July 13 & Aug. 16, 2000 letters from SF/SPCA to GGNRA regarding off-leash dog walking:
Golden Gate National Recreation Area
Fort Mason, Building 201
Golden Gate National Recreation Area
San Francisco, California 94123
Dear Ms. Powell:
Over the past year, The San Francisco SPCA, the San Francisco Dog Owners Group, and members of your office have met periodically at your request to discuss a dog owner education program at Crissy Field. Although your office acknowledged that the vast majority of dog owners are responsible and clean up after their pets, both you and Ms. Tracy Fortmann felt an education program would be fruitful. These meetings followed my arrival as the new president of The San Francisco SPCA, and were subsequent to an initial meeting at The San Francisco SPCA. During that meeting, we explained to you that given the history of action taken against off-leash dog walking by the National Park Service ("NPS") despite promises to the contrary, "trust" was of paramount concern to us. (See Historical Chronology, enclosed as Appendix I.) To further "trust," you agreed that we would deal with each other openly and fairly.
During the first on-site Crissy Field meeting, we were given a tour of the area, and told that off-leash recreation would increase to well over seventy acres. Subsequent to that meeting, we again took tours of Crissy Field. At those meetings, we attempted to talk specifically to Ms. Fortmann about perceived concerns of Golden Gate National Recreation Area ("GGNRA") staff and then specifics as to an appropriate education program to ameliorate any perceived concerns. We attempted to discuss appropriate signage, pooper scooper dispensers, literature, training classes, and the like, but GGNRA staff refused to discuss specifics, instead taking us on more tours of the area and discussing "concerns" about dogs in very general terms.
After Ms. Fortmann's reassignment outside the area, you again telephoned us to continue the meetings because of what you
claimed were "increasing complaints" and "increasing problems" at Crissy Field. You also indicated that a dog owner education
program was imperative. This followed the National Park Service's ten-acre closure at Fort Funston without notice to dog owners and in apparent violation of federal regulations. (See Fort Funston Dog Walkers v. Babbitt, No. C00-00877 WHA, Findings of Fact and Conclusions of Law, dated April 26, 2000.)
These closures also follow assurances from Superintendent Brian O'Neill that the native plant restoration project would not be expanded southward of the 1995 closures -- which were themselves enacted after assurances that no further closures would be forthcoming. Moreover, both Mr. O'Neill and Assistant Superintendent Leonard McKenzie further assured us in 1995 that,
"If future conflicts occur which require further consideration or amendment to off-leash dog use, we propose a public process to inform the decision making.... We would consider contact with the SPCA as a first step in any situation involving a conflict with off-leash dog walking that would require a change in this use." (See Correspondence from Mr., Brian O'Neill and Correspondence to Mr. Leonard McKenzie, enclosed as Appendix II.)
Needless to say, at the same time that we were discussing off-leash dog walking
on GGNRA lands over this past year and agreed to openly discuss dog walking
and deal with each other honestly and fairly, closing ten acres of Fort Funston
without notice, in violation of federal regulations, and after promising The
San Francisco SPCA that there would be no further closures at Fort Funston,
does nothing for our mutually agreed goal of furthering "trust" between our
Your response to these concerns was that since we were specifically discussing off-leash dog walking at Crissy Field, that any action the NPS took against off-leash dog walking at Fort Funston without informing The SF/SPCA, dog walkers, and without any public hearings was irrelevant. We believe this is not only splitting hairs, but flies in the face of promises by both the Superintendent and the Assistant Superintendent of "contact with the SPCA as a first step in any situation involving a conflict with off-leash dog walking that would require a change in this use." (Emphasis added.)
Furthermore, in response to efforts by dog walkers to protect their rights by filing a lawsuit, the NPS has threatened to revoke all off-leash recreation at Fort Funston, and has even taken the drastic step of taking down and painting over signs at Fort Funston that delineate off-leash dog walking. Statements by the NPS in local newspapers further state that the off-leash policy is "currently under review." We have no choice but to see this as an attempt by the NPS to intimidate and punish dog walkers.
In addition, the removal of signage will create misunderstanding of allowable behavior with the public, thereby increasing any conflicts and complaints against off-leash dogs. In other words, the NPS will be creating the very conflicts it will likely use to justify further restrictions of off-leash dog walking at Fort Funston.
does this action increase "trust" between the NPS and our organization? How
does closing off-leash areas after assuring us that no further closures would
be forthcoming increase "trust"? How does closing these areas at the same
time we were in meetings about off-leash dog walking on GGNRA lands without
informing us and having public hearings increase our mutual "trust"?
