You are hereThe 1979 Pet Policy

The 1979 Pet Policy

By champsee - Posted on 30 January 2011

Off-leash recreation had been an accepted practice at Fort Funston, Ocean Beach, and Crissy Field for decades before the GGNRA was created. It was mentioned during Congressional hearings at the time of the formation of the GGNRA as one of the recreational activities that historically took place on land within the GGNRA’s boundaries. In the late 1970s, however, the National Park Service tried to enforce leash laws in these historically off-leash areas. They faced a huge public outcry.
As a result, in 1979, the Park Service asked the GGNRA Citizens Advisory Committee (CAC) to develop a Pet Policy that would determine where in the GGNRA dogs could be off-leash (it also addressed feral cats). The CAC held public hearings and received extensive public comment, before determining that there would be no adverse impact on the environment or on other park users if dogs were allowed off leash on a very tiny portion of GGNRA land.  Off leash areas included only about 1% of the total GGNRA land,even before the recent expansion of GGNRA land to include broad swaths in San Mateo County and elsewhere.  This area where dogs could be off leash included Fort Funston, Crissy Field, Ocean Beach, Lands End, Baker Beach, Rodeo Beach, Muir Beach, and a few other areas. Click here to read the 1979 Pet Policy
Although it was attached to the GGNRA General Management Plan in 1980, and referred to in correspondence and management plans, the 1979 Pet Policy was never officially promulgated into a Section 7 rule, an official exception to traditional management rules.
Beginning in 1991, the GGNRA began to close off parts of Fort Funston and Ocean Beach to off-leash recreation (and in many areas,to all park users, not just those with dogs), citing newly planted native species, or the presence of certain birds, or public safety concerns due to the cliffs at Fort Funston.
Yet, in 1992, the Park Service assured park users and the two U.S. Senators from California that the 1979 Pet Policy was the operative management policy at Fort Funston and would not be changed.
The Fort Funston Lawsuit
In 2000, after accepting two closures at Fort Funston without complaint, Fort Funston Dog Walkers (FFDW) sued the GGNRA when it closed even more parts of Fort Funston without first soliciting public input. FFDW won the suit, which forced the GGNRA to solicit public comment on the closure. The results were overwhelmingly against the closure (about 1,100 letters and 5,000 signatures on petitions opposing the closure, 400 pre-printed postcards and letters supporting it). Still, after the public comment period ended, the GGNRA decided to close to all recreational users (not just those with dogs) even more land than had originally been planned. GGNRA staff have admitted at public meetings (e.g., the 3/6/06 meeting of the Negotiated Rulemaking Committee) that the FFDW lawsuit convinced them that they needed to find another way to deal with off-leash dogs in the GGNRA.
In January 2001, the GGNRA Citizens Advisory Committee placed on their agenda the intent to void the 1979 Pet Policy as “illegal.” National Park Service regulations require dogs to be on-leash-only in national parks. Therefore, the GGNRA argued, they never should have allowed them off-leash anywhere in the GGNRA. Over 1,500 people attended the meeting to protest the move, most waiting outside in the pouring rain for hours on end (because there was no more room inside) to voice their opposition to the plan. Eight members of the San Francisco Board of Supervisors and representatives of local State Assemblymembers urged the Advisory Committee not to rescind the 1979 Pet Policy. The Committee took no action.
However, several days later, in February 2001, the GGNRA quietly voided the 1979 Pet Policy. There was no period of public comment, no public hearings. In March 2001, the GGNRA announced its intent to begin an Advanced Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (ANPR), to determine if off-leash recreation could be allowed in the GGNRA (note that this wording assumes the activity to be “illegal”). In April 2001, the GGNRA posted “Dogs must be on-leash” signs on nearly all GGNRA lands where dogs had traditionally been off-leash (and where they were legally allowed according to the 1979 Pet Policy). Enforcement of leash laws began and citations were issued.
In January 2002, the ANPR was published in the Federal Register, followed by a 90-day period of public comment (which ended in April 2002). Public comments ran 6-to-1 in favor of off-leash recreation (16,319 to 2,541, including personal comments, form letters and postcards, and petitions). Note that more than half of the comments against off-leash recreation came from people who not only do not live in San Francisco, but also do not live in the state of California.
In October 2002, GGNRA Superintendent Brian O’Neill announced that the National Park Service had decided to proceed with a “negotiated rulemaking” process, in which representatives of various stakeholder groups on all sides of the dog-walking issue would meet and (hopefully) come to some kind of consensus about where dogs would be allowed off-leash in the GGNRA. Selecting professional mediators to conduct the negotiations, and identifying stakeholders and their representatives, however, moved at a glacial pace.
Crissy Field Tickets Challenged
