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The worst kind of neighbor

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National Park Service staff, which oversees the Golden Gate National Recreation Area, decided to remove “recreation” as a guiding principle for managing the space without consulting neighboring communities. (Marcio Jose Sanchez/AP)


What does it mean to be a good neighbor in a dense urban setting? It means talking with those who live nearby about plans for your property and doing everything you can to ensure that your actions don’t impact them negatively. By this standard, the National Park Service is not a good neighbor.

In the Bay Area, the NPS manages the Golden Gate National Recreation Area, including all the beaches in San Francisco and large tracts of land in Marin and San Mateo. Thousands of people walk with a dog in this urban recreation area every day — something they’ve been doing without problems for generations.

But in recent years, without consulting the neighboring communities, Park Service staff decided to remove “recreation” as a guiding principle for managing the GGNRA. They’re developing plans to restrict longstanding recreational activities, starting with one of the largest user groups: people who walk with their dogs.

They didn’t ask animal control agencies for advice. The nationally renowned Marin Humane Society was not consulted, despite having more than 100 years of experience managing people and dogs.

For more than 40 years, people walking dogs have been allowed on just 1 percent of GGNRA land. The Park Service has proposed a new rule that slashes that tiny amount, in some cases by 90 percent.

Where do they expect all those thousands of people with dogs to go? Park Service staff say people with dogs should walk in city and county parks, not the GGNRA. Yet they didn’t bother to consult with neighboring park managers when developing the plan, nor have they taken anything more than a cursory look at potential impacts.

It is fairly obvious to nearly everyone — except, apparently, Park Service staff and their surrogates — that the proposed dog rule will have a huge negative impact on the much smaller city parks. Many are already busy and well-used and cannot handle a huge influx of people and dogs forced out of the GGNRA by the new dog restrictions.

Consider what happened on “Tsunami Friday,” when the Park Service closed Ocean Beach and Fort Funston to all visitors because of fears of a tsunami from a Japanese earthquake. By mid-morning of the closure, the off-leash area at Stern Grove was overwhelmed with hundreds of people and dogs — more than 10 times normal occupancy. Parking was “chaotic.” Imagine that happening day after day.

The proposed dog rule also empowers rangers to stop anyone walking with a dog and demand proof of rabies vaccination and dog license. They can stop you any and every time they see you. The Park Service has budgeted $2.6 million to hire new rangers to enforce this. Even if you have the required proof, the constant threat of harassment seems intended to push even more people out of the GGNRA and into city parks.

The Marin Humane Society has said, “[The Proposed Rule] appears to have so many new features that distract from its original intent and addresses issue that are inaccurate, misguided, and unrealistic. We see great difficulty in it being remotely effective to the original mandate of managing dogs on GGNRA lands.”

The proposed new dog rule allows the GGNRA superintendent to impose additional restrictions — up to and including banning dogs completely — if she thinks there isn’t enough compliance with the new rules. And she can do it without taking any public comment or needing evidence of any problems. Within a few years, all dog walking in the GGNRA could be banned by administrative fiat.

It’s not just dog walking. Park Service staff have also put restrictions on bonfires and equestrians. Park officials recently said they are looking closely at bicycling, noting “it’s on our radar.”

In a recently published “Urban Agenda Initiative,” the NPS trumpeted the need to collaborate and form alliances with local communities. Yet, when it comes to the GGNRA, they have pushed this restrictive dog plan without consulting local experts and despite the opposition of nearly all local elected officials, including the Boards of Supervisors of all three counties with GGNRA land. They are the worst kind of neighbor.

The deadline to comment on the proposed dog rule is May 25. For more information, visit www.sfdog.org or www.saveoffleash.com.

Sally Stephens is an animal, park, and neighborhood activist who lives in the West of Twin Peaks area.

Click here or scroll down to comment

  • HMM burritos

    ggNRA has no grasp of reality.

  • occam

    Welcome to out of control liberal big government getting bigger. You get what you vote for fools. Vote conservative and eventually these money wasting, liberty denying fascists will be eliminated.

  • DBG

    Are you kidding me ? You have nothing better to do than whine about where dogs are allowed to poop, scent mark, pee, and sniff each others butts ? Only in SF, home of the dried up hens with entirely too much time on their hands, too much wealth (Twin Peaks area…?), and an eye for the obscure, could someone browse through a 3288 page “proposal” and come up with the conclusion that “They are the worst kind of neighbor.”

