Legislation that allows a dog beach pilot program at Dockweiler State Beach in Playa del Rey was approved by the State Assembly Thursday, April 14th.

The one-year pilot program allows Los Angeles County, City of Los Angeles and state officials to establish, manage and study the effects of an off-leash dog beach at a portion of Dockweiler.

Currently, state law prohibits dogs on state beaches and the off-leash dog park is opposed by Supervisor Don Knabe and the County Department of Beaches and Harbors, which has an agreement with the state to maintain Dockweiler Beach.

Knabe said county officials and county lifeguards are concerned about water quality and public safety because the proposed off-leash area is near a bike path and future youth activities center.

Assemblymembers voted 65 to four to approve Assembly Bill 359, which was authored by Assemblymember Mike Gordon, who represents the 53rd District that includes Playa del Rey.

The legislation still needs to be approved by the State Senate and Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger to become law.

Dockweiler is a 255-acre state beach that extends north from El Segundo near the City of Los Angeles Hyperion Power Plant and underneath the Los Angeles International Airport (LAX) takeoff flight path.

A permanent dog beach could be approved if the pilot program is successful.

Gordon said Dockweiler is the “county’s most appropriate location for a dog beach” because:

n few people use the beach because it is located near a power plant and airplanes taking off make too much noise;

n there are enough parking spaces and public restroom facilities; and

n not too many homes are near the beach, so the traffic and dogs barking would not disturb residents.

Private funding sources would cover the costs of developing and maintaining the dog beach during the pilot program, project sponsors say.

Freeplay, a Venice-based nonprofit organization that promotes off-leash dog beaches in the Los Angeles area, is the pilot program sponsor.

Daryl Barnett, Freeplay president, told state officials that funding for the pilot program has already been raised.

“The State Assembly’s vote is awesome,” Barnett said. “There is no reason why the [State] Senate should vote against the bill.

“At all of the beaches that allow dogs, water quality issues have not come up and dogs have been good about staying within the dog beach boundaries,” Barnett said.

Freeplay volunteers want a dog beach to be established at a one-mile stretch of Dockweiler shoreline near Grand Avenue, but Barnett said the organization “would appreciate any area the state chooses to give us.”

Signs and cones would set off the dog beach boundaries.

Thirteen state beaches allow dogs only because cities and counties that maintain those beaches for the state waived enforcement of the prohibition.

Cities or counties own the 44 other beaches that allow dogs.

Dog beach areas allowed by the City of Los Angeles are too small and do not provide adequate recreation space for dogs, Barnett said.

The only dog beach in Los Angeles County that includes a large area of shoreline is located at a beach owned by the City of Long Beach.

The Long Beach dog beach began as a pilot program.

Last year, the Long Beach City Council approved a permanent dog beach after city officials determined that there were no negative environmental impacts.

Gordon said another dog beach is necessary because people who want to bring their dogs to a large recreation area have to travel far to Long Beach.

According to Freeplay research, the American Veterinary Medical Association estimates that 990,000 dog owners live in Los Angeles County.

Los Angeles County Animal Control officials say there are 329,606 licensed dogs in the county.

The State Senate is expected to hold hearings and vote on the bill within the next two months.

Schwarzenegger has not spoken publicly on the issue, but he and his family have pet dogs.

“The overwhelming approval of AB 359 on the Assembly floor is very important and I look forward to continuing my work on this legislation as it is considered by the Senate,” Gordon said.

“The dog owners in my district and throughout the county deserve an opportunity to show they can responsibly enjoy off-leash recreational activities at Dockweiler Beach,” he said.