want kids coming up to me with sticky hands, or when i see parents leave dirty diapers behind in parks (as i've seen many times by the lake)

Further, a detailed, concrete plan to police ourselves HAS been laid out, long ago. And, it has been in use at the 5 other dog parks in the city for years.

Finally, I can provide for my dog. But, I have to do so by getting in my car and driving to ANOTHER CITY. This is so completely ridiculous, and until i get a break on my taxes for not being able to go to a public park, unacceptable.

Regarding the Lakeview location: the Oakland City Planning Staff report supports the location. 

"Staffs findings for support met all the legal standards (Staffs recommendation for approval was based on an accurate assessment of the evidence in the record)."

"...Planning Staff generally agrees with the Appellant's arguments and continues to support the project based on findings and related conditions for project approval."

A dog park is a park for humans who consider dogs part of their families whether they have children or do not. It is not the solution to irresponsible dog owners anymore than it's the solution to irresponsible parents or people who don't vote or whatever. It's not even about exercise for the dogs. It's a place for people who want to socialize with their pets, who want to go out with these very social animals.

It was part of a historic plan to make some parts of the Lake accessible to all kinds of uses and dog owners are considered to be valid community members. As it is now, Oakland is one of the most dog unfriendly cities in the US (or beyond).

This space is also good for folks who don't drive and want to be close to home when they go out with their pets and their friends. It has nothing to do with the children's playground other than some of the kids might be attracted to watching the dogs at play. It is fenced in and will be a nice way to share this very large open expanse with another segment of our community.

And, it's really not that scary a change. It is an addition, an amenity to our diverse community.

As a dog owner who LOVES my dog, and as a lifelong born and raised Oakland Resident, I think the idea of a dog park anywhere near Lakeview is a horrible idea. The area surrounding a park will inevitably smell like urine and feces. Regardless of how much us responsible dog owners pick up after our animals and are contentious of where we let them urinate (avoiding churches, children’s areas, and even well manicured lawns). The grass won't stay green for long.

I agree with Sarah that there are many other areas away from the lake that should be considered, and that the Lakeview space is too small anyway. If you live by the lake as I do, it's already very hard to park near your home on the weekends. A dog park would bring even more traffic to this area. There are several other dog parks nearby, Piedmont, Oakland Hills (Sibley, Roberts), Point Isabel. We do not need everything in one increasingly congested area.

Kheven, I appreciate your article, clearly this is a sensitive topic for people.


The ol' I-know-you-are-but-what-about-me? Honestly? You're how old? lol

By the way, your specious comparison of children and ANIMALS speaks volumes about your sense of entitlement.

It comes down to this, though: As long as 1) non-dog owners get a say, 2) the realities of dog crap and misbehavior remain evident to the public, and 3) dog owners themselves keep up with their histrionic balderdash by say, seriously comparing dogs to children, there will be no dog park for you. 

On behalf of Oakland park visitors who are tired of being bullied by rude dog owners who take up the width of a walking path and glare when you suggest they move their dog, thanks for all you do to make your cause completely unwinnable.



tracybee, sorry, but you and your kids are no better than anyone else. And, if you read my post, I said that despite my aversion to kids, I gladly share public amenities with people with kids, because I understand they are an important part of the human experience. Something you conveniently ignore in your rush to falsely claim i compare kids with dogs. 

Your lack of compassion and understanding for other people who don't have or want kids speaks volumes about your sense of entitlement and priveledge. Having dogs is an important part of many people's lives -- 46%+ of Oakland households. A lot of them also have kids, too. I have the compassion and empathy to see that kids are important to people and important to society. You don't seem to have that same empathy to see how important dog ownership is to a significant portion of our society. And, it's also good for society as a whole for people to have companion animals. That lack of empathy is the very embodiment of entitlement.

Your histrionic balderdash about irresponsible dog owners is just silly. As my earlier post also pointed out, other dog parks in the area have gotten unsolicited letters of praise from nearby businesses and city government by how clean and well run they are. Almost every major city has them -- and in prominent locations, too. There's one right in the middle of Boston Common. There's one right next to the Eiffel Tower. San Francisco, one of the world's most beautiful city has dozens in prominent locations. Would all these cities put them in such places if they were so awful?

I'm tired of being bullied by people who think the whole world revolves around them and their kids, and also think that people like me who don't have kids don't deserve or are worthy of being able to use public parks. Don't you think I get tired of being anywhere in public with a screaming child who's parents do nothing? I sure do. Do I think all parents are like that parent? of course not. Again, I know that those bad parents i frequently see are not the majority. 

