S.F. may regain control of Ocean Beach 

After more than 30 years, sections of Ocean Beach and The City’s northern waterfront may revert back to city control, depending on the success of a push by dog advocates.

The legislative move, still in its infancy, has already sparked so much public interest that the San Francisco Commission ofAnimal Control and Welfare has reserved an extra room for its Thursday meeting, at which the topic will be discussed.

The land, which until 1975 was controlled by The City, now falls under the authority of the Golden Gate National Recreation Area, which is controlled by the National Park Service. The City handed the land over for the park service to manage, "in a manner which will provide recreational and educational opportunities consistent with sound principles of land use, planning and management," according to the agreement.

In 1979, the GGNRA developed a "pet policy," which required that unleashed dogs be under voice control. After a federal judge ruled in 2005 that the park couldn’t rescind the pet policy to require leashes or ban canine access, the park instituted an "emergency closure," claiming that the dogs disturbed the threatened western snowy plover, which makes parts of Ocean Beach its habitat.

Dogs are now required to be leashed within a section of Ocean Beach stretching from the middle of Golden Gate Park south to Sloat Boulevard between July and May, when snowy plovers inhabit the area, according to GGNRA spokeswoman Chris Powell. The birds roost elsewhere during the late spring and early summer, at which time the area is opened to off-leash dogs.

Some dog advocates say the GGNRA, which is supposed to follow a process of public input and hearings when making changes to its access policy, overstepped its authority by implementing the closure on an emergency basis.

"They’ve used the emergency provision when there is no emergency," said Steve Sayad, the lawyer for Ocean Beach Dog Owners Group, a proponent of reverting the land to city control. "The legal standard is they’ve got to show an imminent threat to the bird from the off-leash dogs. It’s just not there."

But park authorities state that they are working within the prescribed process of "negotiated rule making," which involves public notification and input. They say the partial closure of Ocean Beach to off-leash dogs is necessary in the meantime as an investigating committee works through its two-year process to decide on an overall philosophy on canine access at the GGNRA, which will include an Ocean Beach policy.

"We have been working with the dog groups, we have been working with environmentalists, equestrians, people with special needs, people with children and families, everyone who could be affected," Powell said.

Because the GGNRA is a federal entity, reversion of the land to The City would require an act of Congress. At the hearing Thursday, the animal welfare commission will consider whether to advise the Board of Supervisors to pass legislation calling on the U.S. Congress to order the land given back.

San Francisco Recreation and Park Department spokeswoman Rose Marie Dennis said there is no guarantee that off-leash dog access will be granted if the land is reverted to city control. "We have no way of knowing, number one, whether or not we’ll even be relevant to the discussion a week, month, year from now, and even if we were, at that point, the Rec and Park Commission would have to get involved to determine what they wanted to see happen moving forward," Dennis said.

amartin@examiner.com

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