Making National Park lands in the Bay Area accessible to all.

The following is an Op-Ed written by Nina Roberts, professor at San Francisco State University and director of the Pacific Leadership Institute, for the San Francisco Examiner. April 28, 2016. You can access it on the SF Examiner website.

Some say limiting dog access in the Golden Gate National Recreation Area may reduce diversity within the parks, but all sides in the debate must be considered — including parkgoers who wish to enjoy the outdoors without dogs. (Marcio Jose Sanchez/2011 AP)

For more than 20 years, I have been working on efforts across the country to enhance ethnic diversity in our national parks and other public lands, with a more recent focus on connecting students to outdoor experiences and conducting research to help parks design community engagement strategies. Perhaps nowhere have I seen such a commitment by park managers to welcome all visitors than our backyard; one of our country’s premier urban national parks, the Golden Gate National Recreation Area.

What I see in the GGNRA is among the best of our national parks: a willingness to welcome all visitors while protecting our nationally significant resources and heritage for generations to come. The list of efforts for how they welcome “all” is commendable extending the park from the Peninsula to Marin.

A recent op-ed in the San Francisco Examiner — “Diversity at stake in fight over GGNRA” — suggested promoting off-leash dogs throughout the GGNRA’s beaches, trails and picnic areas as a strategy to increase ethnic diversity in our parks. This suggestion, however, does not align with research I’ve conducted at the GGNRA, nor does it reflect a widely known body of literature that ethnically minority populations care deeply about environmental protection, support healthy, functioning ecosystems and enjoy outdoor recreation in parks.

While there is a level of appreciation for individual experiences across cultures, constraints research across demographic lines, especially among many ethnic minority communities, shows that dogs off-leash within the GGNRA and other public lands have been a barrier to a variety of visitors and potential visitors, alike. Off-leash dogs are especially a problem, given the notion of “being in voice control” is a theory at best and exudes naiveté, in general.

There is an increasing body of evidence revealing people who spend time with their dogs outdoors experience improved physical, mental and emotional health; yet, fears and discomfort of other visitors should not be overlooked in favor of dog owners having unlimited access in all locations. I love dogs; grew up with them my entire life. But where is the equity in all that? For example, there is no area along the exceptionally scenic Crissy Field beach for visitors to enjoy a picnic or families to recreate with their kids free of dogs and unwanted impacts, socially and environmentally.

Responsible dog owners should be reaching out to other dog owners who are not courteous, do not abide by park policies, who allow their pets to approach other visitors (assuming they “like” dogs or “my dog won’t hurt you”), and who approach park managers with antagonism rather than cooperation.

Similarly, the unfortunate circumstances of dog owners not picking up feces of their dogs is a huge and growing problem in urban environments, in general, including GGNRA. Apart from being unsightly and smelly, studies show the presence of dog feces in public places can been linked to a number of different diseases that are naturally transmitted between animals and humans. Unfortunately, the prevalence of “responsible dog ownership practices” across GGNRA are lacking, and this reality continues to exclude visitors who have as much right to enjoy all areas of the park, not just a few.

Furthermore, a major community concern about dogs being exercised in public places off leash relates to many risks and fears associated with dog attacks and bites. In some cases dogs off-leash merely generate extreme fear such as the breed or sheer size of unrestrained dogs can bite or attack, so being off-leash creates an unfair advantage to a privileged few. The issue is where and when, and what does it take for all dog owners to be more responsible in understanding why policies exist in the first place? There are a variety of places to exercise dogs’ off-leash, what does it take to abide by park policies or take these four-legged friends to other locations allowable by law?

Dogs are amazing companions and at GGNRA a special rule is being created to continue the use in a responsible manner that considers all users of the park. The new Dog Management Plan has been more than 10 years in the making, includes thousands of comments from the general public, and emanates valid and reliable ecological and social science research. Let’s move forward together so all people can truly enjoy our national park next door, and not just a select few who would rather be self-absorbed then work in harmony to ensure everyone gets to appreciate, experience and recreate in one of the finest national parks there is.

Snowy Plovers Chased at Ocean Beach

Snowy Plovers Chased at Ocean Beach, Photo © Alan Hopkins

Last month, the National Park Service announced a new Proposed Rule for Dog Management in the Golden Gate National Recreation Area – and with a little bit of improvement it would ultimately enhance the park experience for visitors, protect our fragile natural resources, and improve the park experience for visitors, wildlife, employees, and dogs.

The GGNRA has had many instances of dogs being attacked by wildlife, falling off cliffs, biting or threatening park visitors and wildlife, and disturbing sensitive habitats. This is because our off-leash dog play areas are unsafe and because leash laws have not been enforced in any meaningful way. But the new proposed rule would help ensure that our off-leash areas are safe and would enforce leash laws vigorously outside of these designated areas.

An essential step towards creating a better, more equitable park experience for all, the new proposed rule provides important safeguards for people, our pets, wildlife, and the entire park system by providing for specific areas where dogs may roam off-leash, including Fort Funston, Ocean Beach, and Crissy Field. In addition, the proposed rule provides for hundreds of additional miles of trails where dogs will be welcome on-leash and ensures that these areas are clearly demarcated so that park visitors can choose their own experiences at the GGNRA and not have the experience thrust upon them unwillingly.

Off-leash dogs areas are currently unsafe because they weren’t designed consistently with the best practices for good dog park design, which calls for a physical barrier. Better dog management in the GGNRA has been called for by the California Department of Parks and Recreation, Bay Area residents, and animal welfare groups like the ASPCA, PETA, American Humane Association, Action for Animals, and Dogs Deserve Better. Even SFDOG, an organization that opposes the new dog management plan, admits that physical barriers are needed to protect dogs from hazards posed by vehicles, park users, other dogs, steep cliffs, etc.

Click here to submit a public comment saying that you support the new Proposed Rule for Dog Management as a step towards a more equitable park experience for all, so long as all dog play areas are fully enclosed with a physical barrier!

Leash laws and enclosed off-leash play areas are essential safeguards for us all.