Folks, how about some room for a middle ground?  Yes, there are irresponsible dog owners.  Sometimes some of them are downright inconsiderate.  However the vast majority are responsible and still need a space to walk their dogs off leash IN Oakland. In fact, the lack of such space makes dog owners less responsible simply because they have less area to do this and start taking liberties (my pet peeve is when they do this in Dimond Canyon, esp. if the dogs are agressive around kids).

A fenced in area where responsible and irresponsible dog owners alike can take their dogs offleash will make it less likely it will happen in areas where this isn't allowed + easier for the rest of us (responsible pet owners and petless citizens alike) to gently nudge them in that direction.

Finally, a well fenced in area far enough away from the play ground will be perfectly safe for kids using the playground.  It works in other areas, both near and far alike. There's no reason it shouldn't work here.

Let's find a middle ground to make things work, instead of killing every step towards positive accomplishment that volunteers & officials make.  (Esp at the end of the process, after Staff gave a positive recommendation).  

Then we can get back to addressing the violence and financial crises that together are killing this city. Literally.

A dog is NOT a child.  A dog is an animal.

Some dogs have been bred/trained to act like babies (lapdogs).  Some dogs have been bred to kill.

They are social animals.

I am not against a dog park, I am against placing one at the Lakeview location.  To use the report by the planning department to justify the dog park is, well, "the tail wagging the dog."  


I've seen the staff report someone referenced to earlier.  I could use use many of the same arguments to propose an attack dog training center there.  I could put up a high fence and "hope" none of the dogs get out or the children get in.

A doggy play area is "cute," however, dogs don't need prime property to play. They'd play in a junk pile.

Very well put, livegreen!

Kheven, some people have been bred to kill. The planning department is responsible for studying and recommending appropriate usage of our spaces, and the staff of the planning department recommended approving it. You cite the 3 people on the planning commish denying it. How is that germane, but not the staff report recommending it?

An attack dog training center? Talk about a red herring. You know, there's a dog park on the other side of town. It's got a 4 ft high fence, and it's like 10 feet from the totlot. You can do more than hope nothing happens -- nothing HAS happened in the many years its been there. A plane could crash there, but we still build 'em. 

Dogs don't go to dog parks by themselves. they go with ---- wait for it ---- people. People don't want to go to a "junk pile." I don't really feel safe as a woman going to a deserted part of Oakland to hang out in a junk pile.

So, great: you're against the Lakeview location that's been vetted in the Lake Merritt Master Plan, Adams Pt. plan, the Park and Rec Advisory Committee, and by the Planning staff. Where do you suggest we put one, then? I and many others live in this neighborhood and don't/can't drive. I'd love to hear your constructive suggestions rather than a bunch of red herrings and strawmen arguments.

uh, nobody said a dog was a child. 

Yes, Livegreen, very well said.



You wrote "some people have been bred to kill."  What does that have to do with anything?  That's a red herring.

Also, I did not cite anyone.  

You list groups that supposedly approved the site.  But you see by the comments here, there are people who disagree with them.


You mention a dog park on the other side of town that has worked out well.  Perhaps that's because it is not in the center of town.


You wrote that "Some dogs have been bred to kill." that has as much relevancy as people being bred to kill. 

You cited the Planning Commission denying this proposal in the very first paragraph of your opinion piece, at the very top of this very page.

By the comments here, I see that most people think this location would be a fine dog park. Also, more than 3 times more people like the proponents facebook page over the opponents. More proponents have gone to all the public meetings.

The dog park on the other side of town is in very busy and high profile Rockridge. Whether it's in Rockridge or Lake Merritt has no relevancy on whether or not it's proximity to a children's area is dangerous or not, as you postulate in your article. There's a dog park with no fence at all, next to a kid's area in Dolores Park, in the center of San Francisco. Central Park, in the center Manhattan has several. 

I am one of the people who has a dog, thinks dog parks enhance neighborhoods, and is not in love with the proposed Lakeview location.  Believe me, I am not a lover of all dogs and I know that most of the dog owners I've met in Oakland are very responsible.  And surprise, many of them have children as well and they all play nicely together.  I think the Lakeview location is better than no location at all, so am in favor of it being approved for a dog park rather than continued debating and devisiveness.  Once the dog park is there, I believe it will enhance that corner of the park.  Frankly, that section was barely used until the controversy stirred up neighbors to play more games there, bring their children there more often, etc. I live near there and pass by there at least twice daily and it has been an underutilized corner.  There will be irresponsible dog owners everywhere - they will not congregate in a dog park due to the simple fact that peer pressure will not allow slackers to fail to clean up after their dogs.  The problem with dog clean up is that if one or two folks decline to pick up poop, people like the author above will generalize that everyone is a slacker in this regard when 98% of us are not.  I have lived in other areas and visited cities with dog parks - they are an asset not a liability in a neighborhood.  Let's get this done and let people who don't have cars and can drive to other dog parks enjoy their pets and meet their neighbors and spend some money across the street which is what we all do when we go to the dog park in Alameda!!!   

