Dog waste signs at Pillar Point Bluff

Pet waste sign at the trailhead to the Pillar Point Bluffs with information requiring that dogs be leashed on the trails in Half Moon Bay. Adam Pardee / Review

Most local dog owners are likely to tell you the Coastside is a great place to walk your dog. Now, after years of unofficial access, dogs may soon be free to roam in two of the area’s San Mateo County parks.

The San Mateo County Board of Supervisors voted 4-1 last week to allow limited off-leash dog access at specified trails in Quarry Park and the Pillar Point bluff. The year-long pilot is expected to be reviewed for a Coastal Development Permit by the San Mateo County Planning Department in January. Depending on the timeline, the pilot could launch in February 2022.

In Quarry Park, dogs wouldn’t be allowed in the playground or reservoir. On the Pillar Point bluff, dogs would be required to be leashed in two areas, the Pillar Point Bluff Trail and a section of Ross’ Cove Trail. Parks Department Director Nicholas Calderon said this is meant to protect wildlife in the area, as Pillar Point Bluff Trail is near wetlands and Ross’ Cove Trail has several informal beach access routes leading to Ross’ Cove, which is part of the Fitzgerald Marine Reserve. Dogs are not allowed in the reserve, and Calderon noted the pilot program makes no changes to that.

Calderon called off-leash dog recreation one of the most complex topics that park and open-space agencies face. The department recommended the program to the Board of Supervisors based on the work of the Dog Parks Pilot Project Work Group, which is composed of county commissioners, park rangers, Coastside residents and conservationists. The group formed in 2016 to study and recommend a county off-leash program.

During its public meetings, Calderon said supporters argued that off-leash dog recreation occurred at Pillar Point and Quarry Park before the county took ownership and there is limited legal county property on the coast to have an off-leash dog. Opponents cited issues between canines and wildlife.

Supervisor Don Horsley supported the program after citing that the parks had been used for years by the public for the very same activities now being sanctioned by the county. Supervisor Carole Groom said she did not support the program because it could threaten endangered species and sensitive habitats.

“I know dog owners are careful and they want to protect our environment, but I just can’t vote yet on this,” she said.

To address concerns about the potential impact on wildlife, the county and its environmental consultant WRA prepared a white paper that summarized data on the topic. It determined that while dog and human recreation like running, hiking and biking can affect environmentally sensitive areas, it was “inconclusive” whether the new program would cause more harm at Pillar Point bluff and Quarry Park.

Calderon said staff will monitor factors like wildlife harassment, leash compliance, fecal coliform levels and the amount of dog waste in county parks. Data will be uploaded onto the Parks Department website every two months. The department lists the standard for wildlife harassment as two instances per 60 days. Calderon said the standards are meant to be a baseline and the department won’t terminate the program for noncompliance. For example, if staff reports more dog waste than is standard, the department will consider more outreach or bag stations.

The county will need to change its ordinance on dog recreation in parks to launch the pilot. Calderon listed a few policy changes, noting off-leash dogs must be “under voice and sight control” at all times, stay on designated trails, be no more than 25 feet from the handler, and each handler must carry one leash per dog. The policy change defines dogs as not under control if they display threatening behavior, chase people, wildlife or other dogs. Handlers would also have to leash their dog when approaching an on-leash dog.

“If someone is afraid of dogs, they shouldn’t have to yell down-trail asking that someone leash their dog, so we feel this is an appropriate provision to include,” Calderon said.

Calderon noted that parks personnel would have discretion in issuing citations. For example, if a dog takes more than 10 seconds to return when called, it’s not necessarily grounds for a citation. The amendment to the county ordinance will also give park staff to remove people from the parks for acting dangerously toward themselves, others or the wildlife, which it currently can’t do, Calderon said. This policy would apply to any park user, not just dog walkers.

“While we see this as a last resort and hope to never have to use this, having this authority, should the situation arise, would be very helpful,” he said.

August Howell is a staff writer for the Review covering city government and public safety. Previously, he was the Review’s community, arts and sports reporter. He studied journalism at the University of Oregon.

