Image- Dog walkers
San Mateo County park rangers hope to educate those with off-leash dogs rather than issue tickets for disobeying county ordinances. Review file photo

As of July 1, park rangers reserve the right to issue citations for those walking their dog off-leash, but county officials said the San Mateo County Parks Department policy is to educate people on the rules first. 

Interim Parks Director Peggy Jensen outlined a three-step process rangers use: education, verbal warning and a “courtesy notice” to those flagrantly disregarding the rules. The courtesy warning is not a citation. 

“At this point, I don’t anticipate that we will be issuing any citations,” Jensen said in an interview. “In those most extreme cases it would be up to the ranger to decide.

“… We see this as a series of progressive steps that we would take,” she said. “Our hope is that people would follow the rules after that conversation.”

The county initiated a dog pilot program last winter after the Board of Supervisors approved a new ordinance allowing dogs on a leash in five coastal areas. But there are dog owners who think these ordinances are not expansive enough as they don’t provide anywhere dogs can be off- leash. 

“They should be continuing the education period until they get the off-leash issue sorted out,” said Christine Corwin, president Coastside Dog Owner’s Group of San Mateo County. “That’s the fairest thing to do. It’s confusing for the public when you read one thing on the website, and we just need some clarity for our community around this.”

“It’s weird we’re in this limbo,” she said later. “If people do get cited for throwing a ball for their dog in Quarry Park, that’s wrong.”

Now that the educational phase of the pilot program is technically completed, citations are still an option at park rangers’ disposal. 

“We are not an agency that relies on issuing citations first,” said Carla Schoof, communications specialist for the Parks Department. “That said, that’s always something that’s available for the rangers to use.”

On Aug. 5, a Dog Work Group will meet to begin discussing what park would be best suitable for an off-leash dog pilot program. Corwin said dog owners have walked their dogs off- leash for more than 40 years. One off-leash pilot doesn’t fit the community’s needs, she said. 

About a month before the educational period expired, 50 people attended a Midcoast Community Council meeting to protest. 

“We don’t get times. We don’t get hours. We’re going to get ticketed,” said Bob Schmidt at the meeting. He has a husky and lives in El Granada. “That’s what you do for us.” 

“I’ve seen no trouble, just the joy of people and animals alike enjoying the outdoors,” El Granada Resident Brigitta Bower said at the meeting. “Now you want to make this crime. You want to take it and punish.”

Although the Parks Department’s website states citations can now be issued, Jensen said the pilot program has been a positive experience and hopes people will comply with the rules.  “We’ve done our best to educate and now our rangers are really expecting compliance,” Jensen said. 

The next meeting regarding the off-leash policy is open to the public. It will take place at 2 p.m. Aug. 5 in Redwood City in the Hall of Justice. 

 “We want people to be out (to) enjoy the parks, walk their dogs where they can walk their dogs, and enjoy that,” Schoof said. 

“Our community really wants to work with county parks on this,” Corwin said. “That’s the best way to hammer out just a solid dog management program. 

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