Opinion

Op-Ed: City seizing chairs in Ohlone Park is nanny state run amok

Ohlone Dog Park is the only fenced facility where dogs can run free in Berkeley. Park users spontaneously provided chairs at their own expense for years until the City got rid of them, allegedly for safety reasons. This is the nanny state run amok. We want out chairs back.

The Ohlone Dog Park sits atop the BART tracks along Hearst Street at Grant. It is about an acre of land fenced off to allow a free run for Berkeley’s canine community. Dog owners – sorry, guardians – get to sit in the park and chat while the pooches run and play and sniff and scratch. Some run and play; others sniff and scratch. This is a putative city-run facility but the users do most of the clean-up and maintenance.

Needless to say, the City has no money for proper seating at the Ohlone Dog Park. There are a couple aging picnic benches with attached seating. When one approached total disintegration due to age and exposure to the weather, one of the regular park users, not the City, provided a new one.

There was still too little seating, but occasionally someone would drop off an old patio chair and, after a while, some eight or ten chairs accumulated.  Seeking a more permanent solution, the Ohlone Dog Park Association, an organization of a couple dozen park regulars, recently bought ten sturdy metal chairs for the park. With little help, but no interference from the City, the seating problem at the park was addressed over time by the users themselves  — at least until recently.

A few weeks ago, Parks Superintendent Susan Ferrera informed the Association that loose chairs were not allowed and had to go. Under threat of forced confiscation of the chairs by the City, the Association removed the metal chairs. The City apparently confiscated the remaining plastic chairs as they too are now gone.

Sympathetic to the problem, Ms. Ferrera e-mailed that a design process to begin in the fall would address the seating issue. Now literally left standing, the park users will likely have to wait a year to sit down again. At that time, the City will provide some undetermined quantity of seating, firmly anchored to the ground because, supposedly, it is safer that way.

I have lived in Berkeley for almost 50 years and have frequented the Ohlone Dog Park regularly since getting a dog about four years ago. I have seen some pretty silly stuff in Berkeley over the years, but the removal of chairs from the dog park is way up there on the list. The park users are perfectly capable of individually making a decision, without the guidance of City bureaucrats, as to which outdoor furniture they feel provides a reasonable level of personal safety. They do not need or desire City guidance in this matter.

The only real issue is liability and it is at least debatable that heavy furniture firmly bolted to the ground is safer than lightweight, loose plastic chairs. I would rather the dogs run into and knock over the lightweight chairs than do real harm crashing into fixed benches. Likewise for tripping humans. The supposed greater liability is presumptive and the risk assumable at little or no cost.

This silliness is the nanny-state at its worst. The City cannot, or will not, provide chairs at a park where people routinely spend an hour or more and, when the park users dealt with this dearth of seating by buying  their own, the all-knowing, all wise bureaucrats literally confiscated the seating leaving park users, many old and some infirm, literally standing around.

The park without chairs is about half as useful as with them. The insufficient seating which remains cannot be oriented to gain or avoid direct sunlight; users cannot join a group discussion by pulling up a chair; nor can one isolate oneself away from others to read a book without distraction.

All the users of the park seemed quite happy with things as they were. I, for one, wish the City of Berkeley would expend their nanny-state energies somewhere else. We do not need their help and guidance in this situation.

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Albert Sukoff is a longtime Berkeley resident and a frequent user of Ohlone Dog Park with his trusty Springer Spaniel, Day-Z.