Thursday, March 24, 2011

Dog Park Meeting Civil, But Consensus-Free

By Nate Seltenrich
Thu, Mar 24, 2011 at 7:00 AM

At least 200 people from the Lake Merritt community and a few from beyond gathered at the Lakeshore Avenue Baptist Church last night to air their opinions on the neighborhood's latest hot-button issue: a proposed new dog park at the intersection of Lakeshore Avenue and MacArthur Boulevard. Based on the vitriol still fomenting on neighborhood listservs — and on the East Bay Express' website, after we covered the issue last week — one might've expected a healthy dose of political theater at the neighborhood meeting. Instead, the crowd was on its best behavior, sharing views in as constructive a manner as could be asked. Of course, that doesn't change the fact that the two sides could scarcely agree on a thing.

The scene at last nights meeting.
To wit, multiple speakers on the yay side had this to say: "This is the best possible location for a dog park on Lake Merritt." And multiple speakers on the nay side countered with: "This is the worst possible location for a dog park on Lake Merritt." You get the idea. And that was only the beginning. Some contended that the park's small size (21,000 square feet) was perfect for the busy location. Others argued that this was one of the proposed park's greatest flaws, offering insufficient space for larger dogs and potentially leading to conflict among dogs and owners. And then there's the adjacent tot lot: Proponents said the kids would love to come by and meet the dogs; opponents feared the dogs would love to jump the fence and bite the kids.

A total of fifty people spoke during the ninety-minute comment period, each for a single minute (give or take). I was curious what side the consensus would fall on, so I counted. That didn't help much: 25 speakers more or less for, 21 more or less against, and a few undecided — a slight edge, but hardly conclusive. I tried to gauge by applause and the speakers' responses where the rest of the crowd fell, but that didn't help, either; both sides received smatterings of support, but the crowd was so subdued it was hard to tell. The only comments that elicited any sort of emotional response were those that called for Oakland to relax its "draconian" leash laws, as one speaker put it, and those that demanded more dog parks in Oakland. The two sides agreed on this much. They just couldn't agree on where to put them. (The leading alternative location expressed by critics was at the other end of the lake, near the Henry J. Kaiser Convention Center.)

The meeting ended on time, at 9 p.m. Councilwoman Pat Kernighan, who had both called the meeting and directed its proceedings, explained the next steps: a minor conditional use permit from Oakland's Planning Commission, approval from the Life Enrichment Committee, and approval from the full council. Councilwoman Nancy Nadel, who has publicly endorsed the proposed dog park but remained largely silent throughout the evening, thanked attendees for their civil discourse. The calm tenor was indeed refreshing, especially given the lengths some folks have gone to discredit one another in online forums since the issue broke in February. Now, if only a solution.

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