    You do, however, have my sympathy for what happened on that fateful “Tsunami Friday,” when the Park Service closed Ocean Beach and Fort Funston to all visitors because of fears of a tsunami from a Japanese earthquake. Better to have left it open because the off-leash area at Stern Grove was overwhelmed with hundreds of people and professional dog walkers and parking was “chaotic.” My god, however did you manage to survive ?

    Show me you are that “good neighbor.” Why not open your property to all your fellow pet owners. Let they poop and pee and butt-sniff to their hearts content, because, you see, it’s a GGNRA open to the public, not your personal dog toilet. Be that best kind of neighbor.

  • Socrates Wilde

    Remove the political gangsters.

  • abnorm39

    Your story seems a little one sided. Could you explain why the GGNRA is making this change? While I love dogs, some owners, not so much. Thanks!

  • Not A Native

    I’m in favor of preserving habitat for other species. The GGNRA should be unique in that way, different from other urban outdoor areas like parks and plazas.

    Pet dogs aren’t wild animals, they’re extensions of their owners but with additional impacts on the environment. If dogs didn’t freely poop, pee, dig, chase other animals they could be allowed everywhere their owners can go. But because of their larger impact on the environment, restricting where dogs go is necessary. The number of pet dogs is increasing so additional restrictions on where they can go is appropriate to make a limit to their environmental impact.

  • Joe Foran

    If the dogs were gay they would let them go anywhere they wanted.

  • hiker_sf

    “For more than 40 years, people walking dogs have been allowed on just 1 percent of GGNRA land.”

    And yet I see dogs off leash on 100% of the land. Go figure.

    Move to the country if you want your dogs to run free. Otherwise, recognize that being a good neighbor in a city is having 100% control over you dog 100% of the time. And that includes city parks.

  • Froglivinglarge

    It’s incredible how dog owners have become so entitled. Possession of an animal doesn’t give you the right to damage the parks, pollute the environment, or terrorize wildlife. Move to the suburbs if that’s your idea of a good time.

  • Nikki

    Hi Not a Native,
    I’m writing a piece for two North Bay publications about the GGNRA’s proposed dog management plan and would like to speak with someone with your perspective. Would you please email me at nikki_silverstein@yahoo.com? Many thanks.

  • Anna Estrada

    Not a Native. Your viewpoint is valid, however, we can’t just go to the local parks. Here in San Francisco two parks (Glen Park Canyon & Pine Lake) I used to take my dogs to are no longer safe because of the coyotes who migrated from Marin & occupy them now. I have two small dogs & dogs have been attacked and killed by coyotes. Yes, I believe in the protection of wildlife, but I can’t use the GGNRA with the new restrictions AND I can’t use my local parks because of the threat to my dogs.

  • Anna Estrada

    hiker_sf You’ve been on 100% of the land that constitutes GGNRA? I’m truly impressed!

  • Ricki-Ellen Brooke

    Anna, your comment makes no sense at all. I live in SF, too, and I’m sure there are way more coyotes in the GGNRA areas in SF than in your local parks. And they generally leave dogs alone unless chased or harassed. Keep your dogs leashed and there will be no problem with coyotes. Btw, coyotes, being wildlife, belong in the GGNRA more than dogs. (I am a dog owner, too)

  • BruceW2014

    All bogus, non-scientific reasons. It’s just taking control and a last ditch effort at a legacy of a retiring NPS Director Jon Jarvis. NPS is an autonomous agency of the Executive Branch with no oversight commission. Thus without any leadership, and checks and balances, from Interior Sec’y Sally Jewell or President Obama they get to do what they want, when they want, with little ability for the general public to influence them.

  • BruceW2014

    Yes, you are not a native nor live here to know that SF has very little green open space for its highly dense population of nearly 1million in 49 square miles. We’re all on top of each other. So, once managed by each of the counties was transferred to the NPS to steward but mandated to remain as an official Recreational Area.

