The goal of the plan is to identify a long term plan for Seattle’s off-leash areas (OLAs) as well as for the maintenance, acquisition, and expansion of OLA projects.
Here’s a summary of my 3 main objections to the plan that I posted last month:
NO NEW OFF-LEASH AREAS
The OLA draft says that Seattle Parks “will specifically include OLAs as an element for consideration in the planning process” when SPR embarks on the development or redevelopment process for new and existing parks.
This is not a commitment for new OLAs. It’s merely saying the OLAs will just be considered during the planning process for new/existing parks. That’s only slightly better than the current policy which doesn’t require consideration of OLAs, but it guarantees nothing.
NO UNFENCED OLAS
An unfenced OLA is an open space where off-leash dogs are allowed at off-peak times. For instance, New York City’s Central Park allows off-leash dogs before 9 AM and after 9 PM.
Seattle has dozens of play fields that are virtually unused for most of year. Why not allow off-leash dogs on them when they aren’t being used? Wouldn’t this be an inexpensive, innovative way to give more space for off-leash dogs?
NO NEW OFF LEASH WATER ACCESS OR TRAILS
The plan categorically dismisses providing new OLAs with water access or off-leash trails. Only one OLA (Magnuson) has water access, and Seattle has no off-leash trails. This is simply unacceptable in a city that has 50% more dogs than children.
At the public meeting the Parks Board said nothing to indicate it would make any modifications to the draft plan.
One staff person from Parks and Recreation said that it would be difficult add new OLAs because the Parks Dept. “doesn’t have the resources to do everything that’s needed” and that “funding is going to be a challenge.”
Of course we all know that finding funding in Seattle’s budget for any new project will be a challenge, but given that about 25% of Seattle residents have at least one dog, OLAs are woefully underfunded.
DOG OWNERS ARE TAXPAYERS TOO
According to the Trust for Public Land’s 2016 City Park Facts report, the average Seattleite pays approximately $200 per year for the Park Department’s operating budget. That’s more than anyone in the 50 major cities listed in the report.
Ellen Escarcega, a representative of Citizens for Off Leash Areas, said that Seattle only allocates $104,000 per year for OLA maintenance. This means the average amount of that $200 that is allocated to OLAs is only 67 cents or about .3 percent.
Considering that about 25 percent of Seattle households have at least 1 dog, dog owners don’t get much bang for our buck compared to how much we contribute to Seattle Parks’ operating budget.
Conversely, Seattle is spending millions to develop new human-only parks, renovate current parks, and updating equipment in several playgrounds.
That’s fine, but why is there no funding for new OLAs?
The best way to determine a city’s priorities is to see what its budget funds. The pittance that is allocated to Seattle’s OLAs shows that they are not a priority for Seattle Parks and Recreation, the Mayor, or the City Council.
WE’RE MAD AS HELL AND WE AREN’T GOING TO TAKE THIS ANYMORE
The primary complaint of the dog owners who spoke at the public hearing was that the draft plan doesn’t establish any new OLAs. Here are some of the other comments I heard:
“(I am) frustrated and disgusted that there are no real or measurable goals in this document.”
“This document gives us Seattle process and no promises that anything will change, no promises that give me any belief that the department as a whole is dedicated to doing better by dog owners.”
“I’m tired of driving 30 minutes or more past parks I don’t use but I pay for.”
“I’m tired of hearing you say you don’t have enough money because Seattle has the highest per capita spending (on parks) than all US cities.”
“Only .07 percent of (Seattle Parks’) budget is spent on OLAs.”
“I’m tired of hearing my dog doesn’t pay taxes. Neither do basketballs but we build basketball courts.”
“I’m tired of driving 2500 miles across this traffic-laden city every year to exercise my dog.”
“25% of Seattleites (dog owners) only use .4 percent of the land.”
“Our tiny OLAs are overcrowded with law abiding dog owners.”
“I fear you going to make minor changes to this draft and pat yourselves on the back for listening to dog owners. Throw it out and start over.”
Dog owners had high hopes when Seattle Parks announced it would develop a People, Dogs, and Parks Master Plan. But based on the comments I heard at the pubic meeting, they are extremely disappointed with the draft and increasingly frustrated that city leaders aren’t committed to creating new OLAs in Seattle.
I didn’t expect the Board’s draft to give Seattle dog owners everything we want, but as I’ve written before, the Master Plan draft has no solid commitments to creating new OLAs and doesn’t contain any visionary, out-of-the-box solutions to the problem.
For example, some balls fields in Seattle are only used a few months out of the year. Why not allow people to run their dogs on them when they aren’t used or during mornings/evenings? The cost would be minimal, and it could start immediately. Or pick one ball field a try it out as a pilot program.
It makes no sense to me to allow them to sit unused for during the fall, winter, and most of the spring.
Or why not make one of the current parks a multi-use park that can be used by people with off leash dogs during specific times of day to see how it will work? If New York City can make it work in Central Park, isn’t it worth at least a try in Seattle?
When Seattle Parks release the draft last June, it noted that it intended the plan to “guide the operations of existing OLAs, explore alternative service models, and create strategies for development of future OLAs.”
The only concrete proposals the plan offers is writing more tickets for people with off-leash dogs in areas where they should be leashed and restricting the number of dogs that dog walkers can bring into OLAs.
I commend the Board of Parks Commissioners for recognizing problems with our current OLA system and starting the dialogue regarding how to address them. But penalizing dog owners while providing no specifics for creating new OLAs is unacceptable.
If the Parks Board doesn’t make any changes to the draft without addressing the concerns about it raised by dog owners, then its goal of having a People, Dogs, and Parks Master Plan to identify a long term plan that addresses “maintenance, acquisition, and expansion of OLA projects” will not be met.
You can email comments about the plan to Rachel.Acosta@seattle.gov until October 14.
The Board will finalize the plan in December and submit it to the Seattle City Council in 2017.
Here’s a story from KIRO 7 about the public meeting: