-- Unofficial Transcript by Michael B. Goldstein -- [ver. 3 --- 7 pm Fri 1/11/02] -- corrections?

Press Conference to Announce Start of the ANPR Process:

Advanced Notice of Proposed Rulemaking for Pet Management

in Golden Gate National Recreation Area
Thu. Jan. 10, 2002 at 1:30 p.m.
Bldg. 201, Fort Mason, San Francisco

Superintendent Brian O'Neill at the press conference.

[1:35 pm -- beginning of press conference]

Brian O'Neill, Superintendent:

Good afternoon. For those who don't know me, I'm Brian O'Neill, Superintendent of Golden Gate National Recreation Area.

This is an important day in, certainly, the evolution of the discussion with respect to dog management within Golden Gate, so I really appreciate the fact that you all saw it to be an important sort of event and are here with us this afternoon. I'm just going to give a few reasonably short opening statements or comments, and then we'll open it there to questions and answers -- well, questions and, hopefully, answers.

Obviously, today, I think as you will see that those in the back [binders with the ANPR reference documents] -- we're going to begin the 60-day comment period on dog management here at Golden Gate National Recreation Area, through what we call a process called Advanced Notice of Proposed Rulemaking. Now, we're going to try to shed some of the mystery from that term and process here today, and answer those questions to the best of our ability.

To shorten, sort of, the term "Advanced Notice of Proposed Rulemaking", we're just calling it the ANPR Process.

You know, and I think most of you who have followed this issue recognize that Golden Gate is assuming a leadership position at this point. This is, indeed, the first unit of the National Park System that has been given the authority today to proceed with what could ultimately result in a regulation in the park that manages or defines how dog management is to occur in the park.

There certainly has been an escalation of debate, comments, rancor, whatever .... on this issue, and we're, you know, both pro and con with respect to how dog management is to occur -- whether it's here at Golden Gate, whether it's in the city department of parks and recreation, or in other public entities that manage the public estate.

And, I think you recognize that in the past, the Park Service -- and Golden Gate as a unit of the National Park Service, had to adhere to the existing regulation that exists in the National Park Service -- that all dogs, where allowed in areas of a national park, are required to be on leash.

So, in order to change and allow the kind of public debate and the discussion which this Advanced Notice of Proposed Rulemaking now allows us, we had to go back to seek relief. Our willingness to be able to initiate this process: I personally went back [to National Park Service headquarters in Washington DC] because of the importance of the issue. We discussed it at some length with our colleagues and those that I report to in the National Park Service. We discussed it with officials in the Department of the Interior, and also with the Office of Management and Budget.

So, I'm here to say that those discussions have borne fruit. We've received approval to proceed with this step; we've drafted the Advanced Notice of Proposed Rulemaking with the input of the National Park Service headquarters staff, as well as the Office of Management and Budget, and, in essence, we're ready to roll with the process.

Again, I want you to know, because, although you have been with us through thick and thin on this issue over the months and years, that we've certainly heard your request for a public process. We really strongly encourage all components of the public in this community to become involved in this Advanced Notice of Proposed Rulemaking. This is the opportunity that the public has sought, and we want to make the best of it at this point.

Certainly, for those of you who have a concern and interest on this, we expect you to be involved at this point in the process. The 60 day comment period will be, in essence, your opportunity to tell us how you feel about dog management within the Golden Gate National Recreation Area.

Now, for those of you who like the current regulation, requiring that dogs be on leash in national parks, we expect that you'll tell us that.

If you'd like to see additional areas within the Golden Gate National Recreation Area closed to dogs, we need to know that.

If you feel like additional areas should be open to dogs on leash, tell us.

Or if you feel that the current dog management regulations should be changed, to designate days -- to designate areas, days of the week, and/or times of the day for off leash dog walking, tell us what changes you suggest, that will protect the park's resources and other visitors.

If, through this Advanced Notice of Proposed Rulemaking process, the Park Service determines that the existing pet regulation should be revised for the Golden Gate National Recreation Area, then such a proposed regulation would be drafted in accordance with all existing applicable laws, and certainly we know it needs to meet the test of the National Environmental Policy Act [NEPA], the National Historic Preservation Act, and the Administrative Procedures Act.

