After more than 30 speakers addressed the Los Gatos Town Council Monday evening, mostly against a pilot program that would have allowed dogs off leash at two public parks, the controversial proposal was postponed.
By a unanimous vote, the Council instructed Parks and Public Works staff to continue to research the issue and explore the possibility of building a fenced area for dogs to exercise in town rather than having them run loose during certain morning hours.
One by one, residents against the proposal, many wearing red T-shirts, addressed the Council for two minutes passionately explaining why letting dogs off leash would destroy the character of the neighborhoods near the two public parks were the plan would have been tested—Bachman and Live Oak Manor.
Glen Boyd told the Council to maintain its existing anti off-leash law for the safety of the community. "This is simple, safe and sensible," he said.
Boyd also reminded the Council how it had contributed about $75,000 to the off-leash fenced Los Gatos Creek County Dog Park, 1250 Dell Ave. on the Los Gatos-Campbell border and encouraged town dog owners to take their pets there to recreate.
Other speakers, such as Lu Ann Flechsig, echoed Boyd's concerns over safety, and liability. She then said sanitary issues would be created from discarded dog waste left at public parks.
Vikki Foley Boyd, a certified dog trainer, urged the Council to consider testimony from dog behaviorists who have opined that off-leash dog areas endanger children exposing them to harm and dogs to euthanasia for transgressions.
Bianca Gruetter, a mother of two small children, said she was shocked when the Los Gatos Parks Commission voted 6-3 on June 5 to move forward with the six-month test program despite a majority of constituents opposing the program. "I was shocked," she said. "Both of our children have been knocked down numerous occasions at Bachman Park."
Many of the speakers asked the Council to enforce the current law, which fines owners of off-leash dogs after the second or third warning with a $100 citation for the first offense, $200 for the second and $300 for the third. The man enforcing the violations is Los Gatos park service officer Dave Gray.
"I'm strongly opposed to this pilot program," said Jean Leeming, a mother of three, who during the meeting held a small fan-like sign that read, "Keep your dog on a leash." The signs were distributed to the off-leash dog program opponents who waived them throughout the meeting.
"My children have been sitting on a park bench and have had their lunch eaten off of their lap [by dogs] ... owners saying, 'don't worry, my dogs are friendly,' " Leeming said.
John Lambert, a member of the Los Gatos Parks Commission who has two children, said he was speaking for himself and was surprised that town staff had recommended the program despite the majority of the community's consensus against it. "I haven't come across a single person who's in favor of this," he said.
However, Dick Foster, who favored the plan, said missing from the proposal were times for people who work since the proposed hours were in the morning.
Also, , who represented many of the dog owners who had united to get the off-leash plan approved, said those advocating for the program clean up the parks they visit and work responsibly to avoid problems and respect children, their families and other members of the public. He said some of the statements made by opponents were speculation.
"I say we should enter into this program. We should try this and find the data and look at this in a reasonable and statistical manner," he said.
Kate Paisly said a __
"The issue before you is very emotional," said Albins Martinskis. "People with children have reason to be concerned ... because dogs will do three things, they'll bark, will bite and will defecate whenever ... dogs are animals, " said Albins Martinskis.
In the end, after more than an hour of public testimony, Councilman Steven Leonardis, a proud rabbit owner who's sometimes leashed, asked town staff to do more research about the proposal and look at possible locations to build a fenced dog park in Los Gatos. "My attitude is more let's wait and see what happens ... it takes months after a pilot program ends to effectively determine its true colors."
Leonardis added jurisdictions don't have the capacity to enforce off-leash laws and also recommended that the Council wait until the City of San Carlos finishes its test off-leash program in August.
"We don't have enough information to make any kind of a decision," he said. "We've heard a lot of concerns from the community on both sides ... "
"To me it seems as though there's kind of a speakeasy thing going on with the off-leash use at Bachman [Park] and when this thing heated up to about 1,000 degrees was when it came before us," Leonardis said of how in February dog owners began asking about the lack of an ordinance for off-leash activities at town parks. "Prior to that it didn't seem to be an issue."
Vice Mayor Barbara Spector commended speakers for respecting each other despite being on opposite ends. "What we have here are two passions. We have a fear ... of dogs on leash ... off leash ... We have a fear of being attacked and we have a fear of being bitten, but we also have love, we love our dogs, we love watching them run like the wind and we love the camaraderie that we have when we take our dogs and chat with other dog owners," she said.
However, she sided with Leonardis in wanting to wait for the San Carlos program to end. "At this point ... we may want to see what happens if San Carlos goes forward with a program after it ends ... you know darn well right now those people are ... being really careful," she said.
Spector said she had concluded from reading hundreds of emails sent to her on the issue that many dog owners would appreciate the town looking into building a fenced dog park. She encouraged staff to look at locations in town, including building a retractable gate at the two suggested public parks to keep the dogs contained in one area.
Councilwoman Diane McNutt expressed concern that even with a test program, irresponsible dog ownership could increase particularly among owners of unleashed dogs who are currently breaking the law by letting their canine friends run loose.
"If we change the law to accommodate those unlawful behaviors then more people come in ... at what point ... how many dogs do you get there when it becomes unruly and it's too hard handle and how do you monitor the number of dogs that are there?" McNutt asked.
McNutt said although the town doesn't have a lot of open land, staff could work to identify possibilities. "We rushed this. This was on a fast track ... There wasn't enough time to not just talk about a pilot program but to begin to explore other realistic and feasible areas for creating a dog park."
She said community members had suggested the town look at fenced Balzer Field, used for Los Gatos Little League part of the year, for a possible dog park area. Other spots suggested include the former Dittos Lane property.
McNutt also suggested the issue be considered by the Council at its retreat.