It’s no secret that the relationship between people who enjoy walking with their dogs and the Golden Gate National Recreation Area (GGNRA) has been strained for decades. But in 2017, after the agency withdrew its decades-long but fatally flawed attempt to severely restrict dog walking at places like Fort Funston, Ocean Beach, Crissy Field, and Muir Beach, we saw a chance to reset the relationship between dog groups and the GGNRA.
And, in a number of ways, it seemed to be working. During last winter’s government shutdown, dog folks paid for maintenance at Fort Funston to keep its parking lot open and ensure people, their dogs, and their children could continue to have safe, fun days at the park. In the spring, when we organized clean-ups in parks around San Francisco, GGNRA staff were helpful and supportive.
But the good feelings came crashing to an end two weeks ago. On the Friday before Labor Day, the GGNRA released a 2019 Superintendent’s Compendium that makes significant changes that appear to implement parts of the ill-fated Dog Management Plan. Dog advocates, myself included, were blindsided.
A compendium is a way for a park Superintendent to make relatively minor changes in management policies in response to changing conditions, e.g., closing part of a trail that has eroded, or addressing new technology like drones or vaping. It’s not supposed to be used to make changes that are significant or highly controversial. Those have to go through a public rule-making process.
The 2019 Compendium consists of text, maps, and a Table of Changes that highlights differences between the new document and the previous one from 2017. Many of the changes involving dogs are not mentioned in the Compendium text or in the table. They’re only indicated on maps and are only apparent if you know the areas well. It’s almost as if the GGNRA wanted to hide the changes from the public.
For example, dogs on leash have been allowed on all of the trails and paved roads at Milagra Ridge, a GGNRA site in Pacifica, for decades. Yet, according to a map in the Compendium, dog walking would be eliminated on the trails at the southern entrance to the park. This change would require people with dogs (many of whom live in neighborhoods adjacent to the south entrance) to get in their cars and drive all the way to the north entrance in order to access the park. This major change in access is not mentioned anywhere in the text, nor listed in the Table of Changes.
Federal law requires an agency to provide written justification for any changes that are made in a compendium. Yet the GGNRA offers no explanation for the trail closures at Milagra Ridge nor for many of the other changes involving dog walking in the new Compendium.
The Compendium also closes several trails and other areas to dog walking at two other sites in San Mateo County – Rancho Corral de Tierra and Mori Point. These changes also appear only in the maps, and nowhere else.
The Compendium makes changes to the definitions of terms like “voice control” and “unmanaged dogs” that seem unnecessary and intended only to increase conflicts between dog owners and the GGNRA. And it includes a mechanism to close areas at Fort Funston to dog walking without going through a process of public comment – the very issue that started the dog wars nearly twenty years ago.
These significant and highly controversial changes simply cannot be made in a compendium. The GGNRA cannot use it to implement aspects of the Dog Management Plan that was withdrawn after emails released as part of a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit revealed that GGNRA employees had acted unlawfully in developing the plan. [Full disclosure – SFDOG and I were plaintiffs in the FOIA lawsuit.]
Yet, here they go, trying to sneak some elements from that plan into this Compendium.
The vast majority of the document has nothing to do with dog walking and includes items that are justifiably included in a compendium. But the dog walking changes are significant enough that they must be removed.
You can comment on the Compendium at: email@example.com
If the GGNRA’s intent was to get our hackles up, it worked.
Sally Stephens is an animal, park and neighborhood activist who lives in the West of Twin Peaks area. She is a guest opinion columnist and her point of view is not necessarily that of The Examiner.