Breaking News: Man Bites Dog in Oakland?

Ok, so we don’t yet know what will happen in the ongoing nuclear disaster in Japan, and we don’t know if we’ll get to vote in a special election in June so we can keep our schools open. Oh, and all the potassium iodine pills are gone and they’re telling us not to take them anyway.

Hmm, what else is going on? Well, there’s still local news to cover and issues to debate. Using  the well-worn definition–it’s not news if dog bites man. But, if man bites dog–that’s news, and that’s sort of the story here in the neighborhoods around the north end of Lake Merritt.

A group of people have been working to build a dog play area near Astro Park for years. I hadn’t thought much about it as I’m not a dog owner. It turned out that it was finally going to happen after all but that it might require more hearings.

Then like a sudden summer storm, a furious debate busted out on our Neighborhood Crime Prevention Council listserves about how this was a travesty against open space, children, and people looking for parking spaces. Some of those folks said they were dog owners but that this wasn’t the place or time or, whatever.

At some point, like conversations over email often do, these have gotten personal. One anti-dog park person suggested that dog owners who couldn’t afford a big yard should get outta town where they could let their dogs run without bothering their little children who were not used to/terrified of/ offended by the proximity of dogs, etc. And finally, of course, everybody has put up their own facebook pages.

With the hyperbole reaching a crescendo, a meeting has been set up at the Lakeshore Baptist Church for March 23rd by Council Members Kernighan and Nadel. One expects that the fur will fly before every dog can have his day (hehe, sorry).

I remember once before when the neighborhood went ballistic. In that case, we were all pretty much in solidarity against the same thing- a new McDonald’s. Each group that opposed the proposal to replace the old KwikWay with a McDonald’s did so for a slightly different reason-some opposed the type and quality of the food, some were concerned that traffic crossing the sidewalk would reduce neighborhood walkability, while some just hated the corporate mentality and look of the place.

I had talked to Chronicle columnist Chip Johnson at the time, and he told me that we couldn’t expect to pit “50 people in a room” against one of the world’s most successful corporations and win. But we had 500 hundred people crowding into the church to address McDonald’s reps that night and even Chip changed his mind.

We stopped the McDonald’s and almost succeeded in designing and planning a project that would have incorporated new shops with mid-priced condos. The owners later scuttled that plan and a new restaurant is finally preparing to open in that spot.

During that struggle, Ignacio de la Fuente, who had joined us on the picket line in front of the proposed McDonald’s told me, “If you don’t watch out, you’ll turn into North Oakland over here.”

Well, we have had other bruising fights in the neighborhood like the one that brought us the Splash Pad Park, the Farmers’ Market and eventually the Trader Joes.  Usually we settle them and are happy with the result but the hard feelings tend to linger.

Here we go again. I really am trying to understand the intensity bordering on hysteria over dogs having a corner of a little used space next to two busy streets. I know the folks who play soccer, Frisbee, and football enjoy their games, and they will still have enough room to do what they have always done. The tot lot is nearby and would seem to be a good accompaniment to families with pets.

Since I have become addicted to watching the Dog Whisperer, I have learned how important it is  to socialize dogs, for them and the people around them. I have been hearing that little kids and dogs don’t mix, but the dog whisperer even demonstrates how easily children learn to handle dogs without mishap. It seems to come more naturally to them than to their anxious parents. I raised two children of my own and trained them to be responsible for the creatures around them. It’s a lesson we could use even more today.

I like dogs a lot and have considered getting one myself more than once. When I see folks walking with their dogs on a warm summer evening, I think, “now wouldn’t that be nice?” Then, I occasionally catch a glimpse of them very early on a cold, rainy morning and think, “thank God my cat can walk himself.” I used to be a pet sitter because I enjoy visiting with other people’s pets and walking their dogs.

I admit that I don’t like to see dogs tied up outside stores and restaurants because they don’t seem to enjoy being left alone-makes me wonder-why bring the dog along? But, I don’t feel any more irritated by dogs cluttering the walkway than I do when I see those humvee strollers that block the entire sidewalk.

