Workshops on Los Altos dog parks, off-leash hours set to begin

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Megan V. Winslow/Town Crier
A woman walks her dogs off leash within Lincoln Park in Los Altos.

Los Altos Parks and Recreation commissioners are scheduled to host four workshops, beginning with two tonight, to gauge the interest and feasibility of fenced-in dog parks and designated off-leash hours at local parks.

The one-hour workshops are scheduled 7-8 p.m. and 8-9 p.m. today in the Garden House at Shoup Park, 400 University Ave.; and 10-11 a.m. and 11 a.m. to noon Feb. 29 in the multipurpose room at Grant Park, 1575 Holt Ave.

Commissioners further discussed the format for the workshops at their Feb. 3 meeting.

City officials are moving forward after a spring 2018 online survey revealed that 78.1 percent of 868 respondents favored a fenced-in dog park in Los Altos. Staff also noted statistics from animal control officials that reported 35 percent of all Los Altos households own a dog.

Former Los Altos Hills resident Catherine Stansbury has led a campaign over the past three years, collecting more than 1,500 signatures, to install a small dog park at the south end of Lincoln.

But as discussion has ramped up, so has opposition from neighbors in areas targeted for dog space. Stansbury’s Jan. 25 event to promote the Lincoln dog park met with a counterprotest from neighbors. Stansbury said she was verbally abused.

Based on the online survey and subsequent months of discussion, commissioners have centered on fenced-in dog park options at south Lincoln Park and McKenzie Park. They also explored a one-year pilot program for off-leash hours, in mornings and early evenings, at Heritage Oaks Park and Hillview Baseball Field.

Neighbors mobilize

The fenced-in options have drawn the most opposition, notably from the neighborhoods around Lincoln and McKenzie. Opponents cited a range of objections, from the lack of a buffer between the dog park and the general public to safety concerns such as errant Frisbees flying onto neighboring Foothill Expressway.

They also questioned the city’s survey, which rated Lincoln one of the leading choices for a fenced-in park. The Lincoln neighbors’ own survey, conducted last month through the online Nextdoor platform and hand-delivered fliers, revealed overwhelming opposition among 111 responses.

Neighbor Dave Backs said Los Altos park space is “well below the norm” compared to other Bay Area cities. “Building a fenced-in dog park at (Lincoln) would remove this space from what’s available to the general public.”

Added resident Stacey Walter: “My issue is about maintaining existing park space, rather than fencing it off for a particular group of people.”

“It’s not going to take away space, it’s going to enhance it,” said Stansbury, who noted such a small park – 6,000-7,000 square feet – would be well maintained.

Stansbury added that the Lincoln location is rarely used to begin with, and not bordering residences.

Dog park proponents have long touted the positive social interaction between dogs and owners as a chief benefit of such parks. But some behavioral experts fear such parks may be detrimental for dogs with anxiety.

City officials said the objective of the workshops is to “gather feedback on what residents prefer and don’t prefer,” according to a Jan. 23 press release.

“This feedback will assist the (Parks and Recreation) Commission in formulating a recommendation that will be forwarded to the city council at a future meeting,” according to the release.

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