You guys still realize you're arguing about a dog park, when there are far larger issues of far more relevance in this town?  The precise number of murders year to date is 115.

And damnit, a dog park is not that big of a deal.  If you're not into it, stay away.  At least there's a space for people with dogs to take them to socialize.  Get over yourselves.  

And, dogs are trained to kill, not bred to kill.  That's a ridiculous and assinine comment.  It's as much a red herring as saying people are bred to kill, if not more as the dog attack count in oakland is currently lower than the homocide count.


Dogs were bred for specific purposes--hunting, guarding, lapdogs, etc.  Dog fighting was considered a "sport" in some places and so aggressive fighting dogs were bred. My point in bringing that up is to remind people that these are animals. 


I would not make the jump to argue that some people were "bred to kill." That statement, once again, treats dogs like people. 


I believe there is a certain amount of entitlement in some of the comments. I hear, "My dog is entitled to a dog park.  My dog is entitled to have it built by the city.  My dog is entitled to a conveniently located dog park and it should not have to go to another part of town or city to play."


I see poor and homeless people everyday.  How would they feel seeing the park (or even reading some of these comments)?

Also, I have friends who play soccer in that field. They are infuriated with the idea.


Now some of the commenters 

Kheven, those quotes you have in your last comment are completely made up. Nobody said "my dog is entitled to have it built by the city." What you're missing here is that dog parks are for PEOPLE. People use these types of spaces. One woman said that, here in Oakland, she does not feel safe going to some back alley or freeway underpass. And, that is a valid concern. Why should we citizens of Oakland have to go to some far flung junk yard just so that we can get some exercise and be out in public with other people? Do your soccer player friends want to go play under a freeway?

Your friends who play soccer, they play on the part of the park that is unaffected, as this video clearly shows: and, if that's not good enough for them, there are 13 other spots within easy walking distance for them to play, too, as this map clearly shows: and a new fields are being built at Peralta Park and Lincoln Park. And, before you go and say that those other spots aren't suitable to play soccer, this video proves otherwise:

Speaking of homeless people: we have amongst our volunteers who have been working to make this park a reality a homeless gentleman and recent immigrant, who's dog is his life. Through his connection with us dog park proponents, he's gotten food, housing, employment, and surgery for his dog. Dog parks build community. People can go into a dog park and easily strike up a conversation with someone without it being weird or awkward. Friendships form. This person spoke at the planning meeting, and will speak again tuesday night. 

Oakland Local is going to be running some other views on the dog park over the next few days--this is clearly an issue everyone has strong feelings about. THANK YOU for keeping it respectful, folks.

two things:


i hope everyone is enjoying that picture of Mac up there as much as I am. nice to see OL featuring him again, thanks. RIP, big guy.


second- this seems to be the Oakland Issue that Will Never Die, as I predicted last time the council said "no" to the park a few months ago. i encourage those of you who are this heated about this start thinking about new/other solutions and compromises, and to use some of this passion to think about additonal issues in the city. Oakland could use it. 

Follow along- city council meetings are on TV or online - 1st, 3rd and 5th Tuesdays of the month, and we have a handy hashtag on twitter #oakmtg for those of us paying attention to oakland politics.


it's great to be this passionate about a specific thing, but in my opinion, after paying attention to this one- it's wasting resources. working TOGETHER to come up with alternate locations, and working TOGETHER with oakland citizens to move forward on other things- there's a lot of energy here that could be used even more productively.


Don and all you other dog haters, watch this and then get back to me:


Don, if you want dogs to simply go away, you're out of luck. There are more households in Oakland with dogs than there are households with kids.

If there's a dog park near where your kids are playing, and there's an off leash dog near your kids, all you do is yell at the owner to go to the dog park. If there's no dog park, you don't have an alternative to demand, all you can do is tell him to get out of the park, and that's less likely to work.


This dog play area at this location came about 15-some years ago from a group of citizens who saw an unfulfilled need in the neighborhood. The Lake Merritt Master Plan and the Adams Point Plan (both conducted with considerable community input) found this location to be appropriate for a dog play area.

Stop villifying dog owners for trying to make something happen at the only spot in the area the city has to date said is suitable for a dog park. Oakland Parks and Recreation (OPR) has the ability to find another location, but OPR management has stuck its head in the sand, presumably hoping the dog owners would just go away. Let's hold them accountable and get them to step up and lead on this issue.

My postion was posted here once before but it still seems relevant.

i'll show up and support whichever side promises they'll turn out the same number of people they'll have at the dog park hearing  to also show up at the first City Council meeting in January and demand City Council and the Mayor deal with the human violence and crime and out of control OPD.