Dog owners yearning for new places to let their companions run free might soon get a little treat from the city.
Responding to years of complaints and requests from local dog lovers, Palo Alto is considering an experiment that would temporarily add a dog park to an existing recreation area. The six-month trial would create a shared-use area at a city-owned location, according to a proposal that the city's Parks and Recreation Commission discussed Tuesday night.
The three likeliest locations now under consideration are the Baylands Athletic Center, Greer Park and Hoover Park. Both parks already have small dog runs; the city's proposal would expand these areas and include new signs and fencing.
Parks commissioners on Tuesday emphasized that the experiment is, at best, a temporary solution to the puzzling problem of insufficient dog recreation areas. The City Council's recent attempt to build a new dog run at the renovated El Camino Park faltered because of the site's proximity to endangered species, and officials hope to come up with new ideas as part of the city's work on the new Parks, Recreation, Open Space and Trails Master Plan. Once completed, the document will evaluate recreational needs and opportunities. In the meantime, the city staff is recommending the pilot program.
Details for the new dog park need to be hashed out, including the exact location and enforcement and outreach strategies. But commissioners, who did not vote on the proposal Tuesday, agreed that the plan is worth pursuing.
"It's really about taking a six-month period of time and looking at it in totality," said Abbie Knopper, member of an ad hoc committee that is refining the pilot program.
The city would measure the costs and benefits of the program and then consider whether it's worth making permanent, Knopper said. The proposal is fairly modest, with the shared-use area open for two morning hours from Monday to Friday. Yet plenty of questions remain unanswered. Commissioners wondered Tuesday whether the new dog run would add to maintenance costs and, if so, who would foot the bill. The ad hoc committee favored asking the city's nascent citizens group, Palo Alto Dog Owners, to coordinate, manage and fund a cleanup service like one used in Menlo Park, where a dog owner's group pays about $6,000 a year.
Rob De Geus, assistant director of the Community Services Department, said there is a benefit to having local dog users chip in because it would signal to other field users that the group is "organized and committed and contributing to the field." He also said he has some concerns about using staff.
"We struggle to keep up with athletic fields as they are," De Geus said.
Commissioner Deirdre Crommie disagreed and argued that the dog group should not have to finance this project.
"I think it's setting the wrong precedent here," Crommie said. "I think people who own dogs are fully entitled to services within our city."
Otherwise, she said she was happy to see the trial start.
The parks commission has been considering new dog opportunities for years. In 2009, members held a public meeting with about 100 dog owners. According to staff, many residents expressed a strong desire for off-leash dog recreation areas in all areas of Palo Alto and for possible use of fenced athletic fields during non-peak hours by off-leash dogs. The conversation continued this summer, when the ad hoc committee met with Palo Alto Dog Owners, which has about 300 members.
The city's existing dog amenities are limited to the two small dog runs in Greer and Hoover parks (0.12 and 0.14 acres, respectively) and a half-acre area in Mitchell Park. The new shared-use park would be significantly larger -- at least 0.9 acres.
Howard Hoffman, a member of Palo Alto Dog Owners, said his group is pleased with the commission's proposal and suggested that the new facility be located close to where people live. In other words, not in the Baylands.
"We don't feel this is going to be the total solution, but we're happy to see something," Hoffman said. "We know the city is in the middle of a major effort of doing a new master plan for parks. We hope it's going to include some opportunities for dog recreation, particularly since (the pilot) doesn't address north of Oregon Expressway."
Former commissioner and avowed dog owner Daria Walsh also said she was pleased about the proposed pilot. She noted that it's not just dogs that benefit from the facilities.
"Recreational dog facilities allow a really deep connection between people," Walsh said. "It's just a way you can connect with people that is beyond a lot of other options in the city."