    This is not Yosemite, Yellowstone, Brice Canyon or Grand Tetons. This is a beach attached to a major urban city. To remove most forms of recreation would be to insult the taxpayers of this nation and force everyone out onto the roadways, creating new vulnerabilities for major congenstion and accidents plus further the erosion of our precious national parks that we DO want to conserve and preserve. By continuing full recreation and access at the GGNRA will help preserve all other real National Parks. Leave our Bay Area backyard alone.

  • BruceW2014

    And, now that SF Rec&Park’s Natural Areas Program will be reclaiming land including registered dog play areas at potentially 80% will increase the territory for coyotes to expand.

  • BruceW2014

    Uh, there is over 85,000 acres of GGNRA land of which, as NPS staff claim only 38,000 is humanly accessible. So, you’ve seen people with dogs on every inch of 38,000 acres. That is just shrill and specious. Of the 1% or 380 current acres available for people to recreate with their furry family members this plan will reduce access to just under 40 acres. Sorry, you have just described major discrimination of a whole class of taxpayers that demand equal access. Sounds like a good lawsuit and injunction to stop this plan cold. So, thank you for making this blatantly aware to the 100’s of thousands of people with dogs in the SF Bay Area.

  • BruceW2014

    Prove it.

  • BruceW2014

    The Republicans haven’t done anything either so let’s not slew mud in one direction. This is more about entrenched government without any access for the general public. So, really think about who you are voting for this year in all elections. Everyone plays a part.

  • Todd1sf

    Vote conservative, so another do-nothing congress can pass bill after bill about guns, bathrooms and abortions.

  • donald scott

    I might suggest that before writing this type of article, you would be well-advised to do some research on the purpose, and rules of the National Park Service, on the reasons one local Superintendent ignored many of those rules, and even the definition of words like “re-creation.”

    From the National Park Service Organic Act: … The service thus established shall promote and regulate the use of the Federal areas known as national parks, monuments, and reservations hereinafter specified by such means and measures as conform to the fundamental purpose of the said parks and reservations, which purpose is to conserve the scenery and the natural and historic objects and the wild life therein and to provide for the enjoyment of the same in such manner and by such means as will leave them unimpaired for the enjoyment of future generations….

    That is the purpose of the parks – to conserve a small bit of nature, not for the corrupted term “recreation,” but for the original word: Re-creation ….recreating the soul in wild nature.

    Alan O’Neill, former Superintendent of the GGNRA, was a Special Assistant to the Secretary of the Interior James Watt. He – and this was said in the presence of several of us – hated the NPS and its laws and intended to destroy it. One thing he did was to ignore laws about wildlife protection, and dogs in national park sites. So if you are upset about the dog issue, blame him, not the NPS. The NPS is following that law quoted above, which has been called the best idea America ever had. I was in fact involved – unknowingly – in a successful attempt to keep O’Neill from his stated goal, of developing the entire GGNRA and Presidio on anti-NPS lines. Unfortunately, before he was stopped, he demolished historic structures, developed sites, and ignored NPS laws like the dog law.

  • TedEd

    Donald, before writing this type of response your credibility would be better served to learn the history of the GGNRA and how it differs from a national park. The former Superintendent of the GGNRA was Brian O’Neill, not Alan.

  • donald scott

    Ah, yes. I’ve worked with both, and they’re twins. As to knowing the history of the GGNRA, fellow, I was a state park ranger in what is now GGNRA BEFORE it was established, was informally involved in its establishment, worked in the GGNRA, and did an extensive workshop in NPS (and GGNRA) history working with the Mather family. I have also written a history of the GGNRA. And I know the Organic Act, and the underlying principles and history almost by heart. The purpose of the NPS is NOT to set up loose-dog areas. Did you read the section from the Organic Act I posted? One option, in this day of a new kind of San Franciscan, might be to disband the GGNRA – it is NOT going to ignore fundamental NPS rules and the reason the NPS was founded – so only abandonment would allow dog running. Of course – maybe you don’t know this – the driving force behind the establishment of the GGNRA was the plan to develop the Marin Headlands and the Presidio. So if the NPS leaves, that land will be developed. Then where are you going to walk your dog?

  • Not A Native

    If your dogs were on leash they were close and protected by you and not subject to being attacked by anything other than other dogs that weren’t on leash. Dog runs are fences in and not the habitat of coyotes or other wild animals that might attack your dogs.