When I was a small child, the strollers and carriages our moms pushed were large and unwieldy so my friends and I were thrilled when umbrella strollers were invented. We could fold them up with one hand while holding our baby in the other arm and pop the little stroller into the car or jump on the bus with it. Slowly those little umbrella strollers morphed into giant double-wides in which the parents store a garageful of clothing and gear in addition to a kid or two.

Let’s admit it-our sidewalks, especially in the Grand Lake neighborhood, are getting awfully crowded. Old people, parents, kids, dogs, and youth are hanging out on our Avenues. It’s truly glorious. Really, I know it can be annoying but we’re there because we like the urban ambience we have built around our successful commercial districts.

It’s my mantra that our little neighborhood retail districts are the hubs of our neighborhoods. Some neighborhoods don’t have a good retail climate, so they visit their friends and families in other districts. Much as I wish we would put more energy into assuring all our neighborhoods have successful retail areas, I’m awfully glad they come to Lakeshore. Which brings up another issue that has elicited breakouts of grumpiness on our listserve.

If you’re newer to our town, you probably don’t know that once upon a time, you could rarely find an outdoor table or bench to drink your coffee or enjoy a meal out. Oakland, with one of the most moderate climates in the world, seemed to frown on the café lifestyle that people travel to other countries to enjoy. I could go to Montreal in the chilly springtime and find tables outside filled to capacity (albeit with sidewalk heaters), but I couldn’t sip a drink on the sunny sidewalks of Oakland.

Somehow Oakland’s sidewalks along with Oakland’s nightlife, gallery life, and restaurant scene has flowered. People are out and about, spilling out of their favorite cafes, yogurt shops, and pizza places where they can connect with their friends passing by.

Of course, it can sometimes cause inconvenience and we have to be vigilant so that every-bodied person can get down the sidewalk safely. When my mother was still alive and would visit, the most difficult aspect of her arthritic disability was not posed by strollers or dogs but our very tall sidewalks (due to flooding). With the added lower step, she would have been able to navigate the sidewalks quite well and would have enjoyed the ambience even more.

Even though I am not a dog owner, I decided to take a position because I was saddened by some of the responses which bordered on mean-spiritedness over this pooch-oriented park. It seems that all the dog people are trying to do is add an amenity that everyone could enjoy. Well-behaved dogs are an asset to a neighborhood. Well-used parks validate our priorities and demonstrate a good use of tax monies.

Happy people congregating in my neighborhood-it’s good for me-I’m hoping it’ll be good for you, too.

Finally, I Have been lucky enough to get to know and work with Emily Rosenberg during Jean Quan’s run for mayor. Lake Merritt neighborhood folk had asked her to help them get a play area for their doggies. Emily had experience in getting a park established near the Woodminster Ampitheater where patrons of the shows were concerned that it would smell.

But she says, “The good news is that there is no smell from dog parks anymore because of a new kind of garbage can and folks parking for Woodminster walk right past the dog park garbage cans in the middle of summer with no complaints about smell. All the dog parks in Oakland use them.”

For parents she says, “Please note that the community built a brand new tot lot just nine feet away from the dog park entrance at Hardy Park……the children are much closer to the dog park fence than at Lakeview. But in general, kids love dogs and the parents bring their toddlers to the dog park fence to watch the doggies play.”

Emily took the pictures of the kids playing with dogs in this piece.

1 Comment on "Breaking News: Man Bites Dog in Oakland?"

  1. Hi, Pam –
    I agree with your comments re. The dog park. I’m not a dog owner, but I’m definitely a dog lover. I don’t think folks who live in Oakland and want to have a pet dog should be forced to leave the city in order for it to get some off-leash time. I spend a good deal of my retirement mornings in front of Peet’s on Lakeshore Ave., and I love it when the dog walkers and dog owners come by for a cup with their charges. I hope the heat over this issue will blow over soon, and folks will once again coexist like Oaklanders are wont to do.

    Jim Puskar

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