Leash laws and enclosed off-leash play areas are essential safeguards for us all.

Off-leash dogs have been an ongoing problem in the GGNRA for many years. They can negatively impact people, our pets, wildlife, and park resources. Imperiled wildlife like the western snowy plover are frequently harassed by off-leash dogs; guide dog users are regularly interfered with—and occasionally attacked—by off-leash dogs; and perhaps most alarmingly, hundreds of off-leash dogs have been lost, injured, or killed when they fall off cliffs, run into traffic, or otherwise lose their owners.

It doesn’t have to be this way: the new proposed dog management rule provides important safeguards for people, our pets, wildlife, and the entire park system by providing for specific areas where dogs may roam off-leash, including Fort Funston, Ocean Beach, and Crissy Field; the proposed rule provides for hundreds of additional miles of trails where dogs will be welcome on-leash; and provides for a process to ensure that these areas are clearly demarcated—ideally with physical boundaries—so that park visitors can choose their own experienced at the GGNRA, and not have the experience thrust upon them unwillingly.

The policies within this plan have been supported Animal welfare groups like the ASPCA, PETA, American Humane Association, Action for Animals, and Dogs Deserve Better, who have called for leash law enforcement at the GGNRA.

In 2001 the California Department of Parks and Recreation conducted a study on safe off-leash dog play areas and concluded that this means enclosing the area with a physical boundary, so that dogs can’t run away from their owners and get into trouble, and so people can choose to enter these areas on their own terms.

This is a reasonable solution that is widely supported by Bay Area residents. According to a phone survey by Northern Arizona University conducted in 2001, 71% of Bay Area residents support enforcing the leash law at the GGNRA.

Encourage your local public officials to support the proposed rule for dog management in the GGNRA to create a more equitable experience for all park visitors!

Off-leash dogs have been an ongoing problem in the City for many years. They can negatively impact people, our pets, wildlife, and park resources. Imperiled wildlife like the western snowy plover are frequently harassed by off-leash dogs; guide dog users are regularly interfered with—and occasionally attacked—by off-leash dogs; and perhaps most alarmingly, hundreds of off-leash dogs have been lost, injured, or killed when they fall off cliffs, run into traffic, or otherwise lose their owners.

It doesn’t have to be this way. We can make off-leash dog play areas that are safe for everyone, including our dogs.

The first step is to enforce leash laws. Already animal welfare groups like the ASPCA, PETA, American Humane Association, Action for Animals, and Dogs Deserve Better have called for leash law enforcement at the GGNRA.

The second step is to design off-leash dog play areas within the park that are safe for everyone. In 2001 the California Department of Parks and Recreation conducted a study on safe off-leash dog play areas and concluded that this means enclosing the area with a physical boundary, so that dogs can’t run away from their owners and get into trouble, and so people can choose to enter these areas on their own terms.

This is a reasonable solution that is widely supported by Bay Area residents. According to a phone survey by Northern Arizona University conducted in 2001, 71% of Bay Area residents support enforcing the leash law at the GGNRA.

There are few issues where you’ll find Sean Elsbernd and Aaron Peskin on the same side. But this is one of them. In 2005, both supervisors sent letters in support of leash law enforcement at the GGNRA. Encourage the Board of Supervisors to continue this collaborative work by requesting them to support good dog park design and vigorous enforcement of leash laws.

Wednesday, May 7, 7:30pm: Join panelists Brent Plater of the Wild Equity Institute, Amber Hasselbring of Nature in the City, master birder Dominik Mosur, and moderator Jason Mark of the Earth Island Journal for a discussion about the issues associated with human density and respectful dog ownership in San Francisco.

This is going to be a fantastic discussion! Arrive early to get a good seat. The seats will fill up quickly.

Please RSVP above or on our Meetup group page.

Click here to learn more about the GGNRA and off-leash dogs.

The Golden Gate National Recreation Area (GGNRA) has released a Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement for the Dog Management Plan. The updated plan contains new data and expanded monitoring strategies as well as other additions.

The Dog Management Plan was a recent topic of discussion on KQED’s Form with Michael Krasny. Neal Desai, Wild Equity Board Member and associate director of the National Parks Conservation Association, explains how we must work to enhance “balance and equity” for all park visitors. The park is for everyone’s enjoyment, not just for people with off-leash dogs.

Wild Equity encourages a proactive, precautionary approach to dog management at the GGNRA.

Enclosed off-­leash dog areas are the best way to keep dogs and wildlife safe. It gives park visitors the choice of whether or not to have an off-leash dog experience.

Also, enclosed off-leash dog areas exemplify the non-impairment mandate of the National Park Service: to ensure that today’s activities do not degrade existing resources or future recreational opportunities by permitting risky activities without adequate safeguards in place.

Keeping dogs leashed, or in fenced areas, is beneficial for visitors and wildlife, like the federally protected Western Snowy Plover.

Don’t miss your chance to make public comment on the Dog Management Plan. The comment deadline is February 18, 2014 at 11:00pm. Click here to go to the comment webpage.

For Immediate Release

Contacts:
Golden Gate Audubon Society Executive Director Mike Lynes, (415) 505-9743 cell
Wild Equity Institute Executive Director Brent Plater, (415) 572-6989
Sierra Club, San Francisco Bay Chapter, Arthur Feinstein, (415) 680-0643
SPRAWLDEF President, Norman LaForce, (415) 932-7465

Environmental Groups Criticize SF Board of Supervisors’ Hearing on Proposed GGNRA Dog Rule

Representatives of local environmental groups urge Board of Supervisors to focus on funding and improving San Francisco parks


SAN FRANCISCO, Calif.— Representatives of local environmental groups are declining to take part in a hearing called by Supervisor Scott Wiener on the proposed regulation of dogs in the Golden Gate National Recreation Area – and are instead urging the Board of Supervisors to focus on pressing issues affecting San Francisco’s own parks.

The Board of Supervisors does not have jurisdiction over the GGNRA, a federal agency. While a public hearing is ostensibly intended to elicit public input on important policy matters, Supervisor Wiener has predetermined the outcome of the hearing and already drafted a resolution condemning the GGNRA plan.