If, through the Advanced Notice of Proposed Rulemaking, a new pet management regulation for the Golden Gate National Recreation Area is not developed, pets will continue to be required to be on leash, where they are permitted, within the Golden Gate National Recreation Area.

Now, how to comment:

This is a complicated process, and I would like to sort of take just a moment to try to explain it.

The official comment period will begin tomorrow, when the Advanced Notice of Proposed Rulemaking is published in the Federal Register, in Washington DC.

Binders containing the Advanced Notice of Proposed Rulemaking and all the related background documents can be viewed, starting tomorrow, at many Bay Area libraries, and we've got a list of those. We're going to have them available in all the Golden Gate National Recreation Area, Muir Woods, Fort Point, and Point Reyes Visitor Centers. And, we're open to looking at other opportunities where we can conveniently provide copies of those for public review.

During this period, there are several ways in which you're going to be able to make comments.

One is, you can mail or fax written comments. We have the address and fax numbers in the packets that we have in the back of the room; if there's any questions on that, we can clarify that.

Unfortunately, I think many of you know, the Department of the Interior Internet is down at the present time because of a court order, and we're not quite sure when it's going to be back online. So, right now, it's not possible to provide comments by e-mail, but if, indeed, that situation changes, we'll provide notice of that, and that will be an alternative way in which comments can be provided to the Park Service.

Also, during this 60 day comment period, we'll be holding meetings, and comments will be accepted at these meetings. I think -- we're still exploring right now the best way and format for those meetings, how to get a neutral facilitator to assist in those meetings, and we're still working on locations and times, so we'll be getting back to you with notification once specifics of those are known.

Now, I just want to talk to you as a friend and a colleague here, because I think we know that we have the opportunity to be a model in how we handle this issue of dog management in the park. There are really strong feelings on all sides; we know it's a contentious issue. We either can continue the rancor that exists in many ways now, or we can seize this opportunity and moment to begin to work together towards a solution based upon the input from all park users. Obviously, that's going to require that all of us, on all sides of this issue, stop rehashing the past and begin anew with this process.

In order to do that, we need to be willing to see all sides of the issue, and see things from the viewpoints of others, and I say that not only from the Park Service side, but each of the various interest groups.

I think you know that I'm very supportive of this process, personally, in my position, and I know that the Bay Area delegation [Senators and Congressional representatives] are committed to this process. We have a couple of the representatives from our offices here today: I want to acknowledge Adrienne Bousian from Senator Barbara Boxer's office, here. We also have Geraldine O'Connor from Congressman Tom Lantos's staff. And, we have Susan Walsh from Kevin Shelley's office here with us, and she's right at the back, too.

So, I guess, I certainly hope and expect that visitors to this park and all those who care about our national park resources here, will also be committed to examining all sides of this issue, in order to move towards a solution on dog management that everyone can live with. We all share love and commitment to the resources of this special national park, and I'm asking you to reflect that shared commitment when you comment on the Advanced Notice of Proposed Rulemaking.

So, in closing, I guess the bottom line is fairly clear: today we are, as the National Park Service, making good on our promise that we made months ago: to listen to you, and to find a way to evaluate all viewpoints. This is our opportunity to initiate a dialogue, to hear what you, the public, have to say about pet management in the Golden Gate National Recreation Area.

Now with that, I would like then to move into trying to answer the questions that you have. We have some material in the back, we have some -- quite a number of our staff here, that, if you don't feel comfortable asking questions in the broader group here, we'd be pleased to stay afterwards for whatever length of time is required to be able to answer those.

So with that, I'd like to entertain questions.

Linda McKay:

Hi, I'm Linda McKay, Fort Funston Dog Walkers. Who decides? When all the comment you've accumulated at the end of the 60 days, what's the process for deciding the next step?

Brian O'Neill, Superintendent:

We will do the, we will, we will -- obviously, we're setting up as foolproof system as we can in managing the flow of work coming in. I mean, it's not a popularity contest, in just the number of responses, because we're really looking at the content of suggestions, because there's an infinite variety of possibilities that would create more or less of a comfort level on people, wherever they might be along that spectrum, so we'll be doing the initial evaluation at this end, and we'll be providing that information up the National Park Service chain of command, but the buck stops at the Director.

