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City gathers feedback on dog parks

Los Altos city officials are making sure anyone who wants to is able to sound off on proposals for fenced-in dog parks and an off-leash-hours pilot program that have been under consideration for several months.

They made good on their intentions during the first two of four workshops, both held Feb. 12 at Shoup Park. The first workshop drew approximately 170 to the park’s Garden House, not far from a proposed fenced-in dog park site at south Lincoln Park.

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Bruce Barton/Town Crier
Opponents and supporters of local dog park proposals gather Feb. 12 at Shoup Park.

Neighbors near Lincoln and McKenzie Park, the other dog park site under consideration, have become increasingly vocal in their opposition as the process has moved forward. A neighbor’s yard at the entrance to Shoup had a sign proclaiming “No Dog Park – Save Lincoln Park From Development.”

Workshop attendees were given the option to fill out a ballot with five choices each under fenced-in dog park or off-leash-hour preferences. They also were allowed to submit comments anonymously.

Parks and Recreation staff will compile feedback from the Feb. 12 and upcoming Feb. 29 workshops, with discussion of the findings and possible recommendations to the Los Altos City Council set for the March 18 Parks and Recreation Commission meeting. Currently under consideration are one fenced-in park at either Lincoln or McKenzie and off-leash hours at Hillview Baseball Field and Heritage Oaks Park.

Decade of dog discussion

Commission liaison Donna Legge recounted a brief history of the dog park discussion, going back 10 years or more but picking up steam with the appointment of a 2017 subcommittee and a spring 2018 online survey gauging interest in a dog park.

Legge and Commissioner Scott Spielman listed some pros and cons associated with such parks. Legge noted that Los Altos is “deficient” in park space – only 45 total acres, or 1.6 acres per 1,000 people. Spielman acknowledged that carving out space for a fenced-in park means a loss of green space and land that can’t be used for other purposes.

Off-leash hours, usually set for the early morning and early evening, allow the flexibility for different space uses, Spielman said. He added that dogs and their owners could use Hillview Baseball Field, one of the sites proposed for off-leash hours, during times when the field isn’t being used for baseball. A second proposed off-leash site, at Heritage Oaks Park, might require fencing along the park’s edge along Portland Avenue to create a buffer to protect dogs from traffic, Spielman said.

He noted that the city has checked in with Mountain View’s existing off-leash program and found “very limited numbers of incidents.”

City officials shared their findings and rationale for the fenced-in locations. Under consideration were central locations to limit the amount of driving residents would have to do to get to a park, Spielman said.

He also cited residents’ apparently strong relationships with dogs. According to Spielman, 3,800 dogs are licensed in Los Altos, in addition to an unknown number of unlicensed canines, meaning 35-40% of the 10,700 households in Los Altos have dogs – “a high percentage of dog ownership here.”

He said the subcommittee had centered on south Lincoln as a potential site because it had available parking, low traffic and “no existing city-sponsored programs there.

“But we understand one of the issues that we have (is that) with a dog park, we take green space,” Spielman said.

McKenzie poses more challenges for the fenced-in park, he said, including drainage and existing trees, and the prospect of higher construction costs.

“We’re certainly going to take into account how people indicate on their ballots, what we’re going to do,” Spielman said. “We’ll take all the inputs that we can receive before we recommend to council.”

City officials limited public comment to questions about format, but one skeptical resident openly wondered whether the city considered the ongoing maintenance costs associated with dog parks. Legge indicated those costs have not been determined because decisions haven’t been made.

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