“This hearing is really only an opportunity for Supervisor Wiener and others to make a public display of their support for unlimited off-leash dog recreation in the GGNRA,” said Arthur Feinstein, on behalf of the San Francisco Chapter of the Sierra Club. “It appears he’s trying to gain points with a minority of extremist dog owners by attacking the National Park Service’s effort to strike a balance between dog-related recreation and other activities in the GGNRA.”

At the hearing on Monday, October 21, it is expected that Supervisor Wiener will introduce a resolution co-sponsored by Supervisors Breed and Tang condemning the GGNRA’s proposed Dog Management Plan, as urged by some off-leash dog advocates. In 2011, also at the urging of off-leash dog advocates, Supervisor Wiener introduced a similar resolution that had no effect on the National Park Service’s proposed rule.

“Supervisor Wiener and the rest of the Board should spend their time ensuring that the city’s own parks are fully funded and that leash laws within the city are enforced,” said Brent Plater, Executive Director of the Wild Equity Institute. “The city’s park system is in crisis—the Supervisors have cut funding even as demand is increasing—and the Board is wasting time on a meaningless resolution instead of working on real solutions to the city’s problems.”

If adopted, the National Park Service’s proposed dog rule would make the GGNRA the most accommodating unit for dogs in the National Park system. In addition, the city of San Francisco has more than 28 off-leash dog play areas and leash laws in other park areas are unenforced, making San Francisco the most dog-friendly city in North America. Despite that, off-leash dog advocates, and their political allies like Supervisor Wiener, are rejecting any attempt to regulate dogs in the GGNRA.

“The proposed Dog Management Rule is about accommodating all reasonable uses in an appropriate way within the GGNRA,” said Mike Lynes, Executive Director of the Golden Gate Audubon Society. “The proposed rule—while far from perfect—creates clarity so that dog walkers know where on- and off-leash recreation is appropriate and so that others, who do not wish to interact with dogs, can also enjoy the GGNRA. Right now, that’s just not happening.”

About the Sierra Club, San Francisco Bay Chapter
The San Francisco Bay Chapter is a local Chapter of the Sierra Club, America’s largest and most effective grassroots environmental organization. The Bay Chapter is comprised of the 30,000 Sierra Club members who live in Alameda, Contra Costa, Marin, and San Francisco counties.

About Golden Gate Audubon
Golden Gate Audubon has been dedicated to protecting Bay Area birds, other wildlife, and their natural habitat since 1917. We conserve and restore wildlife habitat, connect people of all ages and backgrounds with the natural world, and educate and engage Bay Area residents in the protection of our shared, local environment.

About SPRAWLDEF
SPRAWLDEF works to educate the public about landfill issues and connection between landfills, recycling, landfill expansion, the loss of habitat and the need to protect habitat from unwarranted land fill expansions. SPRAWLDEF also works to educate the public on the benefits of recycling and how to improve recycling. Additionally, SPRAWLDEF works to educate the public on the benefits of limiting sprawl development and protecting critical habitat from destruction.

The Wild Equity Institute is building a healthy and sustainable global community for people
and the plants and animals that accompany us on Earth.


http://wildequity.org/

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The face of the Presidio is changing and our input is needed. The Presidio Trust is acting on long-term plans to create a cultural space at the historic site of the former Commissary. As Sports Basement transitions elsewhere in the Presidio, the new space promises to be a cornerstone of the park going forward. We have the opportunity to see that the changes both embody and strengthen the mission of the National Park Service. The Trust is currently considering three proposals for the Presidio’s former Commissary site, now occupied by Sports Basement: the Lucas Cultural Arts Museum, the Bridge/Sustainability Institute, and the Presidio Exchange.

The Wild Equity Institute believes that the Presidio Exchange (PX) creates the greatest sense of place by focusing on the beautiful and distinctive Presidio park space, while also housing a cultural and historical center. The proposed Lucas Cultural Arts Museum simply does not embody the spirit of the Presidio or the National Park System. While the Bridge/Sustainability Institute proposal attempts to incorporate the unique setting that is the Presidio, the plans come across as interchangeable with any other sustainable business building complex.


Crissy Field Marsh and Lagoon restoration could benefit from a good design for the Commissary.

However, the Sustainability Institute proposal does contain one element that should be explored and potentially adopted by the PX proposal: expanding Crissy Field Marsh and Lagoon into the Commissary property. Due to a variety of constraints, the restoration of Crissy Field Marsh and Lagoon several years ago was limited to a smaller zone than is needed for the lagoon to fulfill its intended ecological functions. The PX proposal should review the sustainability institute’s proposal to expand the lagoon and incorporate that element into its project to the maximum extent possible.

While the PX proposal is the best fit of the three choices for this location, it tries to be too many things to too many people all at once, and in the process short-changes the unique elements of its National Park setting. The National Park Service’s Organic Act, which established the agency, includes a non-impairment mandate. This mandate requires the agency to “conserve the scenery and the natural and historic objects and wild life therein and to provide for the enjoyment of the same in such manner and by such means as will leave them unimpaired for the enjoyment of future generations.” This is the National Park Service’s unique contribution to the multitude of open space agencies in the Bay Area, yet remains a relatively unknown element of park management. We would like to see the PX live up to this mandate by making a greater commitment to interpreting and explaining the National Park Service’s unique mission.

The former Commissary site at the Presidio has the potential to be a place of magic and beauty where the story of the unique land management mandates of the GGNRA and the Presidio are widely told. The Wild Equity Institute suggests that the Presidio Exchange receive the bid, but that the proposal should be modified to ensure that the programming is fully committed to the mission of the National Park Service.

Tell the Presidio Trust that you support the Presidio Exchange with modifications. Submit your comments at http://www.presidio.gov/about/Pages/commissary-proposals.aspx today!

Mark your calendar for September 23, 2013, 6:30 pm, 385 Moraga Avenue in the Presidio. Public presentations of final Commissary proposals followed by a question and answer session.

At Wild Equity, we love our dogs. We dote on them and give them the best doggie-life possible.

