CLEARLAKE, Calif. – The Clearlake City Council last week directed staff to move forward with work on a new ordinance to allow dogs to accompany their owners during visits to city parks.
The matter initially had gone to the council last September, at which time the council decided to hold off on changes.
City Manager Joan Phillipe brought the matter back for further consideration, presenting to the council a 2009 draft ordinance that hadn’t yet made its way to the council for consideration.
Vice Mayor Jeri Spittler, who had spoken in favor of making parks dog friendly last fall, told Phillipe that after reviewing the draft 2009 ordinance she wanted the language changed, as it didn’t specifically allow dogs in the parks. Phillipe acknowledged that Spittler made a good point.
A key concern is making sure dogs stay 20 feet from food vendors at summertime farmers’ markets, Phillipe said.
The draft 2009 ordinance also proposed to keep dogs off of city beaches, ball fields and playgrounds.
Councilmember Joyce Overton said she had heard of another small town working to become dog friendly in order to increase tourism, and she said she would like to try the changes on a trial basis.
“I really appreciate you guys taking this back up again,” said JoAnn Saccato, one of the summer farmers’ market organizers, noting the market is set to open for the season on Friday, June 1.
She assured the council that the market manager, with the assistance of the Volunteers In Policing – or VIPS – monitors the situation with dogs to make sure they’re the appropriate distance from food vendors.
Saccato said she’s also started raising funds for doggy bag stations. She suggested they might call on local service organizations to help keep the doggy bags replenished.
“We're open to a community partnership to be able to make this work for the city and the residents,” she said.
Jim Honegger, who said he became a dog owner two years ago, said he also travels with his dog, and has seen other cities with a fraction of Clearlake’s resources have dog parks.
He said signage is very important in enforcing the rules. Honegger also suggested that people who go out and walk their dogs are not the problem, it’s the people who let their dogs run who aren’t responsible.
Susanne Scholz said volunteers should be recruited to help monitor the parks, and that there should be some initial contact with dog owners to ensure they understand the rules.
“I think that just signage for this community is not going to work,” said Scholz, adding there are signs in the parks now about dogs not being allowed and it doesn’t matter.
Saccato asked about what's already in place if dogs are aggressive. Clearlake Police Chief Craig Clausen said there are laws to deal with the problem.
“This is a chance to do it right the first time,” he said of the ordinance and its approach to dealing with dogs on public parklands.
Spittler said the city’s signage is minimal and small. She wanted to see new, larger signs with better placement.
Overton said she also wanted a large sign in the parks like one at a Lakeport park. She said she didn’t think the city should provide bags and containers, as it would not make irresponsible people take care of their dogs.
“I think that is just an expense that the city cannot afford,” she said, adding that she wanted to see strong fines for violations.
Spittler suggested the city could sell dog owners a park tag for $5 at the time dogs are licensed, and that could help pay for bags and dispensers.
Mayor Joey Luiz said dog owners also could be informed of the rules about city parks when they license their dogs. Overton suggested giving dog owners a copy of the final ordinance at that time.
“Let’s do it and let’s make some examples of people early on,” said Luiz.
Luiz said if they truly wanted to make Clearlake a tourism-focused town, they needed to allow dogs in parks.
Luiz said he also would like to have a dog park, “but that’s a whole other discussion.”
He suggested that service organizations, the chamber of commerce, the farmers’ market and other groups could work together to purchase and maintain dog bag dispensers.
Overton said the local high school has a welding class that can make dispensers, and they could collect bags or have people donate them to keep costs down.
The council – with Councilman Curt Giambruno and Councilmember Judy Thein absent – reached consensus to direct staff to work on a final ordinance to bring back to the council for approval.
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