So, the ultimate decision on where we go from this point will be the decision of the Director of the National Park Service [Fran Mainella], and clearly the issue is important enough, I'm sure they will seek the counsel of other interested parties before making that decision there, but the Director will make the decision, and the decision, basically, will either be that we're going to enforce the existing regulation, or that there's a sufficient amount of broader support to suggest that we can go into a formal rulemaking process, where we would then promulgate a rule that would define precisely where, and under what conditions, off leash dog walking and other dog walking activities would occur within this unit of the National Park system.

Barbara Taylor, KCBS reporter:

But, you made several comments about the need to sort of give and take, and look at each other's point of view. That seems to suggest that you are looking for some kind of a compromise, and a compromise certainly wouldn't be, let the whole place open for off leash, or don't let off leash dogs anywhere. Is that what you're looking for, some appropriate area?

Brian O'Neill, Superintendent:

My position here is to make very careful that we don't prejudge anything. The purpose of this first step in the process is to get genuine understanding of where the broader community is on this issue, and what sort of creative approaches might be suggested with respect to managing this activity within the park.

If, at the end of that first review, there would appear to be sufficient support to move into a regulation, then the input that comes in will suggest ways and manners and means in which that use could occur, that would create a comfort level amongst different people. And lets' face it: the variety of views on this issue cover the diversity of our community. But there isn't only one approach to how you would solve this in the end.

So, Barbara, I think what we're trying to encourage is: don't get fixed into one singular point of view; is that we're trying to get the broader community to see this as an important issue for them to want to step forward, in a way that creates comfort for them, to express other point of view on the issue.

Barbara Taylor, KCBS reporter:

And, just one other question about the regulation, because I'm just a little confused about the legality. My understanding is that the Park Service position has been, 'We are prohibited by -- and I'm not sure if it's federal law or park regulations -- to allow dogs off leash.' So what is the mechanism that you're going through that might now allow you to modify that?

Brian O'Neill, Superintendent:

You're correct. The existing regulation, 36 -- it's the Code of Federal Regulations 36 2.15 -- does require that all dogs, where permitted, within a unit of the National Park Service, are required to be on leash. This is the first example that I'm aware of in the National Park Service, where a park has been given the ability to go to the first step of saying, 'Is there a basis upon which that rule might be changed, as it affects not the whole National Park System, but this unit of the National Park System?'

Barbara Taylor, KCBS reporter:

So, would a law have to be changed, or --

Brian O'Neill, Superintendent:

No. If the Director, with the support of the Department [of the Interior] and OMB [Office of Management and Budget, part of the White House] decides and allows that a formal regulatory process was the preferred route to go, then the authority to do that already exists in law.

Jim Vargas, KTVU reporter:

Brian, two questions. One, you've mentioned OMB several times. Where does the Office of Management and Budget enter into a question like this?

Brian O'Neill, Superintendent:

They're the gatekeeper for all regulations in the federal government. In other words, any proposed regulation that is advanced in any unit of the federal government goes through, ultimately, the Office of Management and Budget for approval. And that's, you know, that's the arm of the White House that establishes the basic willingness to allow a regulation to go forward or not to go forward.

Jim Vargas, KTVU reporter:

OK, second question: There are people in San Francisco, including those at City Hall, who believe that in the creation of the Golden Gate National Recreation Area, there was a deal struck, and that included allowing, at least, dogs in San Francisco to be off leash, and that you're reneging on that deal if you don't -- and some of them want to pull out of the GGNRA if you don't.

Brian O'Neill, Superintendent:

Well, certainly we respect -- we know that many people will look at documents and have their own read. That's certainly not specifically in any agreement that was signed, and certainly is not a document binding us, and I know, as you have indicated, Jim, that others have advanced that that document in essence provides for the provision of that use. It's clearly not in the document.

You know, without -- I mean, you all understand the delicacy of this issue: is because in the National Park Service, off leash dog walking was one of those uses that was not delegated down to an individual park level to promulgate a regulation. And, until such time as that regulation is changed, if it's to be changed, we have an obligation to enforce the regulation that's in existence. And we understand that that comes at certain consternation with many elements of the community, and others support it. But the only way in which we can get beyond that history, and beyond many different points of view of what that represents, is to move in a positive direction as a community, in the way that we're doing here.