In the meantime, citations continued to be issued for people who had their dogs off-leash in those areas where they had been allowed off-leash in the 1979 Pet Policy. In 2004, three people who had been cited for walking their dogs off-leash at Crissy Field challenged their tickets. Note that these people did not sue the GGNRA. The three were defendants in a criminal case against them.
In December 2004, US Magistrate Judge Elizabeth D. LaPorte dismissed the tickets, ruling that because the GGNRA did not solicit adequate public comment before rescinding the 1979 Pet Policy, as required by federal statute whenever a policy change will be either significant or highly controversial, the 1979 Pet Policy was still in effect. The GGNRA appealed LaPorte’s ruling. Click here to read JudgeLaPorte’s ruling
In June 2005, US District Court Judge William Alsup upheld the lower court’s ruling. Judge Alsup agreed that, because of the lack of public notice and comment before it was rescinded, the 1979 Pet Policy was still in effect. Because that policy allowed dogs to be off-leash at Crissy Field, he dismissed the tickets. People rejoiced to once again be able to walk with their dogsoff-leash without being harassed by Park Rangers. Click here to read Judge Alsup’s ruling
Negotiated Rulemaking and a new Dog Management Plan
During the summer of 2005, after the court rulings went against the GGNRA and three years after announcing they would begin a rulemaking process, the GGNRA finally published (in the Federal Register) the names of the people proposed to represent stakeholder groups in the negotiations. Representatives of dog groups and local groups opposed to dog walking were appointed to the Committee.
The first meeting of the Negotiated Rulemaking Committee occurred in March 2006. Several areas that were off-leash in the 1979 Pet Policy (e.g., parts of Ocean Beach, and nearly all of Marin County) were removed from consideration in the negotiations by the GGNRA before the negotiations even began. Dog groups argued that Judge Alsup’s ruling changed the starting point of the negotiations – from an assumption that dog walking was illegal (the GGNRA’s position when NR was proposed in 2002), to the fact that two judges had ruled off-leash dog walkingto be legal. Therefore, the negotiations should have included all the areas where dogs had been allowed off-leash in the 1979 Pet Policy. The GGNRA claimed that Judge Alsup’s ruling had no effect on the rulemaking, and they refused to reinstate any of the areas they had removed from the discussions.
SFDOG participated in Negotiated Rulemaking (NR) despite our reservations about the process. The way the negotiations were conducted was extremely prejudicial against dog walkers. Opponents of dog walking refused to discuss anything substantive. NR ended with a minor agreement to allow off-leash on portions of one trail in Marin, and nothing else. [Click here for more on the Negotiated Rulemaking process]
In February 2006, as Negotiated Rulemaking was beginning, the GGNRA announced plans to conduct an Environmental Impact Statement for a new Dog Management Plan that would replace the 1979 Pet Policy. It is likely that the GGNRA had hoped that Negotiated Rulemaking would result in some kind of consensus on alternatives for off-leash dog walking that could then be evaluated in the EIS. But the failure of NR to accomplish anything meant no one outside of GGNRA staff knows which alternatives for where dogs can be off-leash are being considered. The federal notice announcing the EIS cites the following reason for the EIS: “A history of a dog management policy that has been inconsistent with NPS regulations has resulted in controversy and litigation, compromised visitor and employee safety, affected visitor experience and resulted in resource degradation.” (page 9147, Federal Register, February 22, 2006) This statement would seem to presuppose the result of the EIS. It also ignores decades of peaceful sharing of recreational open space and the accommodation of different recreational activities in the GGNRA. The Draft EIS will be released in January 2011. [Click here for more information on the Draft EIS]
In November 2006, while Negotiated Rulemaking was underway, the GGNRA closed parts of Ocean Beach and Crissy Field to off-leash dogs, claiming an “emergency” existed that required them to protect snowy plovers from off-leash dogs. Dog groups disputed the claim then and continue to dispute it. For example, studies conducted by the GGNRA itself indicate that the presence of off-leash dogs on the beach has no significant impact on the population of snowy plovers at Ocean Beach. Indeed, one GGNRA report (1996 Hatch Report) said: “Factors other than the number of people or dogs, possibly beach slope and width, appear to exert greater influence over Snowy Plover numbers on Ocean Beach.” GGNRA claims of negative impacts of off-leash dogs have been shown to be incorrect or without substance, yet the GGNRA continues to use those claims to justify increased restriction of off-leash recreation. [Click here for more information on dogs and birds and wildlife]
The reality is that off-leash dog walking in the GGNRA, a cherished activity enjoyed for decades and decades, is at risk and could be severely restricted when the Draft EIS and the new Dog Management Plan are released. SFDOG will challenge any restrictions and will fight to maintain off-leash recreation in the GGNRA.

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