LA council gives thumbs-up to off-leash dogs at Hillview Baseball Field

Zoe Morgan/Town Crier File Photo
A man plays with his canine companion on the Hillview Baseball Field. The Los Altos City Council has voted to introduce an ordinance allowing dogs to run off-leash at the site.

The Los Altos City Council voted unanimously Tuesday to introduce a city ordinance allowing dogs to run off-leash at Hillview Baseball Field.

The ordinance, which will work as a six-month-long pilot program from April through September, will allow dogs to roam off-leash in the park during designated hours.

In a presentation at the Feb. 9 council meeting, Los Altos Recreation and Community Services director Donna Legge presented a rendering of Hillview Baseball Field showing how the outfield will be open to off-leash dogs, but not the infield. A-frame signs will be placed around the infield to designate that dogs are not permitted there.

Off-leash time will be restricted to certain days and times: 7-9 a.m. and 7-9 p.m. weekdays, and 7-9 a.m. and 5-9 p.m. weekends.

The introduction of the ordinance has been a long time coming. For more than a decade, residents have asked for an off-leash space – like nearby Mountain View has – to serve the city’s 3,800 licensed dogs. According to a recent city staff report, 35-40% of Los Altos residents own a dog.

The city will place signs explaining off-leash dog rules, Legge said, including that owners must immediately clean up after their dogs, be in voice control of their canines at all times and be at least 14 years old, unless accompanied by an adult. In addition, dogs must be licensed and vaccinated, and females in heat and puppies younger than 4 months old are not allowed.

The city consulted with other local municipalities, Legge said, including Mountain View and Cupertino. Legge shared maps of the off-leash dog area in Jollyman Park in Cupertino as an example. Like the proposed off-leash area at Hillview Baseball Field, Jollyman’s area has only A-frame signs – not a permanent fence. Jollyman also has signs posted with off-leash hours and rules, which Los Altos plans to do at Hillview, along with dispensers with dog-waste bags.

Concerns arise

In its discussion, the council debated the possibility of installing a fence on the outfield’s perimeter to designate the off-leash area and separate the field from the walkway.

“When we had this initial discussion, I raised some concern regarding having some barrier or temporary fencing ... to avoid incidents,” said Councilmember Lynette Lee Eng, referring to the possibility that residents or on-leash dogs on the walkway might be distracted by the off-leash dogs.

Municipal services director Manny Hernandez responded that it was possible to install a fence. Councilman Jonathan Weinberg questioned the fence, however, expressing concern that it would pose a hazard to baseball players on the field. He also thought it would funnel dog owners into narrow entrances to the field, increasing wear and tear.

Interim City Manager Brad Kilger weighed in on the fence, noting that for the six-month pilot program, it would be temporary and maybe not worth it.

“The fencing may provide some separation, but it can’t guarantee complete separation,” he said.

After further deliberation, the council decided against the extra fence.

Lee Eng also asked city staff what noise impact the off-leash area would have on neighbors.

“In talking to Mountain View, Cupertino and Palo Alto, they didn’t have issues with noise,” Legge said. “We did do a noise study.”

City Attorney Jolie Houston added, “We did do an independent noise study to verify that there would not be an impact on this location, this being an off-leash park. We do have a verified report about that.”

Vice Mayor Anita Enander asked staff if the ordinance would allow off-leash dogs in all Los Altos parks or just at Hillview Baseball Field. Legge clarified that the dogs will only be allowed off-leash at Hillview for the pilot program.

Future plans

The tiny Hillview Baseball Field – approximately 170-feet-by-200-feet, according to Hernandez – may be the first of several off-leash areas in the city for dogs. The council indicated it may consider expanding the program to other Los Altos parks.

“My understanding is that the pilot program at Hillview was to see how this would work not just necessarily just for Hillview, but as a temperature gauge if we wanted to expand it to other parts of the city,” he said.

City staff made it clear that plans include gathering data and feedback on the Hillview off-leash area, in hopes that it will inform future decisions about other off-leash spaces. Legge said the city intends to garner feedback through the city’s website. Additionally, the city plans to analyze incidents reported to animal control and the police department, expected costs versus actual costs and attendance at the park.

Both city staff and council members spoke broadly about the real possibility of having off-leash areas in other parks at some point.

“The ideal situation would be having multiple off-leash areas to spread out the impact spread across the city as opposed to one park,” Legge said.

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