(United Neighbors Concerning Off-Leash Areas)
P.O. Box ___
Seattle, WA 98124
Off-Leash Proposal Development: Background & Chronology –
The Problem: 1995 and prior — Seattle park users experience increasing problems with blatant disregard of animal control laws in Seattle’s parks — off-leash dogs bite children in play-pools, off-leash dogs intimidate children in play areas. Activities of runners, walkers, picnickers, kite-flyers, child and adult athletic groups etc. are increasingly interrupted by out-of-control off-leash dogs. Seniors are knocked down by happy out-of-control dogs. Dog poop is often encountered in children’s play areas, picnic areas, beaches, etc. Wildlife and wildlife habitat is disrupted and degraded by intensive off-leash dog use.
Seattle had only about 25,500 licensed dogs (17,000 licensing households, 7% of total households). A majority of Seattle’s dog population was estimated to be unlicensed and may be unvaccinated and not treated regularly for the many common diseases transmitted dog to dog and dog to human. Seattle’s Animal Control Division runs consistent deficits because so few dog-owners license their dogs.
Initial solution: City Council agrees to add 2 animal control officers dedicated to patrolling parks, but does not allocate funds for their salaries. City council expects increased numbers of fines for animal control violations to cover the 2 new animal control officers’ salaries. Parking ticket fines cover a significant portion of parking officers’ salaries, so this was a reasonable expectation.
Some dog-owners cited for animal control law violations become angry and telephone city hall repeatedly. Animal control officers encounter increasing resistance while issuing citations for animal control law violations. Police backup is required more and more often.
Subsequent solution proposed by Councilmember Jan Drago. Dedicate parts of Seattle’s park system to off-leash dogs. Off-leash proponents cite San Francisco, California as a successful example of solving the above-cited problems by dedicating parts of an urban park system to unleashed dogs. According to off-leash proponents, in San Francisco:
- Unleashed dogs and owners stay in dedicated areas and pick up poop
- Other park users need worry no longer about constant interruptions by off-leash dogs.
- Parks no longer have a poop problem
- Wildlife and wildlife habitat are no longer damaged by intensive off-leash dog use
- A much higher percentage of dogs are licensed and appropriately vaccinated and treated for common diseases.
- Compliance with the leash law and animal control laws improves throughout the city and especially in parks.
On page 3, see summary of actual conditions in San Francisco developed from written Declaration provided by a representative of San Francisco’s park department.
October, 1994 through March, 1995
Dog-owners angry about increased enforcement of animal control laws identify 70 very large sites (primarily in parks and natural areas) they desire for designated ‘off-leash’ areas. Councilmember Jan Drago assembles a ‘city-wide task force’ to evaluate and narrow down these sites. The task force is not allowed to suggest alternatives, or suggested alternatives are ignored. Many of the task forces’ recommendations are ignored when they conflict with the dog owners’ stated desires and objectives.
Councilmember Jan Drago and an eight-month old group, Citizens for Off-Leash Areas, (COLA) held six public workshops to propose 38 off-leash dog exercise areas in Seattle parks. These proposals were developed by COLA without input from park stakeholders and Seattle neighborhoods affected by the proposals. Many people referred to these ‘workshops’ as ‘infomercials’ for dog runs in parks.The workshops were poorly and misleadingly advertised. Most neighborhoods and park stakeholders were completely unaware of the magnitude of the proposals.
The workshops were conducted by COLA. COLA was allowed to gather signatures during the
workshops. Pros and cons of the issue were not presented. No experts or expert agencies presented information. Comments on the proposals were not allowed. Correction of misinformation was not allowed. Suggesting alternatives was not allowed except through written comment submitted after the workshop.
Many individuals, community groups, athletic groups, park advocacy groups, park stakeholders write City Council objecting to the proposals and the process used to develop the proposals.
Public Hearing on proposed 38 off-leash areas in parks was held in Seattle Center. Objections to process and proposals continue. UNCOLA (United Neighbors Concerning Off-Leash Areas) calls for a full Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) to be prepared before implementing such a massive change in Seattle’s park system. A full EIS would give all impacted park stakeholders and neighborhoods an opportunity to participate in the proposal development process. UNCOLA questions whether these proposals will really solve the problem, and whether these proposals are really good for the dogs.
In response to massive public objections, the original plan for 38 permanent off-leash sites was scaled back to 7 one-year trial sites — 6 in parks and 1 on DOT land. Councilmember Jan Drago’s office agreed to prepare an environmental checklist covering this proposal, but was unwilling to prepare a full EIS. The Office of Management and Planning was agency responsible for making the threshold determination. Councilmember Jan Drago’s staff is primarily responsible for preparing the environmental checklist.
Office of Management and Planning (OMP) issues a Determination of Non-Significance (DNS). OMP evaluated only impacts in the 7 proposed sites during the one-year trial period and did not consider long term impacts occurring after the one-year trial. OMP does not consider impacts of such a massive policy change on Seattle’s entire park system. DNS assumes closure of off-leash sites at the end of the one-year trial. Monitoring and Evaluation of the Trials is proposed but no plan or criteria for determining success or failure is presented.
Amid rising concerns that important and significant environmental impacts of proposed off-leash areas were ignored, three groups – UNCOLA, Friends of Seattle’s Olmstead Parks, Mt. Baker-Lakewood Youth Soccer Club — Appealed the DNS.