  • Not A Native

    Because SF is an urban area, its even more important for people to be able to easily visit and appreciate a natural area. Many urban people are unable to go to Yosemite, Yellowstone, Brice Canyon, or Grand Tetons due to health, lack of time, or lack or money. Most people in the US live in urban areas so those are the exact areas that need accessible natural environments.

  • CMThompson_SF

    With 380 acres, there should be enough to accommodate dog owners. This seems more like a typical government agency control issue. NPS might consider changing their name to NPC – National Park Control since they have lost sight of the Service aspect.

  • BruceW2014

    Really? You didn’t read a single thing I wrote, Dude. Access for people with dogs is just 1% of 45,000 acres!

    Get it! We’re not talking about a global takeover of the GGNRA.

    Visitors have the other 44,000+ acres to get it on with nature. Plus, roadtrips to national and state parks have been on the rise in the past several years as price of gas has dropped.

    Please do a little research on the situation here instead of making superficial suppositions and assumptions.

  • john doe


  • Not A Native

    Assuming you’re right that’s 450 acres for dogs. That’s about 1/2 as big as Golden Gate Park, a very large area. Its a more than reasonable amount dedicated for exclusive use by only one animal species.
    450 ACRES
    450 ACRES

  • SFeco

    Considering that Sally Stephens is the founder and executive director of San Francisco Dog, the article is naturally biased. What’s bothersome is that the Examiner allows their columnist to write these attacks on the GGNRA and the National Park Service without mentioning her connections with a powerful special interest organization. Off leash dogs are the primary agenda of SFDog.

  • john doe

    Prove It!

  • The sad fact is that there is no solution to the problem as long as “public property” prevails.
    Total privatization is the only solution.
    Then the private property owner sets the house rules.
    End of all arguments.

  • carol maley

    National Parks Service has stolen our Recreation Area. Yes, Stolen, using our tax dollars.

  • DBG

    I somewhat agree and disagree with your statements. The Examiner is a somewhat small publication with limited space. That they would cover this subject at all is yet another reason, in itself, to continue my subscription, and so, I’m sure the editor had to “get to the heart of it” as efficiently as possible, i.e. publish the “squeakiest wheel” and let the finer details surface through public discourse, thankfully, such as your post.

    This has happened to me on previous occasions with other subjects wherein the Examiner left just enough “bread crumbs” so that I was able to do further research on my own – without a media bias.

  • BruceW2014

    Don’t be an idiot. I don’t need to prove anything. Just go to the NPS-GGNRA yourself and so a little research. All the facts are there.

  • BruceW2014

    But, the largest stakeholders of dog guardians and parents are gay. And, science has it that dogs are so social they are bisexual.

  • BruceW2014

    Agreed. Most of the trolls are just looking at the fraction of water being the glass completely full. When the Plan gets implemented 90% of that 380 acres will force horrible crowding and really destroy the environment. This will completely backfire on NPS.

  • BruceW2014

    Sorry your argument doesn’t really fly. You fail to ignore that this is a “National Recreation Area” not a Park as laid out by an act of Congress. And, “The NPS is following that law quoted above…” And NPS just continues to take advantage of that law and perpetuate the silliness instead of making a correction in support of the taxpayers over equal and fair access.

    The deed and agreement lay it out very clear and was previously challenged in court when NPS tried to do this some years ago. Court ordered in favor of recreation. It is NPS that is completely ignoring the law and just wielding its power wildly.

  • BruceW2014

    Donald, in which part of the GGNRA prior did you work? At least in SF it was deeded directly from the City & County of San Francisco to NPS. State had no hand in it.

  • BruceW2014

    You really need to do some reading. This is an official Nat’l RECREATION Area passed by an act of Congress. It is not meant for complete preservation like Brice Canyon or Grand Tetons.

  • BruceW2014

    Yes, so what? She is a columnist which every person who reads newspapers is meant to take an opinion.

  • hiker_sf

    You are acting as if no dogs are allowed anywhere in GGNRA. That is false.

  • Not A Native

    You’ve using hyperbole. The GGNRA plan being circulated isn’t “complete preservation” in any way. Opportunity for people to recreate is abundant but not universal. The plan strikes a balance among the species that are present to maintain their relative use of environmental resources.