But we also take our role as dog guardians to heart. And that includes making sure our dogs are safe and ensuring they don’t disturb the people, wildlife, and plants around us.

So stand with us and contact the Board of Supervisors and tell them to support safe dog parks and leash law enforcement today.

Unfortunately, the City of San Francisco doesn’t take this obligation seriously, and its failure is causing numerous preventable problems. For example, in 2012, the City ranked fifth among U.S. Cities in total letter carrier attacks with 38: per square mile of land, the City ranked first.

Postal workers aren’t the only ones at risk. In April, an off-leash dog killed two Canadian goslings at Crissy Field. Last year, a dog was ferociously mauled to death in Nob Hill Park, and a police horse was attacked at Crissy Field, injuring both the horse and rider.

These statistics are surprising to some because the city of St. Francis has always welcomed animals. But there are two clear reasons why the City’s dog bite statistics are extraordinary: fortunately, there are also two clear ways to reduce the number of incidents.

First, most of San Francisco’s off-leash dog parks do not include the most basic element of good dog park design: they lack physical barriers that are necessary to keep our dogs safe.. Second, leash laws are not adequately enforced outside these areas, allowing dogs to roam freely most everywhere in San Francisco.

Dog guardians, often unwittingly, put their dogs and other park users at risk when they let their dogs roam off-leash in illegal areas or in poorly designed dog parks. Dogs run the risk of getting lost, running into oncoming traffic, disturbing wildlife and other park users, and in places like Fort Funston, falling off steep cliffs.

All these incidents could be greatly reduced or prevented altogether if the City fully enclosed our dog parks with physical barriers, and then enforced leash laws outside of these areas so we all become accustomed to letting our dogs enjoy off-leash activity in areas where it is safe to do so.

Municipalities are starting to recognize the importance of these basic safety concepts. Indeed, earlier this year Tiverton, Rhode Island adopted a leash law for the first time, with most dog owners supporting the law.

As dog owners, we have an obligation to our fellow San Franciscans to keep our dogs under control. Let’s tell San Francisco we want safe parks for everyone, including our canine pals. Contact the Board of Supervisors and tell them to support safe dog parks and leash law enforcement today.

On April 18, San Francisco resident Mikiye Nakanishi—a bird lover and dog owner—was watching a goose family waddle into San Francisco Bay from Crissy Field lagoon. But before the goslings could make it over the waves, an off-leash dog attacked the goose family.

“Then another dog came running and grabbed one,” Nakanishi recounted. “A second dog grabbed another one. A third dog came and pushed them all out. The geese had no place to go. People were surrounding them. The dog owners were saying, ‘Oh, they’re not going to hurt them.’”


A gosling killed by off-leash dogs at Crissy Field, April, 18, 2013.

Two goslings were killed before the parent geese could lead their flock to safety. And while the stunned bird-lover was trying to understand what happened, the irresponsible dog owners fled the scene of the crime.

Unfortunately, this is not an isolated incident: off-leash dogs consistently harm people, our pets, wildlife and park resources at the GGNRA because it simply isn’t safe to run off-leash dogs in the Park. According to the GGNRA, there have been at least nine incidents in which park visitors or employees were bitten by dogs so far in 2013. Last year was filled with one heartbreaking off-leash dog attack after the next.

And yet the GGNRA still has not enforced leash laws in the park.

At the Wild Equity Institute, we love our dogs. But we also love all other forms of life. We believe that to protect all of us, leash laws must be enforced at the GGNRA, and off-leash dog play areas must be fully enclosed with a physical barrier and located far away from sensitive resources and people.

If you agree, make your voice heard by contacting Howard Levitt, Director of Communications and Partnerships for the GGNRA, and tell him we need leash laws enforced today, and modern off-leash dog play areas that are fully enclosed and keep everyone safe. You can reach him at howard_levitt@nps.gov or 415 561-4730.

With the campaign mailer deluge hitting our mailboxes, it appears that the supporters of San Francisco’s Proposition B are spending almost as much money trying to pass the proposition as the City might generate with the bonds Prop B. authorizes!

To cut through the clutter, the Wild Equity Institute provided some initial reasons to vote no on Prop. B several days ago, but the latest mailers sparked some additional research: and confirmed our suggestion that you vote no on Prop. B.

There is a pronounced difference between funding capital improvements and funding ongoing operations. Operations have simply not been a funding priority of our elected officials, and as a result RPD has been driven to pursue additional funding in the form of concessions and services. . . . It does not makes sense to spend money improving buildings or restoring parks if we can’t afford to open those buildings or operate those parks. There needs to be a sustained commitment to operations to support any capital program. . . . In fact, our hope has been that the operating deficit would be addressed first.

Prop. B makes this problem worse: it forces San Francisco to build new capital projects without providing any stream of income to maintain the projects over time. Like all bonds, Prop. B can only fund capital projects—not a dime of the money Prop. B raises can be used to address the existing operating and maintenance backlog. Let alone the additional operations and maintenance burdens that new capital projects will impose on our park budgets.

To truly solve our parks’ budget problem, RPD needs to join with park advocacy groups demanding larger operation and management budgets at the Board of Supervisors and the Mayor’s office, where we can obtain the annual operating and maintenance money our parks need. But to date, RPD has refused to join with us, and instead it has pursued bloated capital funding, and wasted operating budgets subsidizing suburban golf in San Mateo County. Perhaps, as the SPUR report suggests, this is because RPD has failed to properly prioritize its revenue problems.

