The Santa Monica City Council directed city staff to develop an unfenced off-leash dog park on Santa Monica State Beach Tuesday, January 11th.

The Unleash the Beach organization will operate the park as a one-year pilot program if city staff is able to create a feasible park.

Unleash the Beach was founded by Santa Monica resident and “dog guardian” Georja Umano Jones. (The City Council and city staff address dog owners as “dog guardians.”)

“We only want the first 300 feet of beach from the ocean,” Umano Jones said. “That stretch of beach is less utilized.

“We chose it because it is convenient and won’t affect the public’s use of the beach.”

Although the City Council did not decide which portion of the beach to allocate for the dog park, Unleash the Beach requested the area between lifeguard stations 11 and 12 between California Avenue and Wilshire Boulevard.

“This is one of the most remote and inconvenient areas of the beach,” said Santa Monica resident and Unleash the Beach member Michelle Jones. “The sand is extremely wide there and it is called ‘the desert’.

“The storm drain makes it less desirable and there are no houses between the lifeguard stations.”

In 1997, plans for a dog park at the beach fell apart because the Santa Monica Recreation and Parks Commission expressed concerns about pollution and unruly dogs.

This year, Unleash the Beach presented the City Council with research from Umano Jones and a petition with 2,500 signatures of Santa Monica residents.

“We could have gotten a lot more signatures, but we just got tired of collecting,” said Umano Jones.

Umano Jones said the Unleash the Beach proposal is based on a successful dog park in Long Beach.

The City of Long Beach developed an off-leash dog park as a one-year pilot program on a portion of city-owned Belmont Shore beach two years ago.

Recreation Dog Park Association, a nonprofit organization that pushed for the Long Beach dog park, provides beach-cleaning services and sets rules for dog guardians.

The Long Beach pilot program is now an ongoing dog zone.

People without dogs can use the dog zone and dogs can swim in the ocean.

“We are environmentalists ourselves,” said Umano Jones. “In Long Beach, there have been no problems with pollution from the dog beach and the beach has not been overrun with dogs.”

Sandy Geschwind, a RAND environmental epidemiologist, and Ellie Goldstein, a UCLA infectious diseases specialist, told Unleash the Beach that dog parks on the beach do not endanger human health.

Umano Jones said Unleash the Beach would remove dog waste and other hazards to marine animals and wildlife.

“Already, 56 people and a professional ‘poop scoop’ organization have signed a list to volunteer to monitor the beach during the pilot program,” Umano Jones said.

Costs to the City of Santa Monica would be minimal because Unleash the Beach asked for a small amount of money to pay for signs and dog waste bags.

The signs would clearly warn beachgoers that they are about to enter a dog park.

Unleash the Beach would raise funds to keep the dog park going by selling annual dog tags for up to $25 that would be required for dogs to use the park.

To get a tag, “dog guardians” would have to prove that their dogs are licensed and have updated shots.

Dog tag funds would also help pay for the extra working hours of the city’s Animal Control officers.

“Dog guardians” would also sign legally binding documents that release the City of Santa Monica from liability if dogs attack each other or other people.

If a dog park is created on the beach, the city will have to allow nonresidents use of the area.

Umano Jones said the $8 fee at the nearest parking lot would discourage nonresidents from bringing their dogs to Santa Monica.

The city would bring in increased revenue from anyone else who chooses to use the city-owned parking lot, she said.

STATE JURISDICTION —The biggest obstacle that Unleash the Beach faces is that Santa Monica State Beach belongs to the State of California, which strictly prohibits off-leash dog parks on all state beaches, though dogs on leashes are allowed on some state beaches.

Currently, the 58 off-leash dog parks in California are located on beaches owned by cities or counties.

Santa Monica city staff would have to get dog park approval from the district superintendent of the Los Angeles County office of the California Department of State Parks.

City staff may also have to obtain a dog park permit from the California Coastal Commission, which oversees any coastline development.

Umano Jones said she believes the coastal commission “is not opposed to a dog beach in principle as long as nothing is being built on the beach, such as a fence.”

The City Council directed city staff to take into consideration environmental concerns, legal concerns and jurisdiction when developing the pilot program.

“It is not crystal clear what the coastal commission would do with a dog beach in the city,” said Santa Monica city attorney Marsha Moutrie. “Even if there was a sign posted, they view that as a project being under their jurisdiction.”

Unleash the Beach would also have to register as a nonprofit organization if it wants to operate the dog park.

Santa Monica currently has three off-leash dog parks on city park property.

The city put up fences around the dog parks and only Santa Monica residents are allowed to use the parks.

“I chose to live in Santa Monica because of the beach,” said Umano Jones. “I love the beach and my dogs, but I can’t go to the beach with my dogs.”

Unleash the Beach hopes to have the pilot program up and running before the busy summer beach season.

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