In the past your office has also told us that there were "hundreds" of complaints about dogs at Crissy Field. A Freedom of Information Act request, however, showed that in a ten-year period (1987 to 1997), there were only three complaints about dogs at Crissy Field, two of them non-incident specific but complaints about dogs and dog waste generally. The third was from a jogger who felt "intimidated" by a dog. Again, this type of exaggeration does nothing to increase "trust," and, of course, is of little help in fashioning an effective dog owner education program.
Given this background, we indicated to you by telephone that we did not want to be set up for failure, and then have this failure used as an excuse to ban off leash dog walking at Crissy Field because of perceived "problems" that the "dog owner education program created in conjunction with The San Francisco SPCA and San Francisco Dog Owners Group" failed to correct. As indicated to you, in order to craft the right solution to any perceived concerns, we need to have access to the complaints themselves so we can address the issues raised, and to develop baselines to determine if the program is having impact. For example, if the problem is failure to pick up dog waste in certain locations, that can be addressed by signage and pooper scooper dispensers at those locations. By having access to information about the scope and frequency of reported incidents at that location, we will be in a better position to determine if the signage and dispensers are impacting the problem, or if a particular education campaign must also accompany the effort, and what that program will look like. Different problems, different solutions. You declined. Again, we feel that without allowing us to review the complaints, any education program will have to be non-specific, which will hamper its effectiveness and make it difficult to monitor its impact.
Ms. Powell, as the new president of this organization, I came here and invited you to The San Francisco SPCA to establish a new era in our relationship. I indicated to you that we would take your invitation to work together and break down the walls that separate us at face value. Instead, you erected new fences to keep the dog walkers and us out. You did this despite assurances to the contrary, and while we were meeting to discuss off-leash dog walking on GGNRA lands.
We would, nonetheless, still like to work with you. In order to work together
effectively, however, we ask for a written commitment that: (1) the NPS will
follow the law and conduct its business in a public forum through meaningful
public hearings prior to any change in recreation uses; (2) the NPS will act
honorably and abide by its past pledges and promises; and, (3) the NPS will
publicly commit itself to preserving off-leash recreation at Fort Funston,
and throughout the Presidio, including Crissy Field.
We look forward to your response.
Very truly yours,
Edwin J. Sayres
Appendix I -- Summary of Actions Taken Against Off-Leash Dog Walking within the Golden Gate National Recreation Area.
For 20 years, wildlife and recreation have coexisted relatively peacefully within the Golden Gate National Recreation Area ("GGNRA"). The recreation needs of the community have by and large been honored. To formalize those needs as to off-leash dog walking, extensive public hearings were held, which culminated in the 1979 Pet Policy. At that time, the public was assured that off-leash dog walking would be respected and preserved. The public was also assured that the National Park Service ("NPS") had no intention of limiting the areas that have been used for off-leash dog walking for decades.
Actions Against Dog Walkers - 1992
In 1992, the NPS attempted to rescind the 1979 Pet Policy without Public hearings. This action was taken despite:
After a huge public outcry, which included a letter from
Chairman of San Francisco's Commission on Animal Control and Welfare,
you that such action was contrary to the historical use of the land and that
revocation could not
effective without public hearings, and after intervention by then U.S. Senators
John Seymour and Alan Cranston, Superintendent Brian O'Neill assured all parties
that there would be no change in the 1979 Pet Policy that officially sanctioned
the continuation of off-leash activity (attached).
Actions Against Dog Walkers - 1995
In 1995, after it became clear that the agreement would not be honored, we had a series of meetings with the NPS to discuss off-leash dog walking in the Presidio and other areas of the GGNRA, including Crissy Field, Fort Funston, and Ocean Beach. At each of these meetings, we were assured that: (1) the NPS had no intention of limiting the areas that have been used for off-leash dog walking for decades; (2) there would be no change in the 1979 Pet Policy; and, (3) that the 1996 Compendium Amendment would acknowledge the legitimacy of off-leash recreation.
Despite these assurances, the GGNRA closed to the public substantial areas of Fort Funston without public review. However, in response to the outcry over the closures, Superintendent O'Neill further assured us that the native plant habitat near the Bank Swallows would not move further south and that the Battery Davis closure was only temporary to permit re-vegetation. Despite these further "assurances," there has been no vegetation at Battery Davis and another ten acres adjacent to and south of the 1995 closure were further closed this year.
Actions Against Dog Walkers - 1996
Indeed, these actions now appear to be part of a deliberate and orchestrated plan to achieve piecemeal what the NPS could not do all at once - completely ban off-leash recreation along the entire coast of, if not all, of Fort Funston, and elsewhere within GGNRA jurisdiction. In fact, the 1996 Compendium "revoked" off-leash recreation at Lands End, Fort Miley, Marin Headlands, and parts of Ocean Beach, all areas designated as off-leash in 1979, despite promises in 1995 that these areas will be formally designated as off-leash areas. The NPS also revoked all off-leash recreation in the Presidio, except for a small corridor along West Pacific Avenue.
