You are hereGolden Gate National Recreation Area Dog Plan Scandal Grows

Golden Gate National Recreation Area Dog Plan Scandal Grows

By sally - Posted on 19 March 2017

SFDOG and other Bay Area dog and recreation groups engaged in a federal lawsuit against the National Park Service have released new documents that reveal more employees of the Golden Gate National Recreation Area used private email accounts in an effort to rig the outcome of a plan to severely restrict dog walking in this urban recreation area.

Emails received as a result of their Freedom of Information Act lawsuit show that GGNRA Superintendents Christine Lehnertz and Frank Dean both used private email accounts over several years in an effort to avoid public disclosure of the scheme. The deliberate use of private email extends to other employees, including GGNRA’s FOIA Officer and Director of Communications and Partnerships, and a management assistant who served as point person for the dog management plan, among others.

The new emails were published today on (see section on personal email use).

The dog plan scandal initially broke January 4, when revealed that GGNRA’s FOIA Officer and Director of Communications and Partnerships, Howard Levitt, had been using his private email account to hide behind-the-scenes communications with anti-dog-walking groups. This finding caused the Park Service to announce on January 11 that it was indefinitely delaying the GGNRA dog rule while it investigates whether the use of personal email violated the law or Park Service policies.

The new documents show:

At least four NPS officials used their private email accounts to coordinate with outside organizations that opposed recreational dog walking in the GGNRA: Superintendents Christine Lehnertz and Frank Dean, respectively; Howard Levitt, Director of Communications and Partnerships; Shirwin Smith, dog management plan point person.

Using their private email accounts, these GGNRA officials helped outside special interest groups, including People for the Parks/Presidio, the National Parks Conservation Association, and the San Francisco Chapter of the Sierra Club lobby elected officials to influence the outcome of the dog plan. For example, in several email exchanges, GGNRA officials provided assistance to these groups with a presentation to Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi’s San Francisco Chief of Staff.

The Park Service officials also developed media strategies and wrote materials for these groups in favor of the GGNRA’s proposed dog walking restrictions. And they urged the groups to have their members call and email elected officials.

The emails and internal planning documents on were obtained by Morrison & Foerster LLP as part of a federal lawsuit against the National Park Service for failing to comply with a Freedom of Information Act request. The lawsuit was filed on behalf of Save Our Recreation, SFDOG, Marin County DOG, and Coastside DOG of San Mateo County.

“It’s a no-brainer that the dog plan cannot go forward,” said Chris Carr, a partner who leads Morrison & Foerster’s Environmental and Energy Practice Group. “It’s been fatally infected by the illusory public process the GGNRA staged, while its leaders and dog plan point people were colluding with anti-dog groups to deliver their pre-determined highly restrictive dog rule. No court would allow the dog rule to stand under the National Environmental Policy Act and the Administrative Procedure Act. There needs to be an independent investigation to determine whether Park Service staff violated federal record keeping, lobbying, contracting and other laws.”

“For years, the National Park Service assured Bay Area residents that it was conducting a fair and unbiased community input process. Turns out they were lying. In reality, Park Service officials were working behind the scenes with anti-dog walking groups on Congressional lobbying efforts and media strategies in support of the agency’s pre-determined agenda—to stop people in the Bay Area from walking with our dogs in our own backyard,” said Andrea Buffa, a founder of Save Our Recreation.

The National Park Service effort to restrict dog walking in the GGNRA started more than 15 years ago. Currently dog walking is only allowed on less than 1% of GGNRA lands. Despite more than 10,000 public comments and objections from the San Francisco, Marin,and San Mateo Boards of Supervisors, the proposed dog rule would cut off-leash dog walking space by 90% and on-leash area in half.

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