  • donald scott

    No, not all land in GGNRA in SF was city land.

    Much of it was already federal – Fort Point, Chrissy Field, Alcatraz,
    Fort Funston, Fort Mason, Baker Beach were federal lands. The Marin
    Headlands was federally-owned Fort Cronkhite, as was Fort Baker. In
    those days, NO ONE could walk dogs on any of that land unless they had
    military permission and followed the strict rules TO THE LETTER.

    The Marina and Ocean Beach were the only large chunks of city land to be included.

    I worked at Thornton State Beach, in San Mateo but touching the SF line
    just at the Olympic Club. It is now in the GGNRA. When the GGNRA first
    opened, rangers would visit our park to find out how to run a national
    park in an urban area, and we would advise them – dogs, as we thought,
    would be a major challenge (as they were for us). Our solution, by the
    way, was to enroll the local dog club to suggest rules and help enforce
    them. Even so, the archetypical bad dog owner – about 10-20% – was our
    biggest problem. In one case, we had to go all the way to the Director
    of the CSDP in order to get one clown to follow the rules.

    So the mythology, which tells us that GGNRA took over city lands where dogs off leash were just fine, is simply not true.

    As to special modifications of the law because it is a recreation area –
    the only major changes have been the expansion of the boundaries, and a
    strong statement that ALL nps lands will follow the provisions of the
    Organic Act – even if they’re in urban areas. That is to say, they will
    be managed for the purposes of the protection of nature, not for

    One Superintendent of the GGNRA hated the NPS
    and its rules – I heard him say this – and wanted to change all national
    parks along an urban development model. He purposely ignored many
    rules, included those relating to dogs, for this reason.

    Of course, as I say, you can demand that the NPS leave, and return the
    lands to their former status. The military will once again manage their
    lands, denying access to most; and the developers will get the rest.
    They will develop the hell out of the place, and you will have no access
    for yourself or your dogs then. (One of the major reasons for the
    GGNRA was to stop the building of a city, Marincello, on the Marin
    Headlands. I’m sure the developers would be happy to dust those plans

    Or you can accept the fact that the GGNRA is here to
    stay, following the laws of the National Parks – called the best idea
    America ever had – and also accept the fact that it is not run as a
    dog-walking city park. You should be overjoyed and proud that this fine
    unit is here, available to all, including those who do not like to be
    approached by errant dogs.

    The truth is that the GGNRA is the best kind of neighbor, one which many in cities that are surrounded by suburban sprawl and “beltways” would give anything for.

    On Tue, May 24, 2016 at 6:16 AM, Disqus Digests wrote:


    Find a great discussion

    The worst kind of neighbor

    You received 2 replies


    SF Examiner



    donald scott

    Monday, May 23rd

    View on SF Examiner

    yes. I’ve worked with both, and they’re twins. As to knowing the
    history of the GGNRA, fellow, I was a state park ranger in what is now


    Monday, May 23rd

    View on SF Examiner

    in which part of the GGNRA prior did you work? At least in SF it was
    deeded directly from the City & County of San Francisco to NPS.
    State had …

    donald scott

    Sunday, May 22nd

    View on SF Examiner

    might suggest that before writing this type of article, you would be
    well-advised to do some research on the purpose, and rules of the
    National Park Service, on the …


    Monday, May 23rd

    View on SF Examiner

    your argument doesn’t really fly. You fail to ignore that this is a
    “National Recreation Area” not a Park as laid out by an act of Congress.
    And …

    40 additional comments

    View the full discussion on SF Examiner

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  • HZCrane

    If GGNRA has their way, no dogs will be allowed anywhere.

  • BruceW2014

    Talk to the extreme enviro lobbyists. In their words, “isolated wilderness experience”. What does that sound like to you? But, sorry, you are not seeing that there is already (im)balance.
    Dogs = 1% access
    Everyone else = 99% access

    After the plan is implemented;
    Dogs = 0.1% access
    Everyone else = 99.9% access

    So you tell me, this is balance?!

  • BruceW2014

    Pretty ignoRant, Native.

  • MayorLee

    Coyotes are pests in our urban environment and should be trapped and killed.

  • oniongrrrl

    that is NOT a reasonable amount, considering the number of dog owners in this area.