  • As RPD’s maintenance and operating budget becomes more dire, the City’s Natural Areas Program suffers the most. The Natural Areas Program is not a priority within RPD, and it is funded last nearly every time budgets are reduced. If we build more capital than we can afford to maintain, the City’s operations and maintenance budgets will become even more stressed. As budgets become more constrained, staff will be cut, and it is most likely that Natural Areas Program staff will bear the brunt of those cuts. Again, Proposition B makes this problem worse by providing no funding for operations and maintenance while building several new projects RPD will be required to operate and maintain indefinitely.
  • All the projects specified in the bond have been declared categorically exempt from CEQA. The Bond language incorporates categorical exemptions from CEQA for nearly all the identified projects specified in the bond. This is an abuse of CEQA, and something environmentalists and conservationists should not support.
  • Building our way out of repair and maintenance is extremely environmentally harmful. RPD has suggested that Prop. B will address its maintenance backlog by getting rid of items that need repair, and building new projects in their stead. But we can think of no more environmentally harmful way to address our maintenance backlog. Is our decline into a throw-away culture so complete that even our infrastructure is now disposable? We think that in the City where single-use plastic bags have been banned, we can do better than creating throw-away capital projects. San Francisco demands better than this, and our environment requires it.
  • Strategy. There is little doubt that San Francisco politicians generally, and Recreation and Park officials specifically, give little heed to conservation concerns. This is in no small measure because the conservation community needs to become more effective applying political pressure in most campaigns—Wild Equity’s campaign to restore Sharp Park being one of the few exceptions, which was the only land-use issue to get a majority vote at the Board of Supervisors in several years. To turn this around, we need to express political displeasure to those who make decisions antithetical to our concerns. This was done by opposing bond initiatives on environmental grounds in the East Bay a few years ago, and since that time East Bay parks have had a much stronger relationship with the Sierra Club. We can do the same here.

We can understand why some institutions might determine that the short-term benefits of specific, promised projects outweigh the long-term negative impacts that Prop. B imposes on our parks. Surprisingly, SPUR endorsed this proposal, albeit with an important caveat: that the long-term funding problem be addressed sooner rather than later. But Wild Equity is in it for the long-haul, and Proposition B will fundamentally make park financing more difficult if it passes.

That’s why we urge you all to vote NO on Prop. B.

San Francisco voters: the Wild Equity Institute urges you to vote NO on Proposition B.

Proposition B is a bond measure that puts the financial position of the park system at risk while implementing anti-environmental infrastructure projects in San Francisco’s last open spaces.

For years the Recreation and Park Department, particularly under the leadership of Phil Ginsburg, has pursued anti-environmental projects that lose money while mismanaging our parks:

Because of RPD’s mismanagement, it does not have adequate funds to maintain its existing infrastructure. When operating deficits become too large to ignore, RPD tries to transform our recreation properties into revenue generating assets by proposing even more environmentally harmful development in our parks.

This vicious cycle cannot be stopped with bond money: bonds can only be used for capital projects, and cannot be used to maintain the parks we love. It can only be stopped by better management of our park system: management that prioritizes eliminating RPD’s maintenance backlog, not new construction projects RPD cannot hope to maintain.

While RPD has promised to spend capital monies on specific projects across the City, none of these projects contain the innovative urban design principles that San Francisco has become celebrated for implemented on our street scape. Rather than taking a step forward with these designs, its proposal regresses into park projects that are at best benign, and at worst antithetical to modern recreation demand and environmental sensibilities.

Even worse, Proposition B eliminates safeguards found in previous park bonds that required RPD to spend the money on projects actually proposed, so in this election voters have inadequate assurance that bond money will be spent on the specific capital projects RPD has promised.

RPD must be reformed for parks to become economically and environmentally sustainable. Burdening RPD with environmentally harmful capital projects will make its problems worse by creating more infrastructure than it can afford to maintain, leaving a degraded environment and park system in its wake.

That’s why the Wild Equity Institute is urging all San Franciscans to vote NO on Proposition B.

Here’s a riddle: which San Francisco public official is the strongest advocate for responsible dog ownership?

The Director of San Francisco Animal Care and Control? Nope. The Director has encouraged irresponsible, unsafe off-leash dog activity in San Francisco for years.

The Director of San Francisco’s Recreation and Park Department? No way. RPD’s existing leadership has been openly hostile to responsible dog ownership, even attacking areas with sound pet management practices like the Golden Gate National Recreation Area.

The leadership at the SFSPCA and the balkanized Dog Owner Groups in the City? Hardly. They’re openly hostile to responsible dog ownership, preferring to let dogs get injured and killed first, and only then address unsafe conditions. Of course by then it’s too late.

Answer: the Postmaster! Check out this letter recently sent to all San Francisco residents threatening to stop mail delivery if dogs aren’t controlled in the City:


Click the image for a .pdf of the letter.

It’s a pretty sad state when the toughest dog cop in the City is the mail carrier. But it’s no wonder: San Francisco’s failure to enforce leash laws leaves mail carriers with few other options but to stop delivering the mail.

A rash of attacks by off-leash dogs in San Francisco parks has led to renewed calls for leash law enforcement—a safe, effective way to keep people, our pets, wildlife, and all park animals safe.

For example, in San Francisco’s Glen Park—one of the few places where coyotes are found in the City, and where it is illegal to run dogs off-leash at any time—a small off-leash dog was recently killed when it got too close to a known coyote denning area. San Francisco’s Animal Care and Control responded to this incident by stepping-up leash law enforcement, in hopes of keeping dogs and coyotes safe. But irresponsible dog owners responded by challenging the citations. “When I walk into that park, I understand I’m taking a risk. And I’m okay with that,” said one thoughtless dog walker. We suspect neither his dog, nor the coyotes, would agree.

At the Golden Gate National Recreation Area’s Crissy Field, which contains one of the last habitats in San Francisco for the threatened Western Snowy Plover, an off-leash dog recently attacked a Park Police horse. The horse bucked its rider, and was then chased back to its stables. Eventually Animal Care and Control’s Vicious and Dangerous Dog Division captured the dog, and the dog owner was imprisoned. The horse and the park police rider are recovering from their injuries.

Astonishingly, this is not the first time either of these incidents occurred in San Francisco. In 2007, two coyotes were killed in Golden Gate Park after they defended their den from Rhodesian ridgebacks. Ridgebacks were bred to hunt lions and are about twice the size of a coyote: the breed cannot be seriously harmed by coyotes. Yet Animal Care and Control had the coyotes killed, rather than enforce the leash law.

