Passionate dog owners pleaded with city representatives during a meeting on Tuesday to keep the rules that govern the strip of sand dubbed “Doggy Disneyland” at the mouth of the Santa Ana River the same or possibly make it an official dog beach.
The Parks, Beaches and Recreation Commission ultimately agreed with the majority of public speakers, unanimously voting to deny the staff recommended Memorandum of Understanding suggesting that the County of Orange and the city of Newport Beach share the responsibility of enforcing dog regulations along that stretch of beach.
Commissioners also voted to recommend that City Council study the possibility and consider making that area legal to have dogs off leash. They also suggested the council review the current signage and more clearly define the area.
“I’m a dog guy,” said Commissioner Ron Cole. “I’d recommend to council that they actually modify a law that actually takes care of the issue and ratify something on the books so that (owners of dogs off leash in that area) aren’t lawbreakers.”
Cole and other commissioners admitted that the complaints are real and do need to be addressed. Commissioner Laird Hayes warned everybody not to forget about the rights of the homeowners. It’s unfair to ignore them and their concerns, he added.
Currently, the sand surrounding the Santa Ana River mouth is under the jurisdiction of Orange County, which does not allow dogs (on or off leash) on the beach. The area borders the city of Newport Beach, which only allows on-leash dogs on the adjacent beach before 10 a.m. or after 4:30 p.m.
“They are out there, they are doing the enforcement,” said Newport Beach Police Department Lt. Tom Fischbacher. “We can’t be out there every moment of every day.”
There will never be 100 percent compliance, he added.
Nearly 200 people packed into council chambers on Tuesday to hear and participate in the discussion.
A few of the speakers mentioned Mayor Diane Dixon as the force behind the recommended change.
“The problem has been ignored and, according to the residents, the problems have increased,” Dixon wrote in an email after the meeting. “My job was to listen to all residents and bring the matter forward for community discussion. That’s my job. My goal was to refer this matter to the commission that has oversight for the beaches and let the people be heard.”
She wants to protect the quality of life of residents, she added. She is confident a workable solution is doable and wants to hear public input on the matter.
“Ignoring laws is not good government. Our laws should be enforced,” Dixon wrote. “If they are bad laws or unenforceable, they should be changed.”
The commission’s action came after nearly three hours of public testimony, overwhelmingly in support of dogs on the beach in that area.
“I’m stoked with the commission’s decision,” Lido Isle resident Joe Maioriello said after the meeting. “They heard the community (and denied the MOU) and even brought forth a recommendation to change the law, which is great. They heard our voices and exactly what we asked for and they listened.”
Fellow Lido resident DeeAnne Christine said she plans to follow the issue when it heads to City Council.
“It’s not going to stop here,” Christine said. “This is the first step in what Newport should have already had.”
Most of the comments revolved around the advantages of having a sandy play area for dogs, the community it creates, and that most dog owners are responsible.
The general opinion amongst dog owners that frequent the spot is that they want the area to be safe and clean as well. Many noted that they “share the poop bags” and encourage other dog owners to pick up after their own pet.
George Lesley, a 14-year-resident who has walked by himself and with his “grand-dog” in the area hundreds of times, has never seen a problem with the dog feces on the beach. If a person doesn’t pick up after their pet other dog owners will definitely remind them, he said, it’s a self-policing situation.
Also, most of the visitors to that stretch of beach are local, he noted, and they want to protect the beach.
“They understand the fragility of the beach,” Lesley said.
That little strip of sand is a little gem for dogs, he commented.
“It’s like doggy Disneyland,” Lesley said. “It’s the happiest place on earth (for dogs).”
Many people asked the commission to consider making the spot an official dog beach.
There were a few speakers who spoke in opposition to the dogs on the beach and in support of the MOU, including Newport Beach resident and dog owner Vivien Hyman, who was loudly booed by the audience when she commented.
Hyman, whose view from her home overlooks the unofficial dog beach, said people can’t control their dogs when they are off leash. They should be fenced in, she added.
“I should be able to feel safe in my neighborhood,” Hyman said. “I should be able to walk out my front door without stepping into dog poop.”
She has been chased by dogs as she runs along the beach, dogs have rushed up on her daughter, dogs have run into her yard and garage, and more.
The laws are in place for good reason, she argued.
“Everyone that goes to this dog beach and lets their dog off lease is breaking the law,” Hyman said. “They’re here today because they want to continue to break the law.”
It’s unfortunate that there have been some negative experiences, dog beach supporter Maioriello said.
There are “bad apples,” or irresponsible or inconsiderate people, with everything in life, Maioriello noted. But that’s not the attitude of most regular dog beach visitors, he commented.
Residents have been asking the city for help with the situation for years, she explained.
Dixon mentioned, and shared with the Indy, numerous letters she received from residents who live near the jetty and asked her for help with the “uncontrolled situation.”
The letters complained of dog feces, their own on-leash dogs being attacked by off-leash dogs, off-leash dogs running into their yards and homes, parking, and more.
A longtime resident and dog owner wrote that he gets why people want to let their dogs run free on the beach, but this has taken a “disgusting and unhealthy turn.”
“Our laws should be enforced for people and our furry friends too,” wrote one resident.
Many of those same residents were in the audience on Tuesday but were likely intimidated from speaking when another speaker was booed, Dixon commented.
“Dogs and people are, by definition, a highly emotional issue especially when combined together,” wrote Dixon, a longtime dog owner who currently has two canine companions. “Our goldens would love to chase green tennis balls on the beach. But, they don’t like to disobey the law.”