Negotiated Rulemaking: Letter to Supervisor O’Neill


September 5, 2007

Superintendent Brian O’Neill

Golden Gate National Recreation Area

Fort Mason, Building 201

San Francisco, CA  94123


Dear Superintendent O’Neill,

The San Francisco Dog Owners Group (SFDOG) has serious concerns about the way the Dog Management Negotiated Rulemaking (NR) process has been and is being conducted. Our concerns are detailed in the attached document. The process has violated the rules published in the Notice of Intent to Establish a NR Advisory Committee (NOI), and has been conducted in a manner that is extremely unfair. Our concerns fall into three general categories: 1) The Golden Gate National Recreation Area (GGNRA) administration has violated the rules of Negotiated Rulemaking; 2) The Facilitators hired by the GGNRA have conducted Negotiated Rulemaking in an unfair and prejudicial manner; and 3) GGNRA staff have not negotiated in good faith.

GGNRA staff have not acknowledged that the 1979 Pet Policy is the current official policy regarding off-leash dogs in the GGNRA, despite two federal court rulings that said precisely that. By ignoring the 1979 Pet Policy and not using it as the basis for the negotiations, the GGNRA administration ensured that NR would be skewed against off-leash recreation from the very beginning. Opposition to off-leash recreation has been given more credence, more time, and more respect by the Facilitators and GGNRA staff during NR meetings. As time has gone on, the negotiating environment has become increasingly hostile to representatives of dog groups.

As a result of these violations, we are no nearer to any resolution of a dog management policy now, nearly two years into NR, than we were when NR began. There has been little substantive discussion in any NR meetings. Indeed, with only two scheduled meetings left, the NR Committee has yet to discuss any dog management measures at any specific sites.

Quite frankly, unless substantive changes are made in the way Negotiated Rulemaking is being conducted, the entire process will be rendered invalid. As it is currently being conducted, NR has been so compromised that it cannot be cited as the “public process” required by federal law before significant and controversial changes are made to a legal policy (the 1979 Pet Policy).

To remedy the situation, the GGNRA has to conduct NR in a fair manner. The violations outlined in the attached document have to stop. The 1979 Pet Policy should be accepted as the baseline for the negotiations. Two federal courts have ruled that it is the legal policy currently in effect. NR should be discussing where, if anywhere, changes to that Policy are needed. Instead of negotiating where dogs can be off-leash, using a pre-selected group of sites chosen arbitrarily by GGNRA staff, the NR Committee should be considering whether or not there is a compelling reason to change off-leash access at those sites where it was allowed in the 1979 Pet Policy. Absent a compelling reason, there should be no change in the Policy.

If there are places where the NR Committee deems it necessary to restrict off-leash access, then GGNRA staff should consider mitigations. GGNRA staff must provide people who have been using those sites to walk their dogs off-leash with sites that will provide them with a similar park experience to the one they had at the site closed to off-leash access. Mitigation has to be included in all official documents created through the NR and NEPA process.

The GGNRA should allow off-leash access in those areas in San Mateo County added to its jurisdiction since the 1979 Pet Policy was developed, and in which people have traditionally walked with their dogs off-leash: Mori Point, and Sweeney and Milagra Ridges. More sites in Marin County should be open for discussion in NR.

Finally, the GGNRA must consider impacts on neighboring jurisdictions if it changes any part of the 1979 Pet Policy. This is especially true in San Francisco, where walking one’s dog off-leash was and is an integral traditional recreational activity on lands presently part of the GGNRA, and where any changes in extant policy would create tremendous additional pressure on city parks.

It has always been SFDOG’s position that the GGNRA administration can modify the 1979 Pet Policy only after appropriate public review, regardless of the parameters of the NR process. The Park Service cannot change the policy on the excluded sites without a public evaluation and review process. Our expectation has always been that if NR were conducted in a fair manner with constructive dialogue, it could help the GGNRA administration consider how the other sites covered in the 1979 Pet Policy (and excluded from discussion in NR) could be managed.

But none of this will be possible if NR continues in its current biased and hostile manner. The issues we have raised in this letter have raised serious questions about the legitimacy of NR. We have discussed our concerns with GGNRA staff over the course of the NR process, with little, if any, effect. That is why we are stating our concerns in writing.



Sally Stephens

Chair, SFDOG


cc: Chris Powell, GGNRA, Designated Federal Officer, Negotiated Rulemaking Committee
      Greg Bourne, Facilitator, Center for Collaborative Policy

      J. Michael Harty, Facilitator, Harty Conflict Consulting and Mediation

      Dick Kempthorne, Secretary of the Interior

      Mary Bomar, Director, NPS

      Jon Jarvis, Regional Director, Pacific West Region, NPS