What Is Happening?
On July 21 2009, the Cupertino City Council voted to conduct trials that would create Off-Leash Areas (OLAs) for dogs in our Cupertino neighborhood parks. These trials would create unfenced OLAs - dogs would run loose in the park without leash and unenclosed by a fence or other physical barrier. The trials target Jollyman, Library Field, Linda Vista, and Memorial Parks. The specific locations and hours for the trials have not been set, but the Council calls for the OLA area to extend over the entirety of Library Field, and approximately 1/3 of Jollyman and Linda Vista Parks
Why Is This Bad?
This plan is poor public policy on multiple levels.
First, unfenced OLAs are a very uncommon practice and raise serious issues of safety for other park users, particularly our children and seniors. There are NO cities in Santa Clara County that allow unfenced, unleashed dogs. Unfenced OLAs depend solely on voice control for safety - the expectation that dogs are effectively trained to obey the owner's voice commands. There are NO expert standards defining effective voice control.
Second, there has been no meaningful public notice that a change in leash law was under consideration. Proper notice is a necessity for a public safety issue that changes existing use of our parks (and may affect property values for adjacent homes). Even today, there are no official published specifics about how any OLA trial or permanent program would be conducted.
Although this issue has been under discussion since April 2008, neighbors of Linda Vista Park had only 6 days notice that they had been targeted for an OLA trial! Neighbors at Jollyman, Library Field, and Memorial Parks had NO public notice that their parks were targeted.
OLAissues were studied by a citizen's committee created by the City Council in April 2009. The citizen's group consensus and Parks & Rec Dept. staff recommended only fenced dog park solutions, citing further discussion was required before an unfenced option could be proposed. Despite these recommendations, the City Council decided to eliminate consideration of fenced OLAs in Cupertino, and created the unfenced proposal of their own volition
What Do Other Cities Do?
Our neighbors in Mountain View, Sunnyvale, and Santa Clara, have reported great successes with a single fenced dog park, widely viewed as the accepted practice for off-leash dog play. Fenced dog parks are recognized as a best practice by experts, including the American Kennel Club, California State Parks, and others.
Why Is This Happening ? Who Is Behind This?
From the start, the OLA issue has been driven by a small group of off-leash activists, who demonstrate little regard for good practice and no consideration for the 80% of Cupertino residents that do not own dogs. The advocates of unfenced OLAs have clearly stated that they want unfenced OLAs established in ALL Cupertino parks. This is an unjustifiable position that serves only their own convenience while creating citywide impact, nuisance, and enforcement problems.
The dog owners have failed to make a valid case for OLAs on merit, but the issue has continued to move forward despite increasing community opposition. This has been driven by Councilman Mark Santoro who launched the unfenced dog option as a personal agenda, systematically disregarding city staff and resident input, and manipulating the parliamentary procedure to introduce his own preferences after public comment was closed. At the 7/21 City Council meeting, there were only fenced dog park trial recommendations on the agenda, which were eliminated by Santoro and substituted with four unfenced OLA trials that had never been discussed publicly. At that time, he also stated that he felt that the trials should start immediately with no further discussion – even though his proposal never had any opportunity for public comment.
Mayor Orrin Mahoney had stated on 4/15/2008 that he supported investigating fenced options but was opposed to unfenced OLAs because of liability and community concerns. On 7/21/2009, he voted in favor of the unfenced OLA trials although his concerns were not mitigated by any part of the trial plan. Councilwoman Dolly Sandoval raised concerns about a lack of restrictions on aggressive unleashed dogs on 4/7/2009, but on 7/21/2009 voted in favor of the unleashed OLA trial. Her concerns about aggressive dogs were not addressed.
What You Can Do To Stop This?
1) Tell the City Council you OPPOSE OLAs in our parks – Write or call the City Councilmen individually and demonstrate your strong opposition to this unfenced off-leash plan.
Raise your concerns about
• unfenced vs. fenced OLAs
2) Defeat the trial survey – The city will conduct a survey of households within 1500 feet of trial park boundaries to demonstrate approval before any trial begins. Make sure that you vote AGAINST the trials, and encourage your neighbors to do the same. If there is less than 50% approval from neighbors, the trial will be cancelled at your park.
3) Tell your friends, neighbors, and schoolmates – Raise awareness of this problem with everybody you know. This is a divisive policy, but poor public notice has kept the majority of residents in the dark. Spread the word even if the city won’t, and let City Hall know that Cupertino is united in opposition.
4) Vote ‘Em Out – Orrin Mahoney and Mark Santoro are running for re-election in November 2009. Tell them that they have lost your vote unless they oppose OLAs in Cupertino parks. City Council elections are regularly decided by margins of just a few hundred votes, so your vote and opinion will make a difference.
5) Join with us - Cupertino Safe Parks is a city-wide grassroots organization of Cupertino residents who oppose OLAs in our neighborhood parks. Creating unfenced or fenced OLAs in our existing parks are an incompatible and unfriendly change in the use of our shared public spaces. We support proposals to create a safe, non-residential, fenced dog park, including a proposed project at Stevens Creek County Park.
City Hall Contacts - Write or call to make your voice heard!
Mayor Orrin Mahoney
Vice-Mayor Kris Wang
Director of Parks & Recreation