And in 2003, a San Francisco police horse was attacked by a pit bull owned by an SFPCA dog trainer. The trainer was kicked in the head by the horse, the dog was shot by the police, and the police horse was so shaken that it never worked again. All because an SFPCA dog trainer wanted to test ‘voice control’ over her dog in an area where leashes are required.

These incidents fall on the heels of many other attacks: all of which could have been prevented by responsible dog ownership. As the SF Weekly summarized: in May a Concord toddler and a Castro Valley toddler were each mauled by off-leash dogs; in a separate incident that month, an off-leash dog mauled an on-leash dog so severely it was euthanized; a dog killed a pregnant Pacifica woman in April; a Fairfax police officer was attacked in March.

2012 has shown—once and for all—that San Francisco’s laissez-faire experiment with pet management has failed. People, our pets, wildlife—all of us are put at unnecessary risk by unsafe off-leash dog play areas and the lack of leash law enforcement everywhere else.

It is time for the National Park Service, San Francisco’s Recreation and Park Department, and Animal Care and Control to enforce leash laws and contain off-leash activity to fully-enclosed, safe off-leash dog play areas. People and the plants and animals that accompany us on Earth deserve nothing less.

Join the Center for Biological Diversity, San Francisco Bay Chapter of the Sierra Club, Wild Equity Institute, Pacific Institute and others as we “connect the dots” between global warming, sea-level rise, and the impacts on communities, animals and plants in a dramatic, interactive human wave at San Francisco’s restored tidal marsh Crissy Field, in the Presidio under the iconic Golden Gate Bridge.

RSVP at 350.org. Get transit directions and precise location information here.

Wear blue and bring a pair of blue jeans, a blue T-shirt or blue sheet. The wave of blue we’ll create together will dramatically illustrate sea-level rise, as well as the more frequent and severe storms, storm surges and erosion that we can expect at places like Crissy Field — unless we can start slowing climate change now. We’ll even be filmed!

The event will also feature impact “dots” — “dot” being our word for an informative poster — which will represent impacts and solutions. The “impact dots” will share facts about climate impacts on people and other species here in the Bay, including threats posed by sea-level rise, erosion and ocean acidification. Our “action/solution dots” will identify actions that can help us avoid these impacts — cutting carbon in our atmosphere by stopping the Keystone XL pipeline and Arctic drilling plans, enforcing the Clean Air Act, and restoring Sharp Park.

Almost 4 million Americans live less than four feet above current high-tide levels. Scientists predict approximately 2 to 7 feet of sea-level rise this century.

Marshes such as Crissy Field are particularly vulnerable to sea-level rise. In the worst-case scenario, 93 percent of San Francisco Bay’s tidal marsh could be lost in the next 50 to 100 years.

In a rapid response to poor pet management, the Rancho Palos Verde city council closed its pilot off-leash dog beach a mere two months after it was created.

The beach, illegally used for off-leash dog walking despite city ordinances prohibiting dogs on beaches and golf courses, was opened in February to accommodate demands for free off-leash dog access. Unsurprisingly, the lack of restrictions unleashed a massive influx of dogs from all over Los Angeles county, where there are only two other beaches that allow dogs. “Frankly,” said Councilwoman Susan Brooks, “it was like Woodstock for dogs. This is not the space, not the place.”

Mayor Steve Wolowitz supported the decision to close the park and “cited an ‘intimidation factor’ presented by some animals, possible dangerous encounters between dogs and children, and the responsibility of the city to step in when ‘interests of a limited group conflict with the public at large.’”

The contested beach lies below the Ocean Trails Ecological Reserve, a spectacular area very similar to San Francisco’s Fort Funston in the Golden Gate National Recreation Area. The beach continues past the Trump National Golf Course.

The similarity to San Francisco and the GGNRA regrettably does not stop at the nature of the terrain. For years, the GGNRA has allowed the park’s most treasured locations to be operated as unofficial, unsafe off-leash dog parks. Presently park management is considering formalizing this practice, making each of these areas an official off-leash dog park. If the lesson from Southern California provides any indication, this will make the numerous management problems facing the GGNRA—off-leash dogs being lost, injured, and sometimes killed; people being harassed and intimidated; guide dog users being excluded from the park; and incessant wildlife harassment and habitat degradation—even worse.


This “People Behaving Badly” segment contains heartbreaking footage
of an off-leash dog attacking a sick seabird at Ocean Beach.

The only proven and consensus-based way to allow off-leash dogs in parks with multiple user groups is to create fully-enclosed off-leash dog play areas, and only in areas where there is no risk of environmental harm. Inside those areas, rules and regulations must be enforced to keep the dog park healthy and safe for all of our dogs, and outside of those areas leash laws must be strictly enforced—where dogs are allowed at all. During the GGNRA’s extensive and protracted negotiated rule making for pet management at the GGNRA, anti-wildlife groups like the SFSPCA joined with local wildlife champions like the Sierra Club, Golden Gate Audubon, and the Center for Biological Diversity reached consensus to create an off-leash dog trail in Marin County based on these principles, while failing to reach consensus on anything else.


One of many rescues conducted by the GGNRA
when off-leash dogs fall off cliffs at Fort Funston.

Given the reluctance of GGNRA policy and staff to aggressively manage off-leash dog walking as stringently as other impacts, such an idea will only get traction if enough people protest aggressively enough against the current onslaught of off-leash dogs. That is the other lesson from Rancho Palos Verde: park policy will respond to noise and numbers.

Contact the GGNRA loudly and often to complain about off-leash dogs in the GGNRA and to demand creation of enclosed, off-leash dog parks.

The Golden Gate National Recreation Area may finally start enforcing leash laws at the GGNRA: and you will have two opportunities to encourage them to do so in the coming weeks.

Off-leash dogs at the GGNRA negatively impact people, our pets, wildlife, and park resources. Imperiled wildlife like the western snowy plover are frequently harassed by off-leash dogs; guide dog users are regularly interfered with—and occasionally attacked—by off-leash dogs; and perhaps most alarmingly, hundreds of off-leash dogs have been lost, injured, or killed when they fall off cliffs, run into traffic, or otherwise lose their owners.

