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High cost of study gives council ‘paws’

SOLANA BEACH — In response to the dogged determination of some residents, council members moved forward with a plan to potentially allow canines on the beaches, somewhat reluctantly agreeing at the July 10 meeting to spend $17,000 on a study to determine if proposed changes to city regulations would cause a significant environmental impact. 

The study will address the full range of options, including whether dogs should remain on leashes all or part of the time and if their presence should be limited to certain areas or times of the day or year.

Depending on the results, more in-depth studies costing additional money could be required.

Solana Beach currently does not allow dogs on its beaches. They are, however, permitted on leashes at Fletcher Cove Park and other city properties such as the Coastal Rail Trail, La Colonia Park and the area around Fletcher Cove Community Center.

Resident David Winkler asked council at the April 24 meeting to consider allowing leashed dogs from the base of the Tide Park steps north to Cardiff State Beach, where the animals are allowed.

The city also received four e-mails from three other residents who support the proposal.

Council members all proclaimed themselves dog lovers but had issues with the high price of the study.

“I’ll vote for it because I love dogs but I’m a little disappointed that this is costing so much and that it’s required,” Councilwoman Lesa Heebner said. “The impacts are clearly poop in the water.”

“I think it’s a shame it costs so much money,” Mayor Mike Nichols said, while Peter Zahn called the study “distasteful but the only path.”

In a letter to the city, Winkler, an attorney, encouraged council members “not to spend $17,000 to study the issue given there is no problem in other San Diego County coastal cities which allow dogs on their beaches.” Those jurisdictions include the adjacent cities of Encinitas to the north and Del Mar to the south.

When asked by Councilman Tom Campbell if the study was necessary, City Attorney Johanna Canlas said, “Proceeding without it would have its own peril … Should you choose not to move forward with the study (a lawsuit) is the risk.”

Canlas said other impacts include noise and public safety, specifically conflicts between dogs and other dogs and dogs and young children.

Heebner suggested waiting until a planned sidewalk is installed along the north end of town that will provide better access to Cardiff. She also noted there is a new sidewalk on the south end of town to get to Dog Beach in Del Mar.

Nichols said he didn’t want to limit dog owners to “one way to get to one place.”

Cost wasn’t the only problem. Campbell, who opposed the plan in the 4-1 vote, had concerns about enforcement.

“If we can’t enforce this we’re crazy if we do this,” he said, noting lifeguards can’t issue citations.

“Do you think we’re going to get our Sheriff’s Department to come down there and enforce this?” he asked. “No way. We need to really think through this because if we don’t have a viable means of enforcement I’m not sure I should be spending $17,000 at this point in time until the city manager can come back and come up with a way to provide enforcement.”

Currently, lifeguards warn people that dogs are not allowed on the beaches. Code or law enforcement officers are called only if there is an issue.

If and when council members decide to move forward with new regulations they could opt to prohibit dogs on beaches during the busy summer months, potentially eliminating the need for additional staff for enforcement.

Although Campbell suggested dogs pay for the study, the money will come from the general fund undesignated reserves. The city manager said signage would be a minimal cost.

“My wife and I would be happy to pay for that signage if the city doesn’t want to incur that cost,” Winkler said.

Resident Ira Opper also supports the proposal. “Let’s try to make Solana Beach more dog friendly,” he said.

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