Actions Against Dog Walkers - 1997
We have just now come to learn from the lawsuit that the NPS revoked the dog policy provisions from the 1997 Compendium. This was done in secret despite tremendous public outrage over previous closures. Of equal concern, this fact was only revealed through documentation produced by the government as part of the discovery process in the lawsuit.
Actions Against Dog Walkers - 1998-2000
In a December 22, 1998 San Francisco Chronicle article, it was noted as follows: For their part, [GGNRA] officials say they would like to mend their relationship with dog lovers and work together to improve the parks. "We just want this whole thing to go away," said Chris Powell, a recreation area spokeswoman." Yet, less than two months later, the NPS approved the expanded native plant habitat and off-leash closures at Fort Funston in violation of a promise to The San Francisco SPCA that this would not be done. As The Honorable Judge Alsup ruled, there was clearly "an intent on the part of the National Park Service to railroad through the closure, to maintain secrecy, to unleash the fencing with lightning speed, and to establish a fait accompli." (See Fort Funston Dog Walkers v. Babbitt, No. C00-00877 WHA, Findings of Fact and Conclusions of Law, dated April 26, 2000.)
August 16, 2000
Fort Mason, Building 201
Golden Gate National Recreation Area
San Francisco, California 94123
Dear Mr. O'Neill,
Thank you for your letter of August 3, 2000. I will assure you, as I did in my July 13, 2000 letter to Chris Powell, that The San Francisco SPCA is willing and ready to work with the National Park Service ("NPS") on off leash dog walking issues within the Golden Gate National Recreation Area ("GGNRA").
I must say, however, that we do not believe the NPS has any cause to be disappointed with the tone of our July 13 letter. If anyone has cause for disappointment, it is The SF/SPCA. Over the years, we have been promised repeatedly that recreation opportunities would not be limited, that off leash dog-walking areas would not be closed, that you would contact us before altering land use arrangements, and that public hearings would predate proposed changes. Your promises have been repeatedly broken.
We also do not believe that off leash dog walking is a privilege, which the NPS can revoke at any time. To the contrary, we believe off leash dog walking is an important community right, which we are willing to defend. Legislative history concerning the GGNRA conclusively shows that recreational activity was an intended purpose. Most of the San Francisco unit was originally city parkland donated to GGNRA after the park was established. To address concerns from city officials and citizens over the release of this land to the federal government, certain unique restrictions were inserted into the enabling statute.
In particular, the GGNRA was established for "maintenance of needed recreational open space necessary to urban environment and planning." (16 U.S.C. Section 460bb.) Relying on this language and representations by city officials that this was merely a "technical resolution" that would not affect "recreational use by all citizens," the people of San Francisco approved in 1973 a Charter Amendment Proposition F, which permitted the transfer of these city parks to the federal government.
Legislative history and "land use planning" events developing the general plan and natural resources plan further confirm that the NPS understood that off-leash recreation was a "recreational" activity "necessary to urban environment." As evidenced by its name, the Golden Gate National Recreation Area is a recreation center, surrounded by a heavily populated urban environment. And it is the GGNRA's recreational value that was of the utmost importance to the Congress that established this great urban park. In their words, the GGNRA was to be a "new national urban recreation area which will concentrate on serving the outdoor recreation needs of the people of the metropolitan region," and its objective was "to expand to the maximum extent possible the outdoor recreation opportunities available in this region." (H.R. Rep. No. 1391, 92nd Cong., 2nd Session (1972). The use of these parks specifically for off-leash recreation was addressed during the hearings before the U.S. House of Representatives, and dog walking was an enumerated activity in the U.S. House Report (H.R. Rep. No. 1391 at p. 4854.)
In addition, after extensive public hearings culminating in the 1979 Pet Policy, the GGNRA Citizens Advisory Commission designated Fort Funston, Lands End, Ocean Beach, Fort Miley, Baker Beach and Crissy Field for continued off-leash recreational activity.
We also believe the public is fully behind our efforts to protect and preserve off leash dog walking within the GGNRA. Indeed, the NPS' own 1999 Fort Funston study shows that 74% of people surveyed identified off leash dog walking as that which made Fort Funston "special." Less than 2% had concerns about dogs. Mr. O'Neill, please know that The SF/SPCA continues to be ready to work with you regarding off leash dog walking throughout the GGNRA. If you would like to meet to discuss this further, I would be happy to meet with you. In return, we ask that the NPS work with us openly and honestly, as well as honor its past pledges and promises.
Edwin J. Sayres