So, I know we're in a Catch-22, and we haven't been able to have the kind of honest community dialogue and discussion on this, because the authority never was delegated down to the park to do that. So, we have that authority given to us, to go through this first stage, and I would just say we all should make the most of it.

Barbara Taylor, KCBS reporter:

How long is it going to take to resolve this?

Brian O'Neill, Superintendent:

Well, regulatory processes are not -- they're not easy to work through, because ultimately, any use that occurs in a national park has to meet the test of a number of federal laws, and we have to be able to demonstrate that that use can occur in a way that does not adversely impact park resources, whether they be natural, scenic, or historical.

So, the Advanced Notice of Proposed Rulemaking portion of this is step one, is that there's a 60 day comment period.

There's a period of time that we obviously are going to have to assess the nature of the comments and to put together an analysis, and then to move that package up for the Director's signature. So, the first part -- the Advanced Notice of Proposed Rulemaking -- could take as little as three months, and maybe as much as six months.

The rulemaking, if we were to get to that step, then -- this chart [see Chart], you probably can't read it here, we'll go through it: There's an option of ways in which one can go through a rulemaking.

One is, the agency can propose a rule. In essence, the Park Service would develop a proposal, where it thought that use may occur, and the conditions of those use, and then we submit it to the public and the public comments.

The alternative is called Negotiated Rulemaking, where you define who the stakeholders are that have an interest in this, including the general public, and those group of stakeholders meet until they hash out differences, and then can develop a rule, which then goes to the public for comment. And then you do an analysis of that.

So, Barbara, I would say most rules take, if you manage them efficiently, about two years at best to complete. I think there's a motivation in here, in whatever part of this process, I mean, we want to be efficient in this step, if indeed, at the end of that there were to be a decision to go to rulemaking, I'm sure this community would want it to be as efficient as possible. But I have to be honest, that if you look at rules that are promulgated across governmental agencies, you know, they're probably at least two years that it takes to go through that entire process.

Unidentified Speaker:

Would any rule that came out of this still only apply to the GGNRA?

Brian O'Neill, Superintendent:


Unidentified Speaker:

Is there a potential for precedent setting at other parks?

Brian O'Neill, Superintendent:

The rule that would be developed here, if we were to get to the rulemaking step and a rule was promulgated, it went through that process, it would pertain only to this park [GGNRA]. But I think we would acknowledge, even though you've fenced it off to this park, it does set a precedent -- and a precedent is a precedent, and other parks will certainly look to the example here and possibly want it themselves, so I think that clearly is an issue that some people have concerns about.

Ken Ayers:

Brian, as you know, there are other National Parks where there is pressure to change this regulation: Washington DC, I know of, and Cape Cod. Could you identify some other parks where this issue has been controversial?

Brian O'Neill, Superintendent:

Well, I can't tell you what parks where there's pressure to change the national regulation, but I think any park that exists in a major urban area, that occupies critical open space in that urban environment, there's probably pressures with respect to this use. So, the Park Service manages a lot of parks in urban areas, but I think ... some of the parks in the national capital region, Rock Creek Park and ... are experiencing sort of similar levels of activity and impacts from dogs.

Martha Walters:

I just wanted some clarification about: you said the Park Service is going to hire a neutral facilitator to put all the stakeholders together. There's only a 60 day comment period, and I'm wondering --

Brian O'Neill, Superintendent:

No, I know, we're not quite there... Obviously, if we were to get to that second step, there's a whole lot of discussion that would need to take place about whether we did a negotiated rulemaking or we did an agency rulemaking, but I think what we want to try to avoid is, I think, is -- our job is to try to find ways in which, no matter where you stand on this issue, we're going to respect that point of view, but we want to create a forum where there's a comfort level that people can express their comments without fear of intimidation, harassment, or what. And so we're trying to find -- it's natural, if I would be sitting in front of the room, that you would want to throw rockets at me, and I might not be the best person to be in the front of the room. So, we're looking at maybe some neutral facilitators to help in making sure that those meetings provide the climate and environment that creates a neutral and comforting environment, and we're not sure what it is yet; we've talked to the League of Women Voters about their possible interest in working with us and we're exploring that, we're exploring some other options. Unfortunately, we haven't worked that out yet. But the objective is to be able to communicate an understanding of what we're asking for in the questions, so that the input that you all provide is of the greatest relevancy in answering the questions that we are addressing.

