2015-11-12 / Community

Park board votes to make off-leash dog areas permanent

CRPD deems pilot program a success, plans to add more
By Andy Nguyen

DOGGONE GOOD TIMES— Jaeleen Sattler of Whittier performs Frisbee tricks with her dog Sprint during Bark in the Park earlier this year. 
JOAN PAHOYO/Acorn Newspapers DOGGONE GOOD TIMES— Jaeleen Sattler of Whittier performs Frisbee tricks with her dog Sprint during Bark in the Park earlier this year. JOAN PAHOYO/Acorn Newspapers Three off-leash dog areas added to the local park system in March will remain permanently, the Conejo Recreation and Park District board of directors decided last week.

The vote came Nov. 5, three weeks after a decision on the fate of the mini-dog parks at Kimber, Walnut Grove and Estella neighborhood parks was postponed due to a legal concern.

About 20 community members were present to cheer after the board’s 5-0 vote.

“I think it’s great; it shows that the park district cares about the community,” said Laura Beth Heisen, a member of Conejo Off-Leash Areas friends, a group formed in 2014 to promote and support the areas. “Everybody’s so happy that it’s happening; it’s not just a place for dogs to play but for people to come and enjoy them too.”

The board ran into an issue during its Oct. 15 meeting that prevented a vote on the parks’ fate. Director Joe Gibson, an environmental consultant by trade, brought up the fact that park staff hadn’t provided paperwork showing that a study was conducted to determine the categorical exemption status of the off-leash areas under the California Environmental Quality Act.

CEQA requires state and local agencies to identify any impact their actions would have on the environment and to take the necessary steps to mitigate them. A project that does not have a significant impact would be considered exempt from the provisions of CEQA.

The park district brought in Mark Sellers, a former Thousand Oaks city attorney, to determine if the areas are exempt.

Sellers concluded the dog parks fell under a “common sense” exemption because of their small size. He determined that they fell under six specific categorical exemptions as well.

“A lot of projects apply for what’s called the common sense exemption to CEQA; they can show with certainty that this won’t have any effect on the environment,” Sellers said. “CEQA wasn’t designed to create a lot of paper and generate (environmental impact reviews), so that’s why this applies.”

All five people who spoke during public comment Nov. 5 were in support of the off-leash areas, which were installed in portions of the three parks that traditionally did not receive a high volume of human traffic, according to a CRPD study. No one spoke against them.

Director George Lange called the mini dog parks, two in Newbury Park and one in Thousand Oaks, a great addition to the CRPD system.

“I think the fact that we as a park district, and working closely with the staff, provided these amenities and off-leash parks in closer proximity to where our residents live is the right thing to do,” he said.

Before the creation of the three mini dog parks, residents had only one place they could legally take their canines off-leash: the Conejo Creek Dog Park on Avenida de Las Flores.

Now that the temporary parks are permanent, COLA President Monica Nolan said, the next step is to replace the temporary chain-link fencing at the parks with newer, more aesthetically pleasing fences.

The group is also looking ahead as Del Prado Playfield, Conejo Community and North Ranch neighborhood parks are being considered for future off-leash areas.

“That’s really where the whole concept is going to work, to get more neighborhoods going,” Nolan said. “It’s another way to look at revitalizing neighborhood parks.”

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