More than 300 dog owners in Palo Alto's Barron Park plan to submit a petition to the city to open a dog park in their neighborhood.
The desire for a dog park comes as the neighborhood's dog ownership has increased during the COVID-19 pandemic. The dog owners said they hope to ease current conflicts between dog owners who use Barron Park Elementary School grounds and those who object to the use of the school's open spaces for the canines.
The Change.org petition asks the city's Palo Alto Open Spaces, Parks, and Golf Community Services to consider a dedicated dog park within Barron Park because the community doesn't have one.
"All the current dog parks near Barron Park require crossing significant streets. Due to the distance, it is common for dog owners to drive to the dog parks outside of the neighborhood. Driving out of a neighborhood is an increased burden on the environment and is not sustainable," the dog owners group said in the petition.
The group, which provides emotional and physical support to its members, has worked to decrease conflicts, members said. The dog group has formed a volunteer "dog poop patrol," which cleans the elementary school fields early in the morning before students arrive. The group has also picked up trash left behind by students. Still, some conflicts and complaints remain, including claims that the fields are being damaged, members of the group noted.
The proposal will ask the city to create an area with input from the community — the same as what transpired in the Boulware Park Renovation and Expansion Project in the nearby Ventura neighborhood.
At this point, the group isn't trying to put forth any particular concept, Carole Lin, co-leader of the Dog Park Project, said during a Tuesday evening Barron Park Association meeting, where multiple people discussed the proposal.
"We're hoping to get on the agenda and get the process of community input started," she said. "We don't want people to feel it is being forced on them."
The initial proposal will ask the city to consider several locations. The first would be at the back of Bol Park. A roughly half-acre or more area at the park's innermost border would have room for an enclosure. Noise from the dog area would be minimal due to the distance from residences. Parking and sanitation is nearby. The site has grass and mulch and would require a minimum amount of materials and work. The cost of installing the park would be an estimated $5,000, according to the proposal.
Briones Park is another proposed site. Closer to residences, it would also require a minimal amount of work and materials, the proposal noted. Other possible locations might be Strawberry Hill and a space next to the Gunn High School soccer fields, but the petitioners said those sites are likely to be complicated by ownership.
Having a space to meet with other dog owners is good for the community; it has been beneficial mentally and physically, Lin noted.
"We talk to each other and we're very nice to each other, even helping each other with family issues or illnesses. So it's been a real bonding experience and mental health experience through COVID as well," she said.
The Barron Park Association speakers also wondered if there could be a way to put a dedicated dog park at Barron Park Elementary School.
Leah Russin, a dog owner and a parent, said her son is a Barron Park Elementary student "who certainly would not appreciate stepping in dog poop" and yet who also brings the dog to the school to hang out with his friends.
"It has been one of the great joys of parenting in the pandemic to watch him ... mature enough to go to the school with the dog as part of growing up," she said. "Having a safe place where I know he can get there safely and be safe with his friends and with his dog has been a relief for me as a parent and very empowering for him.
"I hope that whatever resolution this community moves toward, they think of this as not just a resource for adults with dogs but also for children who are beginning to stretch their wings and explore their boundaries, and how can we as a community help support them to do that in a safe way," she said.
Nick Briggs said he would not support maintaining an off-leash area on school grounds.
"Dog poop is a health issue," he said, even after it has been cleaned up.
Some residents said they prefer keeping Bol Park fence-free. Christian Kalar said he would support a dog park, but not in Bol. He prefers Briones Park, where the impact would be lesser, he said.
"I think it would be an awesome place because there's a path that goes across the park. ... And I don't think it would interrupt anybody's use of the park because they're over on the bigger side. And there's a fence already along the entire border of the park," he said.
Former city planning commissioner Samir Tuma said there are more dog owners now due to the pandemic. He said that any placement of a dog park near Bol Park would not be near the adjacent Barron Park donkey paddock.
Tuma said that by bringing a request for a dog park forward, the group isn't looking for conflict.
"We're not looking for a fight. But at the same time there is a very strong interest in the dog park in an area that is not on a main road, that is fenced in and that allows for the community to come and be where the dogs are not a threat," he said.
The group plans to submit the petition during the Palo Alto Parks and Recreation Commission meeting's public-comment period on Nov. 22. The meeting will start at 7 p.m. in the City Council Chambers, 250 Hamilton Ave., Palo Alto. The meeting can also be accessed through Zoom (meeting ID 999 3789 9745 or phone number 1-669-900-6833).
The meeting will be broadcast live on channel 26 or 29 of the Midpen Media Center at midpenmedia.org/local-tv/watch-now.