(8) comments


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Why didn’t the author interview at least one of the five organizations (Sierra Club, Green Foothills, Surfrider etc.) who strongly oppose the off-leash program for Pillar Point Bluff and add their concerns to the article?

Why is a current minority of Pillar Point Bluff users (off leash dog owners) allowed to take over a pristine coastal area while many other recreational users (i.e., seniors, families, walkers, hikers, runners, cyclists and on leash dog owners) will be pushed out due to concerns over out of control off leash dogs. Just yesterday I saw a group of 20 elementary school children with two teachers on the PPB. Do you think schools will be able to continue with their PPB field trips?

I have been enjoying the Bluff for the last 20 years and estimate that 20 - 30% of the current users are off leash dog owners. Approx. 70-80% of current Bluff users fall under the “other recreational users”. Many neighbors (on leash dog owners) stopped walking their dogs on PPB due to off leash dogs and irresponsible owners. I have been chased and hurt by off leash dogs while running or biking on the PPB.

How long do you think it will take for PPB and the adjacent beach / wetland areas to become a second Fort Funston Doggie Beach (“An off leash doggie beach with a huge area of tons of trails. There are typically hundreds of well socialized and well-behaved dogs for your dog to play with”) after the program is approved?

Social media will promote PPB as an off-leash dog destination for the Bay Area. The Dog Group already broadcasted the plan for PPB and support letters came in from places like Berkley, Los Altos and the East Bay. Where will all the new out of town off leash dog owners park? The Mavericks parking lot is full on most days. On Ocean Blvd in Moss Beach?

The San Mateo Parks Department has been missing in action for many years. How many resources will be added to enforce the new regulations, protect sensitive habitat and the other recreational PPB users?

here ya' go

“It’s OK, he’s friendly!”


I love that there will be more off leash trails. I love walking my dog along the beach, trails, and parks. I do walk my dog off leash, however, I ALWAYS carry my leash with me and ask if I see another person coming towards me with a dog, if they would like me to put my dog on leash. This is proper etiquette as is picking up your dog poo and NOT leaving it in the bag on the side of the trail. FYI-The only times MY dog Sadie, a little border collie/McNabb mix, has been attacked by another dog is when she has been ON a leash.


It’s good to see off leash areas! I truly hope this encourages more people to try other areas besides the marine reserve area at Pillar Point, which has essentially become an off leash dog park in a highly environmentally sensitive area. Dogs need to run - mine sure does - but all the dog activity has been devastating to the shorebirds over the last several years. Owners don’t realize the impact - just the presence of a dog changes behavior.

John Charles Ullom

As horrible as the video is, the testimony at Luna's death sentence hearing is absolutely heart breaking. Warning, though the worst has been edited out, both the audio and video are very distressing: --

Luna was declared a vicious dog but she is not. All she did is what dogs do. My old Coonhound, may he rest in peace, treated gophers and chickens exactly the same as Luna treated the seal pup. I've seen the same behavior dozens of times in the 60 years I've been exposed to dogs. And none of those dogs, except maybe for Uncle Bob's dog Sheba, was a vicious dog. And I liked Sheba.

I love watching my dog run off leash. I get why people want a place to allow such. I get way more fun out of that my dogs does. But knowing what I know about what happened to Luna, it would dog abuse on my part to allow Floyd to run off leash near a Marine Sanctuary. Can you imagine your horror as you watched your dog being carted off by a Ranger. Imagine the fear of your dog locked in a cage for 80 days. Imagine living with the death of the seal pup and the near execution, and 80 day long torture of your dog.

Listen to the audio. Try to empathize with the owners, They took full responsibility. They ae good people. Listen to the pain in the voice of the witness. She would give a lot not to have seen what she witnessed. She is not a dog hater. Listen to the tone of the examiner. Listen as he explains how the dozens of letters attesting to Luna's sweetness and the thousands of dollars in training, had no impact, could not have any impact, on the inventible decision about to be made.

