With 29 miles of coastline and an estimated 60,000 licensed dogs, one must question why only the quarter-mile long stretch at Mitchell’s Cove off West Cliff Drive, is the only beach in Santa Cruz County with off leash hours.
Unfortunately, the question is far more complicated than it seems, as spirited groups on either side of the issue of off leash beaches remain vehemently opposed. While the most significant issues are public safety, protection of natural habitat along on area beaches and liability, another concern, often overlooked, is the physical and emotional well being of man’s best friend.
To help residents to better understand the issues, “Free the Leash” a video produced by New Dogs in Town, a local group describing themselves as “dog lovers”, launched last week via You Tube. Featuring officials from the Santa Cruz County Animal Shelter, Todd Stosuy and Melanie Sobel, and spokesmen from local organizations in support of added off leash hours, LOOLA (Live Oak Off Leash Advocates) and Friends of Lighthouse Field (FOFL), the 10-minute video promotes off leash use in open spaces within the county.
Representing LOOLA, Ted Coopman, Professor of Communication Studies at San Jose State University, says the group formed in “in response to an unprecedented attack on the dog owner’s historical and responsible use of beaches in the Pleasure Point area of Santa Cruz for off leash activities”. Since its creation in February 2012, 109 residents have become LOOLA members and nearly 4,000 signatures have been collected in support of off leash access at beaches between 20th Avenue and Moran Lake before 10 a.m. and after 4 p.m. The petition is available through Care2.com and LOOLA’s official website. Due to complicated jurisdiction challenges, the LOOLA proposal has since been amended to sunrise to sunset off leash access only at 20th Avenue beach.
Greg Herken, Professor Emeritus from UC Merced and current chair of Friends of Lighthouse Field (FOLF) has led the effort to reinstate traditional off leash hours to Its Beach, formally known as Lighthouse Field State Beach. Up until November 2007, Herken said generations of residents have taken their dogs off leash at the popular beach not far from Mitchell Cove. That all changed in November 2007, when legal counsel representing the California State Parks advised the City of Santa Cruz to enforce the existing leash laws.
Although there are a number of dog parks in Santa Cruz, a significant portion of dog owners, both locals and visitors alike, prefer to take their furry friends to the beach, not only for the exercise but also to cool off, especially now, as the Monterey Bay area often enjoys the year’s warmest weather after Labor Day. But due to increased enforcement of county leash laws and political pressure from passionate opponents, dog owners have played a game of cat and mouse on local beaches in order to avoid a verbal warning or written citation from animal control officers. Yet regardless of the risk of punishment and reported threats against dog owners, seeing dogs off leash on beaches is a daily occurrence and presumably, a daily source of irritation from detractors.
Whatever the case may be, its clearly evident opposing groups must come to an agreement, given the lack of adequate Animal Control staff, enforcement control and tens of thousands of licensed dogs, estimated to be found in 41 percent of all households in Santa Cruz County.
A final community meeting to discuss off leash hours at 20th Avenue beach is tentatively scheduled for Tuesday October 1, at 6:30 p.m., at Simpkins Family Swim Center, in Santa Cruz.