It doesn’t have to be this way. We can make off-leash dog play areas that are safe for everyone, including our dogs.

The first step is to enforce leash laws in the GGNRA. Already animal welfare groups like the ASPCA, PETA, American Humane Association, Action for Animals, and Dogs Deserve Better have called for leash law enforcement at the GGNRA.

The second step is to design off-leash dog play areas within the park that are safe for everyone. In 2001 the California Department of Parks and Recreation conducted a study on safe off-leash dog play areas and concluded that this means enclosing the area with a physical boundary, so that dogs can’t run away from their owners and get into trouble, and so people can choose to enter these areas on their own terms.

You have two opportunities to help these recommendations become a reality. First, KQED’s Forum is collecting statements about how off-leash dogs impact your user experience while visiting the National Park. Let them know your story and encourage KQED to support leash law enforcement at the GGNRA.

Second, on January 14, 2011 the GGNRA will be releasing its long-awaited Draft Environmental Impact Statement on pet management at the GGNRA. This draft document will contain several alternatives for managing off-leash dogs in the park: and one of them will be labeled the GGNRA’s preferred alternative. Once released, the public will have 90 days to comment on the document. Keep checking wildequity.org for updates and more information as the process moves forward: we’ll provide you with an analysis of the draft document and help you submit your own comments to the park.

A Huffington Post article by Dr. David Suzuki indicates that Canada is jumping on the Golden Gate National Parks bandwagon by creating the country’s first national park in an urban area.

The announcement follows a report that recommended national park status for the area outside of Toronto to protect its important recreational and biological values—right next door to Canada’s largest metropolis.

Canada’s act is a reminder that the GGNP was ahead of its time in bestowing national park status on urban areas with incredible biological and recreational resources. It is also notice that our work isn’t over—national parks can still be developed and created right here in the Bay Area near our urban core. And in many ways, it is these areas that deserve national parks the most—they are the most accessible to the most people and often protect lands that are in the most need of a little TLC.

Huzzah for Canada! And long live the Golden Gate National Parks!

This past spring, the Wild Equity Institute submitted comments to the Golden Gate National Recreation Area concerning the Park’s Pet Management Plan. Unfortunately the GGNRA’s plan is heading the wrong direction.

For many years the GGNRA has illicitly permitted off-leash dog walking in many locations. When park visitorship and the number of dogs were low, this had little impact. But today the GGNRA receives millions of visitors annually and San Francisco purportedly now has more dogs than kids. This has led to increasing numbers of negative impacts in the park: dogs are being lost, injured, and killed; people and horses are being bitten and attacked; endangered wildlife are put at risk; and it has even impacted the diversity of the GGNRA’s users.

The GGNRA’s ad hoc off-leash policy is no longer tenable. The GGNRA is currently reviewing comments on a Draft Environmental Impact Statement that discusses pet management in the Park. The outcome of this environmental impact assessment process will dictate how the park is managed for many years.

We all love our dogs. The question facing us all is whether we love each other enough to recognize that how we recreate with our dogs at the GGNRA has impacts on other people and other forms of life. The Wild Equity Institute believes that the GGNRA has not struck a proper balance with its draft document, because it fails to ensure that off-leash dogs remain safe in the park.

The best way to ensure dogs remain safe while roaming off-leash is to ensure that any off-leash area is enclosed with a physical boundary. These boundaries could be post-and-cable fences or natural features. But if a physical boundary cannot be placed around a specific off-leash area, than that area should not be an official off-leash area: it is simply too risky for our dogs.

You can read the Wild Equity Institute’s comments here, and find out more about pet management at the GGNRA at our GGNRA Off-leash Dog FAQ. We expect a final determination from the GGNRA on its pet management plan in 2012.

The Golden Gate National Recreation Area has released its long-awaited Dog Management Plan, and will be taking public comment on the proposal for the next 90 days. The Wild Equity Institute’s Executive Director Brent Plater will be a guest on KQED’s Forum (88.5 FM) to discuss the plan Monday, January 17th at 9:00 a.m. You can bring your voice to the debate by calling 866-733-6786 or emailing forum@kqed.org.

Weighing-in at over 2,000 pages and over six years in the making, bystanders might look at the plan and conclude that the GGNRA’s priorities are misplaced. If, for example, the GGNRA tackled more pressing environmental problems like climate adaptation this thoroughly, we might have a carbon neutral park by now.

Yet in other respects pet management contains the same moral dilemmas as our most pressing environmental problems:

  • Who should bear the burden of activities conducted in National Parks: the individuals taking action or the public as a whole?
  • When should individual entitlement take precedence over public responsibility?
  • Does the Park have a duty to proactively protect park visitors from harm, or should the Park simply facilitate recompense after an injury has occurred?

These are common questions to most environmental problems, yet despite the plan’s length and delay, it still fails to address some basic problems with pet management at the GGNRA.

Off-leash dogs have long been negatively impacting people, our pets, wildlife, and park resources at the GGNRA. Imperiled wildlife like the western snowy plover are frequently harassed by off-leash dogs; guide dog users are regularly interfered with—and occasionally attacked—by off-leash dogs; and perhaps most alarmingly, hundreds of off-leash dogs have been lost, injured, or killed when they fall off cliffs, run into traffic, or otherwise lose their owners.

“The proposed plan contains some improvements, but fails in significant respects to protect people, our pets, wildlife, and park resources,” said Plater. “The first rule of good off-leash dog park design is to make sure our dogs are safe. But the dog play areas proposed by the Park Service do not contain safety barriers, do not require dog owners to certify that their dogs are trained before allowing them off leash, and the plan’s basic structure is to wait for park visitors to be injured before protective measures are put in place. We look forward to working with the Park Service to correct these obvious flaws before the plan is finalized.”

Sensible management measures like enclosing dog play areas with fences or other physical barriers can resolve many of these problems, and give park visitors the opportunity to choose off-leash dog experience on their own terms, rather than having the choice imposed upon them. Already animal welfare groups like the ASPCA, PETA, American Humane Association, Action for Animals, and Dogs Deserve Better have called for leash law enforcement at the GGNRA. Over the next 90 days you’ll have the opportunity to add your voice to theirs by submitting comments in support of leash law enforcement in the Park. Don’t delay: make your comments today!

