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