CITY HALL — The dogs had their day Tuesday when City Council members voted to champion a pilot program which would allow dogs and their human companions to play on the beach.

The vote, brought forward by Mayor Pro Tem Gleam Davis and Councilmember Terry O’Day, directs staff to work with the state and local stakeholders to create an off-leash area for dogs on the beach down to the waterline.

If they can get buy-in from the state, city staff would be asked to monitor the effects of the dogs’ presence on water quality through the life of the pilot project to see if the romping canines made a dent in the recent gains Santa Monica has seen in its water quality.

The details of the pilot program have yet to be crafted. Heal the Bay and the Natural Resources Defense Council both oppose the idea of dogs on the beach, but are willing to bend if proponents keep the dog-friendly area fenced in and away from the water.

Dog-loving organizations like Unleash the Beach and the Society for Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Los Angeles rejoiced at the decision, and promised to work with City Hall moving forward to craft the pilot program.

“If you have the pros and cons lined up on a peace of paper, one side is empty,” said Georja Umano, the founder of Unleash the Beach. “There are worries that people have, but there’s nothing to back them.”

It wasn’t just environmental groups opposing the move.

A surfer wearing a dog mask who introduced himself as Dog Man told council members that making room for dogs at a beach meant for humans would only add to pollution and danger.

“Even though dogs are the new kids, that shows the dog-a-holic depravity in our society,” Dog Man said. “Clean their teeth, give them anti-depressants, dress them up as fashion, but keep them off our beach.”

Dog Man is in powerful company.

The proposal flies in the face of state policy and environmental groups that believe the presence of dogs on public beaches would endanger not only the wildlife and water quality, but also the peace of mind of beachgoers.

Unfortunately for dog-enthusiasts, that means the very groups that City Hall will need to get on board to push the matter forward.

The Santa Monica Beach is owned by the state and run by City Hall through a management agreement. Changes in beach operation still have to be run by state officials.

In this case, that’s Acting Superintendent for the Angeles District Craig Sap.

The state has come down squarely on the side of leashed dogs, said Ron Stearns, spokesman for State Parks.

“I will tell you that down through the years, policy has been consistent and clear,” Stearns said. “Dogs cannot be off leash anywhere in the State Park system, and in particular, State Parks has not favored dogs on the beach.”

In part, that’s for environmental reasons. Groups like Heal the Bay and the Natural Resources Defense Council say that the presence of dogs below the high tide line adds to water pollution, something which advocates contest.

Proponents back up their statements with a 2006 state report called “Dogs on the Beach: A Review of Regulations and Issues Affecting Dog Beaches in California.”

That report shows that the 60 beaches that allow dogs have not shown higher levels of bacteria than other beaches that do not.

Mostly, however, State Parks holds that beaches are not a friendly place for off-leash dogs.

Beaches like Santa Monica’s tend to be crowded in the summer with people laying or sitting down.

“They don’t want dogs bounding into their little area,” Stearns said. “Many people who don’t have dogs are intimidated by dogs, even friendly ones.”

Stake Parks will sit down with City Hall to discuss the matter, he said.

This isn’t the first push for an unleashed dog area in Santa Monica.

Unleash the Beach brought the matter forward in 2004, piggybacking on an unsuccessful move to create a dog area at Dockweiler Beach.

Tuesday night, City Manager Rod Gould expressed some hope that this time it might be different.

“Our suggestion is that if council chooses to go forward, we’ll draft a letter to the new superintendent,” he said. “We’ll make a request to consider it, work with state and park staff, and reference the state’s own report.”

Councilmember Bobby Shriver, who served on the State Parks and Recreation Commission from 2001 until 2008, warned proponents that the tough work was still ahead.

“I think this is going to be a hard slog, and I want to be careful these folks don’t get their hopes up too high,” Shriver said.

ashley@www.smdp.com

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