Thursday, May 3, 2012

Oakland Planning Commission Rejects Lake Merritt Dog Park Proposal

By Nate Seltenrich
Thu, May 3, 2012 at 8:00 AM

After fourteen years of planning, the Lake Merritt Dog Park may be dead for good. Nearly 100 people attended last night’s Planning Commission meeting to weigh in on the proposal, and by 11:10 p.m. the four commissioners finally issued their pained decision: denial. Speakers, who each had a minute at the mic, were split nearly down the middle. For every pro there was a con, and for every argument a rebuttal. But in the end the commissioners decided by a vote of three nays and one abstention that the open lawn near the corner of MacArthur Boulevard and Lakeshore Avenue, at the northeastern corner of Lakeside Park, was wrong for a fenced-in dog run.

Speaking first, Commission Vice-Chair C. Blake Hunstman emphasized how hard it was for him to come to a decision. Then he rattled off a series of concerns. “I just truly don’t believe this is the best place for it,” he said. “Aesthetically, I have problems. I have problems with the safety. … I can’t in good conscience support this.”

Commissioner Madeleine Zayas-Mart also stressed the difficulty of her decision, saying, “I think both sides are right in a way.” Then she shared her own problem with the proposal: “This park is small already,” she said. “I think if you put some other use in it, you’re just going to kill that. I think this park is already programmed just the right amount.

“I don’t think we should do it and take away something that’s already working well for the community,” she concluded. “I encourage everyone involved to think outside of the box and look at other sites.” One such alternate location on city land near Children’s Fairyland has already been discarded because the organization’s board of directors came out against the idea.

Issuing the deciding vote, Commission Chair Vien Truong began by identifying herself as a dog lover and the owner of two dogs. Still, she said, she did not support the proposal, primarily on the basis of safety concerns. “In a place that is highly trafficked as Lake Merritt, I worry, and in a place that’s as highly trafficked as close to a tot lot, I worry a lot,” she said.

Commissioner Jonelyn Whales abstained, saying she wasn't sure which way to vote. The commission’s decision is appealable to City Council within ten days.

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