So, we're not going to, probably, have facilitated meetings in terms of stakeholder interest, because the ANPR process is really designed to get the initial input. If we were to move to the regulatory step, then the idea of having an approach that had much more of that in it would be something we would look at.

Ed Sayres [President, San Francisco SPCA]:

Brian, do you think you'll face a challenge on -- The ultimate integrity of the process, obviously, is the review of the input. And do you think you're going to face a challenge in presenting yourself and the department as unbiased in reviewing that input?

Brian O'Neill, Superintendent:

Yeah, that's always a concern. The concern is, you know, what are the criteria against which you're evaluating the input, and we're working on that. I guess no one could guarantee neutrality but I think we're trying to work to set up a process that is as foolsafe as we can, but, obviously, anything the government does is subject to challenge. I think what's important to us is the integrity of the process, and how we evaluate that information and I think we need to be prepared to defend what we do, and it wouldn't be unprecedented for us to be challenged on that, so I just think we know that this is an issue of immense importance to the community, and we want to make sure we do our homework well.

Arthur Feinstein [Executive Director, Golden Gate Audubon Society]:

I assume that your criteria will be the Organic Act of the National Park Service.

Brian O'Neill, Superintendent:

Well, everything we do has to be within the framework of the National Park Service Organic Act and the enabling legislation for the park, and then the management policies, so those set the sideboards, but, you know, if we were to move into the regulatory process, any proposal that would define areas and conditions of use would have to then go through the more in-depth environmental analysis, analysis under the historic preservation act, etc. But yes, there are some .... I mean, for better or worse, we're managing important national assets here, and it's a national park, and the review of this or any other issue has to be within the context of those federal laws.

Michael Goldstein:

I'm wondering if you feel it's proper to start the clock ticking on a 60 day comment period, given that you said that you have no website available for documents to be on; there's no way to make comment by e-mail; and the meetings that you've said you're planning -- you don't know how, when, or where they will occur.

Brian O'Neill, Superintendent:

We have the option of extending that comment period. The normal comment period for an Advanced Notice of Proposed Rulemaking is 60 days. If we feel additional time is necessary, then I'm prepared to ask for that, and I think we would get it.

I think we're sort of caught between two different ... A whole group of you I hear: 'Let's be efficient in this process' -- is that 60 days gives us sufficient time, and there's sufficient avenues for you all to express your comments. And then, the others say, 'Well, no amount of time is enough.' So, I think we established the 60 days with the intent that we wanted to see if we could work within that, trying to respond to many people's desires: let's make this ANPR process efficient. But if, indeed, it's not, we're prepared to request for additional time.

Barbara Taylor, KCBS reporter:

Is it the intention of the Park Service to have the park rangers continue their stepped-up enforcement, with warnings and tickets, during this two year period?

Brian O'Neill, Superintendent:

Well, the only thing I said -- because I'm not going to speculate on that, is I say, if anything, it's been brought to my attention is: as long as that regulation is in place, and until it's changed, we have an obligation like any other park to enforce it. And so I guess anyone who would be walking their dog in the park off leash is subjecting themselves potentially to a citation. But, you all have tried to tie me down: 'Well under what conditions?' -- I can't speculate on that. You know, the regulation exists. We have a responsibility to enforce it. Obviously, there's varying ways in which we can go about the enforcement, but I'm not going to sort of set times and conditions in that, because every time we attempt to have that dialogue, it comes back to haunt. So, I think we're going to do the best with what we've got now. I think that's why I'm encouraged here, is that we have the ability to effect some change, if that's what the community wants, and then to define what the nature of that change is. So I just want to, sort of, we've been looking for the chance to sort of turn this dialogue into a more constructive, positive future and, as I said, let's take advantage of that.

Jim Vargas, KTVU reporter:

How many citations are you giving out?

Brian O'Neill, Superintendent:

I don't have those records here in front of me. There are not all that many, but that doesn't mean there aren't some.

