An effort to establish an area for dogs to exercise off-leash on Santa Monica Beach has again run into barriers at the state level.

Following a reinitiated campaign by the group Unleash the Beach, the Santa Monica City Council directed staff to work with the state to establish, on a pilot basis, an off-leash area for dogs on the beach and down to the waterline. The program would include monitoring the beach and water for any environmental effects.

Unleash the Beach members and other dog owners have for years sought to dedicate a section of Santa Monica Beach where they could walk with their pets. According to a state code, dog owners who wish to take their pets off-leash to a state beach like in Santa Monica must receive written authorization from a California Department of Parks and Recreation district superintendent.

While there are reportedly dozens of beaches across the state with designated areas for leashed or unleashed dogs, the only location along 75 miles of Los Angeles County coastline where dogs can legally play untethered is a nearly 3-acre site in Long Beach.

State parks officials have consistently opposed allowing dogs to run freely on beaches, and according to a recent report from the Santa Monica Community and Cultural Services Department, there has been no change in the parks department’s position. A prior effort to create a dog beach pilot program in 2005 was halted at the state level.

Beach administrator Judith Meister said in the report that city staff met with state parks officials on the new dog beach proposal and explored a range of possible options, but the department reiterated its concerns.

“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.

One of the reasons state regulations prohibit unleashed dogs on beaches is to ensure the safety and enjoyment of other visitors, said Roy Stearns, state parks department spokesman. Among other concerns are the risk to threatened bird species such as the snowy plover and health issues related to dog waste in the water and sand.

Environmental groups including Santa Monica-based Heal the Bay have also taken issue with the impact of dog waste on water quality and public health.

“Santa Monica taxpayers have spent millions of dollars cleaning up local beaches (over $2.5 million on the successful Santa Monica Pier cleanup alone), so adding a new source of fecal bacteria to our local beaches doesn’t make any sense in these financially challenging times,” Heal the Bay President Mark Gold wrote on his blog following the recent state decision.

Gold said he hopes the next dog beach plan that is introduced will be for a fenced enclosure far away from the shoreline, children or sensitive wildlife.

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