City, county and state officials gathered on the beach over the weekend to discuss the possible future of the strip of sand at the mouth of the Santa Ana River supporters have dubbed “Doggy Disneyland.”
Orange County Board of Supervisors Vice Chair Michelle Steel, whose district covers Newport Beach, hosted a press conference Saturday to announce her proposal to amend the law regarding the restraint of dogs on public property. The change would allow the county to designate off-leash areas for dogs, and Steel is suggesting they start with the unincorporated, county-owned area between Newport Beach and Huntington Beach.
This is a wonderful area for a dog to run and be free, Steel told the small crowd that met at the de facto dog beach.
“This is just common sense,” Steel said. “Pet owners are severely limited with public areas that permit them to allow their dogs to be off-leash.”
Steel’s proposal is in response to requests from community members, mostly dog owners from Newport Beach, she said. The unofficial dog beach provides pets and their owners with a “safe harbor away from the strong surf and busy roads” to spend some quality time with their furry friends, Steel said.
“As a dog owner myself, I understand the important role pets have in our lives,” Steel said in the statement.
Also on hand were state Assemblyman Matthew Harper, Newport Beach Mayor Diane Dixon, NB councilmen Ed Selich, Keith Curry, and Scott Peotter, City Manager Dave Kiff, council candidate and dog beach proponent Mike Glenn, “Save Dog Beach” organizer Jon Pedersen, and a number of supporters and dog owners.
“There are some places where I think it’s a great idea for people to enjoy their dog on the beach, (but) it’s not for every beach,” Harper said. “I think this is a good approach to this issue (here).”
There has to be a community among the dog owners to be responsible, Harper noted. There also needs to be outreach to the local residents, he added.
“It’s got to be a partnership,” he said. “We need to make sure our beaches are clean and here for everybody to enjoy.”
This particular area has been overlooked for some time and has effectively become a dog beach, Harper said.
“Technically, they’re outlaws under county law,” Harper said.
The first reading of the proposed ordinance will be at the OC board meeting on Tuesday. If the board approves the amendment, there would be second reading and adoption of the resolution on May 10 and it would take effect 30 days later.
“This is the perfect example of ‘Let the people speak and let their voices be heard,’” said Dixon, who initially brought the issue forward, “and that was my intent.”
Trash receptacles, doggy poop bag dispensers, and better access are all on the list of things to discuss, Dixon said. They also want to get the community involved in self-policing, she added.
“Let’s clean up the situation,” Dixon said. “Instead of ignoring this land and turning our heads from what it has become let’s seize the moment and build on what is already here and make it an enjoyable place not only for our residents, but for our four-legged friends,” Dixon said as a dog barked and several audience members clapped and shook their heads in agreement.
But there has been outcry against the dog beach. During the gathering, a resident yelled from her home in opposition of dogs off leash on the beach.
“It’s not clean, it’s not safe,” said local resident and dog owner Vivien Hyman on Saturday.
During the Parks, Beaches and Recreation Commission meeting on March 1, Hyman, whose view from her home overlooks the unofficial dog beach, commented that people can’t control their dogs when they are off leash.
“I should be able to feel safe in my neighborhood,” Hyman said at the PBR meeting. “I should be able to walk out my front door without stepping into dog poop.”
On Saturday, she expressed concern for own dogs, children, and property.
The dogs were on the beach before she lived in the area, a few people in the crowd argued. But they are here illegally, Hyman shot back.
Hyman had a heated discussion with Dixon and Kiff after the press conference ended.
There is no enforcement, Hyman said, and nobody is listening to the concerns of the local residents. It’s not appropriate for the county to allow off-leash dogs in a beach area they don’t properly supervise and that is so close to homes, she complained.
Letters sent to the city 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.
“I think this is (to the furthest extent possible) a win-win,” Dixon said after the press conference. “You can’t please all of the people, all of the time… but at least it will be better than what it currently is.”
She want to protect the residents and minimize any incursions on their property, Dixon added.
“The number of residents (opposing it) will always be outnumbered by the number of people that come to the beach,” Dixon noted. “It is a public beach.”
The city has not finished its response to the PBR recommendation, Dixon noted. Staff has been working on a solution, she said.
This is a big step in the right direction, said dog beach supporter Pederson. It’s really an asset to the community, he added.
There has been very little and inconsistent enforcement, Pedersen said. Through a public records request with the county, he found zero citations on the OC property since 1999.
“When you don’t enforce an ordinance for that amount of time it becomes dormant,” Pedersen said.
It’s also technically a flood control channel, not a beach, Pedersen explained, so it gets into a matter of semantics regarding the regulations.
“We can finally celebrate and not worry about getting cited,” Pederson said. “The dog beach here at the river jetty has been a treasure.”