The National Park Service last week announced new rules for where dogs can be walked in the Golden Gate National Recreation Area and closed parts of Fort Funston to all visitors. (Marcio Jose Sanchez/2011 AP)

The National Park Service last week announced new rules for where dogs can be walked in the Golden Gate National Recreation Area and closed parts of Fort Funston to all visitors. (Marcio Jose Sanchez/2011 AP)

A flawed process rigged from the start


I used to think of the National Park Service as good guys. Not any more. Over the past decades, NPS staff in the Bay Area have run roughshod over local concerns, repeatedly lied to the community and presided over an incredibly biased, unfair public process.

Last week, Park Service announced a new rule outlining where you can walk with a dog in the Golden Gate National Recreation Area. No matter what you think about the issue, you should be appalled at the way NPS developed the rule.

Federal law requires government agencies to consider public comments before making any decision that is either significant or highly controversial. Yet Park Service staff repeatedly ignored this mandate. Whether it was closing areas at Fort Funston to all visitors — not just people with dogs — or unilaterally rescinding the policy that had allowed dogs off-leash for decades on under 1 percent of GGNRA land, NPS made the changes without the required public comment period. People had to resort to the courts to force NPS to follow the law.

In the Fort Funston closure case, for example, NPS staff publicly assured the community there would be no additional closures after two areas had been cordoned off to all visitors. At the same time, in private, they were plotting how best to quickly fence off a third area. A federal judge found that emails between GGNRA staff about this third closure “show an intent on the part of the National Park Service to railroad through the closure, to maintain secrecy, to unleash the fencing with lightening [sic] speed, and to establish a fait accompli.”

That’s not how a government agency should act.

Even when they do take public comment, however, the Park Service ignores anything that doesn’t fit their predetermined view. At every stage of the process that resulted in last week’s rule, public comment has been overwhelmingly opposed to further restrictions on dog walking. Yet, at every stage, NPS has continued to push their plan for large cuts in access, with few changes.

Keep in mind, the GGNRA was created by Congress to “concentrate on serving the outdoor recreational needs of the people of the metropolitan area.” It is not a remote, pristine wilderness, but rather a highly modified, urban area. Yet the Park Service wants to manage the GGNRA, envisioned and created as a recreational area, the same as a national park.

At first, the Park Service proposed cutting the less than 1 percent of the GGNRA where people can now walk with a dog by nearly 90 percent. It’s really people who enjoy walking with dogs who will be forced out of these areas, not only the dogs. This cut would be the largest reduction in people’s recreational access in GGNRA history. NPS offered no scientific or site-specific evidence to justify the new restrictions.

A second version of the plan had only minor, cosmetic changes. Now the draft rule is out, with virtually no change from the second version … or the first.

The Boards of Supervisors of all three counties with GGNRA land — San Francisco, Marin and San Mateo — have gone on record opposing the plan that doesn’t consider impacts on city parks if thousands of people with dogs are forced out of the GGNRA.

A year ago, I went with a group to Washington, D.C. to talk with Congress about our concerns with the Park Service. Every member of Congress or staffer with whom we talked — both Republicans and Democrats — had their own stories of major problems with NPS and the agency’s heavy handedness with local communities.

There’s a culture deeply entrenched within the Park Service that encourages its unelected bureaucrats to make management decisions with little respect for public input, and then impose those decisions on the park or recreation area, without regard for how they impact surrounding communities.

The GGNRA, created to bring more people to nature, is now forcing large numbers of people out. Dog groups have participated in this decades-long process in good faith, only to find the process was rigged from the start.

For more information on the draft rule, go to

Sally Stephens is an animal, park, and neighborhood activist who lives in the West of Twin Peaks area.Fort FunstonggnraGolden Gate National Recreation AreaNational Park ServiceSally StephensSan Francisco

Just Posted

ose Pak and Willie Brown at an event in 2014. 
Rose Pak and Willie Brown at an event in 2014.
Willie and Rose: An alliance for the ages

How the Mayor and Chinatown activist shaped San Francisco, then and now

San Francisco supervisors are considering plans to replace trash cans — a “Renaissance” garbage can is pictured on Market Street — with pricey, unnecessary upgrades. (Kevin N. Hume/The Examiner)
San Francisco must end ridiculous and expensive quest for ‘pretty’ trash cans

SF’s unique and pricey garbage bins a dream of disgraced former Public Works director

Giants right fielder Mike Yastrzemski is pictured at bat on July 29 against the Dodgers at Oracle Park; the teams are in the top spots in their league as the season closes. (Chris Victorio/Special to The Examiner)
With playoff positions on the line, old rivalries get new life

Giants cruised through season, Dodgers not far behind

Golden Gate Park visitors may take a survey about options regarding private car access on John F. Kennedy Drive, which has been the subject of controversy during the pandemic.<ins> (Kevin N. Hume/S.F. Examiner)</ins>
Your chance to weigh in: Should JFK remain closed to cars?

Host of mobility improvements for Golden Gate Park proposed

Drivers gathered to urge voters to reject an initiative that would exempt Uber, Lyft, and other gig economy companies from state labor laws, in San Francisco in October 2020. (Jim Wilson/New York Times)
What’s the role of unions in the 21st century?

As membership declines in California, economic inequality increases

Most Read