SM BEACH — Officials with California State Parks are not going to allow City Hall to establish a dog beach in Santa Monica where canines could play in the surf and sand without a leash, city officials said.

In a report to the City Council published on City Hall’s website this week, Beach Administrator Judith Meister said during a telephone conference with key members of State Parks it became clear that they would not change a policy that bans off-leash dog areas on state beaches.

While Santa Monica State Beach is operated by City Hall, it is still owned by the state. A California code prohibits unleashed dogs on state beaches without an order from a California State Parks superintendent.

“State Parks staff offered to continue discussions with the city about this issue; however, in light of staff reductions and budget cuts at the state level, it was made clear that there was no chance for a pilot program to move forward at this time,” Meister wrote in her report. “While this is disappointing news for dog beach advocates, staff have determined that further work on this issue will not result in a positive outcome … .”

Roy Stearns, a spokesman with State Parks, told the Daily Press Friday that a telephone conference with Deputy Director Tony Perez and Southern Division Chief Ronie Clark and city staff did take place and their concerns still remained the same as those stated during a previous attempt in 2005 to establish a dog beach.

Those concerns are: the risk to threatened species, such as the snow plover, and to sensitive ecosystems; the possible threat to safety of visitors, wildlife and other dogs; interference or displacement of recreational users; and health issues related to dog feces and dog urine in the water and sand.

“There will be no change to allow dogs on this beach,” Stearns said.

The City Council in October asked city staff to work with State Parks to establish, on a pilot basis, an off-leash area for dogs on the beach and down to the waterline. The pilot program was to include monitoring of the beach and water for any adverse environmental effects.

In his blog, Mark Gold, president of environmental watchdog Heal the Bay, seemed relieved that State Parks would not provide the necessary approvals.

“Heal the Bay took a position on dog beaches in the late 1990s and it hasn’t changed since,” Gold wrote at spoutingoff.wordpress.com. “We oppose any dog beach that allows canines to frolic from the surf zone to the high tide line. Also, we oppose any dog beach located near endangered or threatened wildlife … .

“I just hope the next dog beach proposal is for a fenced enclosure far away from the shoreline, children or sensitive wildlife.”

Supporters say a dog beach would promote exercise for dogs and their owners and provide a space for dog owners to meet, share information and form community bonds. They say dogs would be able to socialize and therefore be less aggressive, and the beaches would make it less likely that owners would let their pets loose in other areas, like secluded sands in Malibu.

Georja Umano with Unleash the Beach (www.unleashthebeach.org), a Santa Monica-based, grass-roots organization formed to create a dog beach in the city, said she wasn’t surprised by the state’s reaction to the proposal and that the next step will be to lobby legislators in Sacramento to make a policy change.

“According to the people in the city that I’ve talked to, as soon as we find somebody [in the Legislature to sponsor a policy change], they will be right there helping every step of the way,” Umano said. “But the initial contact has to come from us.”

Most of the 1,100 miles of beaches along the California coast are officially closed to dogs, however, beach-goers can legally bring their dogs to over 60 beaches up and down the coastline, according to a report by the California Research Bureau entitled “Dogs on the Beach: A Review of Regulations and Issues Affecting Dog Beaches in California.” (For the state report on dog beaches, go to library.ca.gov/crb.)

There has been no evidence of higher bacteria levels or other water quality problems relative to other city beaches, according to the report.

The report was commissioned in 2006 by then Assemblyman Ted Lieu and found nearly 20 off-leash dog beaches in California, including four in San Francisco and three in San Diego, but just one in Los Angeles County, located in Long Beach.

“All the city is asking is to study it here,” Umano said. “It’s just a regulation that needs tweaking, a regulation [State Parks] could easily work with if they wanted to be in tune with the public and the city, which is now standing up for the public. This is what the public wants and it is, after all, a public beach.”

kevinh@www.smdp.com

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