All that mattered is what one will see if one chooses to watch the video. Based on that and nothing else, Luna was sentenced to death. Attorneys were hired. Luna now has to wear a muzzle. Her people have to obtain an expensive dangerous animal permit each year. Luna is on a short leash for the rest of her life. Both figuratively and in actuality. The cost to Luna's people for boarding, fines, training, and attorney fees ran to the thousands.

Anyhow, now you know the risk you are taking if you allow your dog to run on the bluffs above the Reserve. If you have absolute certainty in your ability to control your dog by voice, you are overestimating yourself and your dog. Supposedly, a "wild life safe" barbed wire fence is going to be installed to prevent dogs and their people from using the informal trails that exist between the bluff and the beach. Kind of doubt that will happen.

Amy Tezza

Luna did not run down to the beach from the bluff top as has been claimed. There are eyewitness accounts AND a photograph which prove that her owners brought her down to the beach with them which is strictly forbidden and clearly posted as such.

Unfortunately, the myth of easy access to Ross Cove from Ross Cove trail persists. However I would invite anyone to walk the Ross Cove trail (where dogs will be leashed in any case) and try to find a place that is not a sheer (and very long) drop off making the beach inaccessible to all dogs unless they parachute in from above. Or are brought down the one accessible trail by their owners.

Other than this trail, there are no formal or informal trails allowing beach access to Ross Cove from the bluff above it.

A single incident precipitated by dog owners ignoring the trail signs should not derail this well thought out (representing over 4 years of work) and carefully designed pilot project.

I appreciate the hard work by the San Mateo County Park staff, particularly Nicholas Calderone, and the dog work group who were involved in developing this pilot. The Board of Supervisors listened carefully to both sides and were not swayed by members of the community who tried to misrepresent a tragic and preventable incident from years ago to derail this project.

John Charles Ullom

"Other than this trail, there are no formal or informal trails allowing beach access to Ross Cove from the bluff above it." -- Tezza

Not so. Per the staff report, the county intends to install wildlife friendly barbed wire on the stretch of trail next to the Reserve. As noted by county staff, there are many informal trails leading to the beach along that stretch. Besides, look at the video. Yu can see that this area is not bounded by some sort of insurmountable cliff. Certainly not a cliff that would inhibit a dog that was after something.

"A single incident precipitated by dog owners ignoring..." -- Tezza

Does anybody really think that the only horrible dog vs wildlife event at Ross Cove ever just happened to be captured live? Does that really make sense?

"Unfortunately, the myth of easy access to Ross Cove from Ross Cove trail persists." -- Tezza

Ms. Tezza fails to note that dogs are required tp stop at signpost five*, wait for their person to catch up and leash them, and then walk the stretch along Ross Cove on leash, then let back off at sign post fourteen*. If the beach was inaccessible, why? And why would there be a need for wildlife friendly barbed wire fencing along that stretch if the beach and reefs directly next to it is inaccessible

Now, I do get that there are dog owners, Ms. Tezza for example, who have absolute 100% voice control under all situations over dogs that are absolutely trained to be 100% predictable. I get it. Me? After being around dogs for over 50 years that I can recall, I have yet to meet a owner/dog combo who can justify the faith in themselves and their pooch the way Ms. Tezza and dog owners like her routinely do. There are not many like her. But there are one heck of a lot of people who think they are every bit as in control of their pooch as she knows she is.

If you are as certain of your abilities, and those of your dog, as are the off leash fundamentalist's who find it easy to accuse folks of misrepresentation, by all means take your dog down to the bluffs and let them run. But...before you a responsible dog and listen to the linked video.....and for a moment....just a moment.. try to empathize with Luna, then her people, then the seal, then the people who saw the tragedy.

Then picture your dog being taken away by a ranger, trying to sleep for eighty nights knowing your dog is locked in a cage, waiting to be put to death, while the lawyers fight it out in court. Assuming you can afford a lawyer. If you can live with the risk of all of that, or are as certain of yourself and dog as are folks such as Ms. Tezza, go for it.

Me? No freaking way. I love my dog. I would tear me up if what happened to Luna, happened to Floyd.

*Not sure of the actual signpost numbers where dogs are expected to stop and wait but you get the idea. The well thought out plan calls for such.

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