Yesterday by a 2 to 1 vote, the San Francisco Board of Supervisor’s Land Use and Economic Development Committee passed a resolution condemning the Golden Gate National Recreation Area for attempting to manage off-leash dogs in the park. This misguided resolution is driving a wedge in San Francisco’s progressive community, pitting environmental, social welfare, and justice groups against a fraction of dog owners who wish to recreate with their dogs without regard to the impacts on other people and other forms of life.


Leash laws and enclosed off-leash play areas are essential safeguards for us all.

There are solutions to this problem: the most obvious solution is to ensure that our off-leash areas are safe by enclosing them with a physical barrier. After two years of negotiation, the GGNRA’s pet management rulemaking committee reached consensus about creating a fully enclosed off-leash dog walking trail in Marin County. This can serve as a model to solve this ongoing debate: and is in stark contrast to the resolution passed by the Committee yesterday condemning our great Urban National Park experiment.

We all love our dogs. The question is do we love each other enough to recognize that how we allow our dogs to behave can have negative impacts on other people—not to mention the wildlife that find their last refuge in the GGNRA. The Weiner resolution doesn’t help us address this core question: and that’s why it should be opposed.

The full Board of Supervisors will vote on the resolution today. [UPDATE: the resolution has been delayed for 2 weeks: giving you more time to respond!] Please make your voice heard by urging your public officials to oppose this misguided resolution. Click here to take action today!

San Francisco continues to subsidize an endangered species-killing golf course in Pacifica even though the City’s community services are being cut.

We deserve better!

In honor of Save the Frogs Day, please join the Wild Equity Institute, SAVE THE FROGS! and the Center for Biological Diversity for the Endangered Communities, Endangered Species Rally. The event is endorsed by Coleman Advocates for Children and Youth.

Join us and tell San Francisco to stop the wasteful spending, save the environment while helping our communities, and create a public park that everyone can enjoy by restoring Sharp Park! There will be speakers and informational tables.

A new survey released by the Neighborhood Parks Council shows that San Franciscans want more sustainability in their park system and fewer expenditures on golf: which is precisely why restoring Sharp Park is great public policy for San Francisco.

“Restoring Sharp Park is a sensible solution that helps the Recreation and Parks Department supply what park users demand,” said Brent Plater, Executive Director of the Wild Equity Institute. “We can reduce wasteful spending on regional golf in San Mateo County while providing a sustainable solution to the myriad problems the golf course faces. It isn’t often you get win-win solutions in park management: the City should seize this one immediately.”

The Neighborhood Parks Council surveyed 1,443 San Francisco residents in October and November of 2010, asking dozens of questions about San Francisco’s parks. In one question, respondents were asked to list three priorities for park funding. Of the nearly 100 different responses, sustainability came in 5th, behind only general park maintenance, better athletic fields, more programming, and improved safety. In a second question, respondents were asked to list three expenses they’d like to see cut. Of the over 80 different responses to this question, cutting golf expenses came in 5th, behind only salaries and overtime pay, construction projects, regional attractions, and wasteful spending.

Sharp Park Golf Course is a wetland that San Francisco drains regularly so golfers can play there for about $30 a round. The course loses money every year, siphoning scarce recreation dollars from San Francisco’s community centers and city services. A broad coalition has been working to transfer Sharp Park to the National Park Service and redirect the money San Francisco saves back to neighborhood parks, where the money belongs.


Flooding is a chronic problem at Sharp Park Golf Course.

The Wild Equity Institute is working with dozens of community, recreation, environmental, and social justice groups to ensure that our relationship to our great Urban National Parks is sustainable. This is a partial list of our partner organizations and supporters:

Organizations

Public Officials

The Golden Gate National Parks are currently undergoing an accessibility study to improve access for people with disabilities. Today, the Wild Equity Institute submitted these comments to the Golden Gate National Parks requesting that the park improve its off-leash dog management as part of its accessibility plan.

Off-leash dogs are one of the key accessibility problems at the Golden Gate National Parks. A 2003 survey conducted by a national guide dog user group indicates that 89% of guide dog users have had their dogs interfered with by off-leash dogs, and 42% of guide dog users have had their guide dogs attacked by off-leash dogs. At best, this can be disorienting for guide dog users. In the worst cases, service dogs have been killed or injured in ways that make them incapable of providing the services the dog was trained for.

Because of this, organizations such as Guide Dogs for the Blind recommend that their graduates avoid any place where off-leash dogs are known to roam. Since off-leash dogs are permitted to roam in nearly every National Park unit in San Francisco, the off-leash policy is a de facto exclusion for guide dog users: in the very park Congress created to make National Park values more accessible to people.

There is a simple solution to this problem: ensure off-leash dog areas are safe by enclosing them with a physical barrier. This is the recommendation of many dog advocates, and has been adopted by the California State Parks in their 2001 pilot program for off-leash dogs. Physical barriers protect our pets from running into harm’s way; they allow park users to choose to enter the area, rather than having off-leash dogs imposed upon their recreational choices; they ensure that people and wildlife remain free from interference and disturbance; and they clearly demarcate the off-leash area, enabling people to easily comply with park regulations.

If you would also like to encourage the GGNRA to implement safe off-leash dog areas while keeping the park accessible, you may submit comments on this web form.

Here are a few Photos of our newest National Park, Port Chicago National Memorial, where hundreds of mostly African-american military personnel were killed in a munitions explosion on 7/17/44, and then court-martialed when they demanded training on how to load the munitions safely. One of the key injustices that ultimately led to the desegregation of the military, the story is now being interpreted by our Nation’s best steward of history, the National Park Service. Reservations are required to visit: click here to make yours. You may also want to check out Dr. Robert Allen’s book, The Port Chicago Mutiny: the Story of the Largest Mass Mutiny Trial in U.S. Naval History.