November 14, 1995
Business and Labor Committee Public Hearing on Off-Leash Proposals. Off-leash proponents make it clear that the 7 trial sites are only Phase I of a plan for off-leash sites in many parks throughout Seattle. Many state they do not intend to obey the leash law until dog-owners have off-leash sites in every Seattle neighborhood. Proponents complain the proposed 7 trial sites are much too small and should be enlarged. Proponents do not want fences around the off-leash areas. Proponents admit the 7 trial sites will be devastated by intensive dog-use.
November 27, 1995
Pre-Conference Hearing with Seattle’s Hearing Examiner. OMP requested the Hearing Examiner to consider only evidence related to the 7 trial sites and the 12-month trial program. Even though the trials will be made permanent and are phase 1 of a plan for unleashed dog areas in many parks all over Seattle, the Hearing Examiner will not consider long term impacts on Seattle’s parks, park users, neighborhoods and entire park system.
December 12, 1995
Park Board Hearing on Off-Leash Proposals. Park Board announces that they have been directed to consider only how to manage and design the 7 proposed sites. They are not to consider whether or not these areas should exist in parks. Their input regarding advisability of implementing such a program is not requested, and in fact discouraged. Even though the Park Board’s responsibilities include stewardship of Seattle’s parks for ALL Seattle citizens and advising the Mayor and City Council about appropriate park policies, activities and stewardship, efforts were made to limit their role in evaluating off-leash proposals and off-leash areas’ suitability for urban parks.
January 22, 1996
At the Appeal Hearing, which lasted 5 days, UNCOLA, Friends of Seattle’s Olmstead Parks and Mt. Baker-Lakewood Youth Soccer Club presented important information which raises significant issues and questions that all citizens who care about the future of ALL Seattle’s parks should consider.
UNCOLA submitted a written Declaration from the Assistant Superintendent of San Francisco, CA’s Park Department that clearly shows: Dedicating parts of urban parks to unleashed dog use does not solve the original problem Seattle citizens and park users were experiencing. In San Francisco:
- Many dog-owners ignore designated off-leash areas and chose to use an entire park for off-leash activity.
- About 10% to 12 % of San Francisco’s dogs are licensed. Seattle has the same percent with no off-leash areas. Establishing off-leash areas in parks does not increase the number of licensed dogs.
- Establishing off-leash areas in parks has not improved compliance with animal control laws.
- Other park users experience serious and frequent disruptions of their activities by off-leash dogs outside designated areas
- The entire park system has a serious ‘poop’ problem — inside and outside off-leash areas.
- Most of San Francisco’s Parks are used by San Francisco’s dog population (licensed and unlicensed) for off-leash activity
Seattle’s Park Board votes to oppose proposal for 7 ‘trial’ sites in Seattle Parks.
Throughout this entire process, Seattle City Council and the Mayor have not asked and discussed, or gathered and analyzed information relating to, the following questions:
“Can Seattle’s urban parklands withstand the intensive use of the dense urban dog population without accelerating degradation of those parklands?” “Are unleashed dog areas an appropriate and legitimate use of urban park lands given all the functions we expect those parklands to serve and potential conflicts with other currently-authorized park uses?”
“What are Seattle’s responsibilities to other park users whose person and property are at increased risk of aggravation, injury or damage by loose dogs?”
“Why reward people for creating problems through blatant disregard of animal control laws which protect public health and safety as well as pet health and safety?”
“Does Seattle really want to start down the same path that San Francisco has found so problematic???”
“Are there better alternatives?”
Seattle Hearing Examiner upholds OMP’s DNS for 7 Trial Dogs-Off-Leash sites, because the proposal is a 12-month trial which will be carefully managed and monitored, and because the proposal has a clear beginning and ending. This, despite City officials’ testimony that:
- The City intends to keep the trial sites open after the 12-month trial period because it wants to continue offering the ‘service’ with no interruptions
- Management and Monitoring Standards were not yet written, were in the process of being developed. Funding has not yet been allocated for these activities.
What’s wrong with this picture???
The 7 Dogs-Off-leash trial sites show significant damage to scarce park-land. Other park users are no longer comfortable using these areas and leave. Compliance with Animal Control Laws (including obtaining a dog license) does not increase significantly. Parks with designated dogs- off-leash sites experience continued and, in most cases, increased problems with illegal off-leash activity OUTSIDE designated off-leash areas.COLA pledged to raise significant $s and volunteer time to cover all costs of off-leash program, including stewardship of land damaged by off-leash activity. COLAs Spring, 1998 fund-raiser collected a little over $1,000, a very small percentage of the total operating costs of the off-leash program. Total donations to the special city fund for dog-runs were only $2,000 as of 7/16/97.
Contrast this fund-raising effort with other community groups park improvement efforts:
Community Members all over Seattle are raising $100,000s of dollars, spending 1,000s of hours rehabilitating parks as small as 1 acre for all members of the community to use and enjoy.
1997 and 1998
Only 4 permanent dog-run sites are established, 3 in parks and one on non-park land, because of:
- Continuing neighborhood and park-user opposition
- COLAs unwillingness or inability to live up to stewardship, fundraising and compliance agreements
- Obvious, significant, damage to parks.
COLA members continue to pressure Seattle Parks Department to assume responsibility for site stewardship & improvements that COLA had originally promised to make.