  • oniongrrrl

    they are allowed in 1%. ONE PERCENT. You want to take that away as well?

  • Not A Native

    Well I think it IS a more than reasonable amount considering the amount of environmental impact of every dog.

  • oniongrrrl

    if it’s impact you’re worried about, they should probably make the entire coast off limits to humans, who create the most negative impact on the environment.

  • Not A Native

    Its not all or nothing, but that seems to be what you’re promoting. The environment has the greatest capacity for life when the needs and impacts of all the species in a location are balanced. Humans do consume a large share of the resources but there is ample habitat for other species if we consciously share resources by maintaining a balance.

  • Coralyn Herenschrict

    If humans were squatting to poop on the middle of the sidewalks, hazmat teams would be rolled, streets cordoned off, and arrests made citing the health risks posed. But dogs squatting to poop on the middle of the sidewalks twice a day leaving behind an accumulated veneer of dog excrement schmear underfoot, that’s totally fine.

  • Anna Estrada

    Actually there are no coyotes at Fort Funston & there are no coyotes at Ocean Beach, perhaps because there is no access to fresh water. Unfortunately both of the sites are part of the GGNRA area.

    Someone recently posted on my NextDoor social network of an issue with a coyote when he was walking his leashed dog. His dog was about 60 pounds. He did the usual things you are supposed to do but he was surprised by how long the coyote held his/her ground. He finally walked across the street from where the coyote was but it surprised and frightened him.

    About a year and a half ago someone posted about his leashed dog having an issue with a coyote when he was at the SOTA parking lot which is near the coyotes that live in Glen Canyon. He had gone near sunset and was not aware there was a large pack living nearby.

    We used to also walk the dogs at the small park near the Safeway in Diamond Heights. That is also close to the Glen Canyon coyote pack. My partner saw a coyote there who had probably come to the area from the canyon trail. He refuses to go there anymore.

    We also used to take them to GG Park near where the stables and the track field are, but again my partner heard of a coyote presence there and we no longer go there either.

    They’ve also been seen in Miraloma Park about 1-2 blocks from my house. I think those are probably coming from Mount Davidson. That was when they were walking their leashed dog in the neighborhood. I still walk my leashed dogs in the neighborhood, but we don’t go too near Mt. Davidson although they have been sighted at the intersection around the corner from my house. We also take them to Douglas Park, but unfortunately it always closes around November and doesn’t reopen until March.

    My dogs are small and I tend to stay away from places where I might encounter wildlife. The most I’ve done is take them with me on the Lands End trail when I was doing a fund raising walk for BBBSBA. Other than that it’s mostly the beach & Fort Funston.

    I’m okay with co-existing with the wildlife (coyotes, raccoons, & skunks) and I do not allow my dogs in my backyard after dark for that reason…. but I don’t want to lose the few safe places where I can take my dogs.

  • Anna Estrada

    Some people have had their dog attacked while on leash. Someone recently reported on the NextDoor social network for my neighborhood that they ran into an aggressive coyote while their dog was on leash (a 60 pound dog). The coyote didn’t back down. Maybe it was protecting territory or felt trapped. I don’t know enough about the animals… but he shouted and tried to get it to back down. Ended up crossing the street and getting away from it.

    Another dog was attacked while on leash on the path leading to the parking lot at Pine Lake… people go to Pine Lake because of the off leash area which is reserved for dogs. We still go there but we are very careful as two small dogs have been attacked and killed there by coyotes in the past 18 months. We still go there but avoid early morning or late afternoon, even though coyotes can be active at any time. We also no longer go around Pine Lake leashed or unleashed.

  • Not A Native

    I don’t believe anonymous anecdotal “reports” written on NextDoor. If someone files a police report about a wild animal attack where the basic facts and evidence have been verified by a third party, I’ll give that more credibility.

    I’ve encountered many coyotes while walking and every one has shied away. And anyway, if a dog is really being attacked by a more aggressive and better equipped animal , how is being off leash better for the dog? If the dog is close on leash, you have the ability to intervene and defend it compared to it being off leash and far away. But if your point is everywhere people go there’s a need to abate wild animals because are a danger to dogs, that’s an even better reason to prohibit bringing dogs to wild animal habitat.