Ken Ayers:

Brian, as you know, we have a different view on the legality of the regulation as applied to the GGNRA. Will we have an opportunity to establish the legal basis upon which we believe you're in violation of the enabling statute and the 1979 dog policy, during this ANPR process? Is this going to be a process that's going to enable us to present the documentation and proof to show that you're in violation of the regulation as being applied to this park?

Brian O'Neill, Superintendent:


Ken Ayers:

So the process is not going to be open.

Brian O'Neill, Superintendent:

Ken, I think you know, that's a legal issue, if indeed there's an honest difference of opinion, and I always respect that, is that there's legal recourse for that. But I don't think it's fair to take that question, as important as it is, and to confuse this process of trying to determine the future of dog management in the park, and I respect whatever course of action you have, but that's why we have courts, and I think that's the appropriate vehicle in which those discussions would take place.

Barbara Taylor, KCBS reporter:

Well, why was it that this long-standing regulation became inoperative?

Brian O'Neill, Superintendent:

Well, I mean, there's been a whole series of, I guess, evolutionary things. One is, I think we all acknowledge that dog ownership has escalated dramatically in this and other locations. Two is, we obviously are seeing a level of impact in certain areas that has drawn to attention the fact that this park is out of compliance with the national regulation. I mean, the court case at Fort Funston raised the issue in the federal courts, about signage that existed in the national park that was obviously in direct conflict with an existing regulation. So, the visibility of the issue itself and the volume of dog use has by its very nature sort of exposed the fact that this park has been in violation of the national regulation, and so we've had to, like other parks, agree to comply with the regulation that exists.

Barbara Taylor, KCBS reporter:

Did -- I mean, was there a letter from, you know, the head of the Department of Interior, or was, I mean, was there some, did you get -- Did somebody lay down the law to you, saying that you couldn't do this anymore, or was this a decision made here locally?

Brian O'Neill, Superintendent:

It wasn't, I mean, it's -- basically, when it became clear that we were out of compliance, when we were before the US Justice Department in the US District Court, the fact that we were out of violation, and had signs even memorializing that, because they said: 'Voice Control Area'-- we were told to get in compliance.

Barbara Taylor, KCBS reporter:

By -- by whom?

Brian O'Neill, Superintendent:

Well, in that case, the federal courts said is that you cannot be having literature, brochures and signs that are in violation of a regulation that exists in the park.

I want to -- I understand, and I'm prepared to answer additional comments from those of you who want to pursue that, I would like to see first, so we can, for the benefit of those, close the formal press conference, so I'll do that. But focus on any questions that relate to the Advanced Notice of Proposed Rulemaking.

John Keating:

To follow up on Ms. McKay's initial question about who makes the decision: I'm curious about the process by which you receive the staff summary and analysis that you will rely on and that the Director will rely on -- particularly in light of that prior court case you're talking about, where the court essentially made a variety of conclusions that the Park Service staff had 'studied solicitation of one side', and had worked to keep the dog owners from having input, and had attempted to skew the record against the dog owners. Will you be making some effort to ensure the public confidence by keeping those people, who the public is suspicious of, from having -- playing the role of giving you the summaries? Will you get an outside person to do it, someone else in the Park Service?

Brian O'Neill, Superintendent:

No, this is going to be done by, I mean, we always get consultant help, but this analysis is a federal agency analysis and I expect it will be done fairly and objectively, and I also respect the fact that some people may differ if indeed they don't like the result, but, you know, I think we ought to follow the process, make sure it has integrity, make sure that their evaluation is done fairly, and then, if there's a basis upon which action needs to be taken at that point, I have every confidence that those who have concern about it will be prepared to do that.


I'm going to say, for the staff that's here, if you could raise your hand: Chris [Powell] and Rich Weideman, Roger Scott in the back, Mary Scott over here, any of those can answer whatever detailed questions you have.

So, if there are no more questions on the ANPR, I appreciate your attendance and your involvement as the process proceeds from here. Thank you.

[2:14 pm -- end of press conference]

[ see Chart ]


-- Unofficial Transcript by Michael B. Goldstein -- [ver. 3 --- 7 pm Fri 1/11/02] -- corrections?

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