The 1979 Pet Policy


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