Notes from the Dog Park Meeting or How I Spent a Rainy Night in Oakland

Hundreds came to Barnett Hall to talk about the dog park.

A couple of hundred people gathered on a chilly, windy night in central Oakland at the Lakeshore Baptist Church to discuss the most pressing problem of the day-should we or should we not have a dog play area in the field on the other side of the freeway from the Grand Lake district and at the far end of the Lake Merritt expanse?

I still have not been able to glean the underlying angst of this issue but I will guess that it has something to do with people not feeling heard in general on the things which affect their lives from the White House’s wars to City Hall’s parking policies.

Although this play area/park has been in the works for years, many people have not been informed about it until now. Quite a few of these folks are new to the area and feel that their needs should be considered although it seems that many of them also support the park.

Dogs playing at Hardy Park under the freeway on a soggy day.

The pro-dog park people were offering “Time to Share” signs to pin on your shirt, but only about a third of the attenders wore them. That turned out to be misleading. When asked how many were there supporting the park, about two thirds of the crowd raised their hands.

Pat Kernighan opened the meeting with a plea for reasoned comments and stipulated she would prefer no name calling, booing or even clapping. She also asked folks to state what neighborhood they lived in while letting the audience know that she would give more weight to the speakers who live in her district.

That’s how district representation works, but it was a stark reminder of one of its downsides. One speaker took her to task for making it clear that they weren’t going to be heard in the same way. “Why do you think only people in this neighborhood care about Lake Merritt?” he asked.

It was announced that there were 42 speaker sign-ups to which Pat replied, “only 42?” David Flack, chair of the Grand Lake Neighborhood Crime Prevention Council, kept the speakers’ time quite nimbly. Whenever a speaker faltered he would say, “that’s a good place to stop,” and mostly, they would.

Nancy Nadel made a statement that this project has been going through a long approval process and that the City Council would be making the final decision as “making the tough decisions is our job.”

Nancy pointed out that development in the city will become “intentionally” denser around hubs for shopping and transportation; and that lots of residents use the parks for various types of recreation and that those uses are valid “even for people who don’t use it.” That is, there are soccer players, frisbee, and baseball players, and bocce ballplayers. “Do you play bocce ball?” she asked “but we have it for those who do.”

Council Member Nadel, who represents Adams Point and most of the neighborhoods bordering the lake, ran through the names of the many neighborhood groups that had already weighed in on the plan (later a member of the Lakeshore Homeowners Association with 1,000 members complained that they hadn’t been consulted.) She told us that this park was designed as a volunteer-driven project to include most of the funds, building and maintenance of this park.

Two speakers were chosen as the reps of their groups. Betsy Block, recently wed and having lived in Oakland for 5 years, told us that she has a masters in Public Policy (lots of credentials and degrees were flaunted last night) and was a park inspector in San Francisco. She asked us “to consider this a low cost amenity and a trustee of the land” to maintain it well.

She told the audience something many of us did not know about the parks in San Francisco-dogs are allowed (on leash, I presume). It became apparent from the information I picked up last night that Oakland is one of the least dog-friendly cities in the Bay.

Mary Saltello of Jean Street put on a power point show taken directly from the Save Astro Park group’s facebook page. She promoted their tag line from Mozart-“it’s the silence between the notes.” I’m not sure I know the significance of that but I do like the sound of it. She also noted that she is part of the “Friends of Morcom Rose Garden” and then said, “it would effectively kill development in that area.” She seemed to mean the project near the old gas station but she wasn’t clear how it would do that. I could see it both ways.

Ms. Saltello noted that since this project was conceived a decade ago, it has now become “an antiquated idea.” My sense is that more dog-owning young couples, who may or may not have children, have moved into the area since then. Of course, that does not mean that they want a dog play area.

Hardy Park dogs play with toys

Oops, I forgot to say that Leal Charonnat, noted 5th Avenue architect, who has been volunteering his time on the project, made a quirky presentation of how the spot would be constructed.

So here are some of the interesting comments I was able to grab onto long enough to record them:

Peter Prows – “I’ve never lived in a place with so much unprogrammed space that doesn’t allow a dog.”

A pro- dog park person- She volunteers to clean up Dimond Park and said “I clean up messes from people not from dogs.”

A local nurse- She opposes it due to the number of horrendous dog bite cases she sees regularly.

James Vann- He commented that he would not take a position based on all the work done by neighbors but still thinks that “the wood chips are unfortunate” and that it’s not the best place for it. James is one of the designers of the Measure DD projects so his concerns piqued my interest.

Eric Hughes who heads up the Grand Lake Beautification Committee which cleans graffiti and trash in our area (volunteers!) asserted that “this is a technical solution to a strategic problem,” in that no dogs are allowed anywhere near the Lake even on leash. He hoped that he would not have to ask the dog folks to clean up their act but did think that our local laws needed to be changed.

Numerous anti-dog park speakers remarked on the “sacrificing of green space” or “unprogrammed” space. Since this term was used a lot, maybe we need to deconstruct it. I know that Fairyland is programmed space and so is the bird sanctuary as are also the gardens, bocce ball lawn and the swing and tot play areas. The remaining lawns and fields and tree lined patches seem to fit the unprogrammed designation. Are the “programmed” spaces bad things? Are the “unprogrammed” spaces better?

And is “unprogrammed” one of these words like “special interests” or “entitlements” which has now been transformed into something with a much deeper meaning or just a word with little meaning that has been imbued with the power of a sound bite that is used to persuade people without explaining it at all? I leave it to you all, but please do consider the meanings and uses of influential words when they arise.

Along the lines of persuasion, when many speakers noted the good or bad qualities of the existing dog parks in Oakland, two of which are in flatland areas. One pro-dog park speaker responded, “Whoever said that a dog park has to be in a low-income, high crime area?” That got a round of applause.

After all was said or as much as could be said in a two-hour time limit, Nancy Nadel proposed that a small group of representatives from each side be gathered to hammer out an agreement. I wrote down that Pat had commented “If this dog park goes forward…” Whereas Nancy seemed to believe it would with adjustments. These are just my impressions and may not mean anything in terms of their positions on this hot debate.

As we left Barnett Hall, David Flack of the Grand Lake NCPC, shared his hope with me that as many people would come out for the city budget discussions. We commiserated for a moment on the upcoming decisions about what to cut, “It’s gonna be ugly,” he said, referring to the realities of our ballooning deficit. “Yeah,” I had to agree, “it will.”

3 Comments on "Notes from the Dog Park Meeting or How I Spent a Rainy Night in Oakland"

  1. Thanks for writing this up! What I actually said was: “…the dog park is a tactical solution to s strategic problem.” The strategic problem is the antiquated laws in oakland prohibiting responsible dog owners from having their dogs with them, even on leash, in almost every park in Oakland.

    eric hughes

  2. Thanks, Pamela, for a very informative post. I wasn’t there, and I feel I got a taste of it from your post.

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