Dog walkers clash with park district over ‘newt road’

New signs (right) instructing walkers to keep dogs on leash on South Park Drive in Tilden Park have prompted an outcry by many locals. Photo: Tracey Taylor

Dog walkers who use South Park Drive in Tilden Park for the five months a year when it is closed to cars say recently erected signs that instruct them to keep their dogs on leash contradict a law drafted by the park district 13 years ago. They want the signs taken down and argue that the cyclists who use the stretch of road when it is free of cars constitute a bigger threat to the newts the road’s closure is intended to protect than dogs, whether on- or off-leash.

“There is no legal support for their action. They have acted in excess of their jurisdiction,” said attorney Rena Rickles speaking about the East Bay Regional Park District’s decision to put up the signs in November. Rickles is working pro bono for a group of disgruntled dog walkers more than 50 of whom took their concerns to an EBRPD board meeting on Thursday Dec. 19.

Newt sign

A hand-posted sign on a gate on South Park Drive explains why the road is closed every year for five months. Photo: Tracey Taylor

The district said it had put up the signs to remind walkers of a law (Ordinance 38) which has been in place but not enforced historically. “We were concerned we had a law that we didn’t enforce for many years,” said board member Ayn Wieskamp.

The road is used by many dog walkers when it is closed to cars every year (between Nov. 1 and March 31) in order to protect the area’s newt population during the mating season, which usually coincides with the rainy season. (Passions run high locally about the newts. Last year local residents lobbied for the district to close the road early due to early rains. With the lack of rain this year, this has not been an issue.)

Many dog walkers prefer to let their pets walk off leash so the dogs can get good exercise. Seniors in particular favor South Park Drive for dog walking as it is paved, wide and largely free of nuisances such as ticks, burrs and poison oak, said Randi Plotner, one of about 20 people who spoke publicly at the EBRPD meeting.

Gene Poschman prepared supporting evidence and materials for the board concerning the issue on behalf of the South Park Drive Users Group. He submitted to the board an e-petition with more than 600 signatures and another petition signed by many dozens of walkers while on South Park Drive. Poschman argued enforcing the ruling was a women’s issue as well as a senior issue. He said he estimated 70% of the people who walk their dogs on the stretch of road are female.

Liz Horowitz echoed Poschman’s statement. “I used to be afraid of hiking alone and now I hike every day,” she told the board.

Nancy Powell, another dog walker giving public testimony, urged the board not to fix something that wasn’t broken. “In our family we wait for November 1st because it opens a great resource for us. When it’s raining the trails off South Park Drive are impassible. It’s not possible for seniors to use them.”

Like others, Powell said the cyclists who fail to observe the 15 mph limit on the road should be under closer scrutiny by the district. “Ban the bikes…,” she said. “No-one goes under 25 mph down that road. Look at the dead newts and see how many have paw prints on them and how many have bicycle tracks.”

It was also pointed out that dogs are not attracted to newts — they shy away from their smell and their sliminess.

Signs or no signs, it does not appear that either the leash ruling or the speed limit for cyclists are often enforced by authorities. Lt. Rose Gretchen of the East Bay Regional Park District Police Department said there had been only ten calls over the past 13 years for incidents on South Park Drive. She added that there were more calls that were not documented, and that she believed there were more dog incidents than bike incidents. She said enforcement was a challenge as vehicles are not allowed on South Park Drive so the police do not patrol by car.


A newt and a salamander on South Park Drive. Photo: Alan Shabel

There was a sense of déjà vu for many of the protesters who showed up at Oakland’s EBRPD headquarters last week. A good number of them had come out to address the board on exactly the same points in 2000 and were disappointed to have to argue their case again.

Rickles, who was involved 13 years ago, said the relevant law (Ordinance 38 subsection 801.2.a, 2.b. and 2.c.) was reviewed and new language was added in 2000 to ensure that when the stretch of road was closed, people could walk their dogs off leash.

“It was amended to cover this exact situation,” she said on Friday. She added that it was  “pretty audacious” for the district to go back on its own ruling.

The board conceded it had not consulted its legal department before reviewing the issue this year and putting up the signs, and pledged to do so now.

“We shouldn’t lose the memory of Ordinance 38,” said board member Beverly Lane who pointed out there had been a big staff turnover at EBRPD with many employees retiring. “Maybe that discussion did not get conveyed beyond the scope of the ordinance.”

Meanwhile the signs are still there and, according to the protesters, there has been a decrease in the number of people walking their dogs on South Park Drive.

Diana Jacobs said she had noticed recently that the stretch of road was sometimes almost empty. “For park managers this isn’t a good result,” she told the board. Eyes and ears on the ground has got to be good for safety, she said.

The board promised to review the situation and report back. Rickles said the only mistake she and the dog-walking lobbyists made was not insisting that the board put the issue on its January 7 agenda. “By the time we get round to February the season will be almost over,” she said.

Read more about wildlife in Berkeley on Berkeleyside.

Locals call for road closure to prevent slaughter of newts (10.26.12)

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  • Full Disclosure

    The comparison is completely apt. This person gains financially from allowing the packs of off-leash dogs she walks to run around this protected area, just as oil companies gain financially from making statements that fracking and offshore drilling are “safe” and don’t harm the environment.

  • guest

    I agree. It’s also a cheap shot for an anonymous poster calling themselves “Full Disclosure” to be insinuating motives to someone brave enough to actually use her real name.

    Full Disclosure, if you want to get into personal attacks — please use your real name, too, so everyone can google you and ascribe motives to you. That only seems fair.

    Otherwise, let’s all stick to the issues and the facts at hand.

  • anotherguest

    Regardless of motives, the fact is that people tend to justify what they habitually do, and that people tend to want to keep doing what they habitually do.

    Someone who walks dogs regularly on this path is biased.

  • Judith Maguire

    Professional Dog Walkers have not been allowed on South Park Road since late November 2011. We have three loops that we can use in Tilden Park and are limited to 6 dogs. I pay permit fees and carry very high insurance listing EBRPD for this privilege. Who else pays extra fees to use the park might I ask? There are other areas (non EBRPD land) where one can bring more dogs but often there will be two handlers for a larger group. This is a personal matter to me as I very much enjoyed walking my OWN THREE dogs there when it is wet and muddy. SPD is a wonderful resource to many people, especially older folks. I have many retired clients that board with us when they go away but they walk their dogs daily normally. They are heartbroken and outraged that after 20 YEARS of walking there (with the exception of a few months in 1999 when this VERY SAME fight happened) with off-leash dogs that the road has been bared to them with no warning or explanations. Many have breeds of dogs that simply can not get enough exercise on-leash like Aussie Shepherds. There really aren’t that many other places to go in wet weather contrary to what several posters have stated. It is slippery and dangerous on the trails in the rain. I know, I’ve fallen many times but I have no other option when I am working and the heavens have opened up.

    And I would like to add that the people who hire me to walk their dogs are LOCAL TAXPAYERS who can work 9-10 hour days because they know that their dog is getting a good romp. I am a homeowner in the 94708 area code and pay my property tax and mortgage by providing very professional service. You act like my being a “dog walker” is comparable to my being a drug dealer or engaging in some other illicit activity. I support the park with my taxes and my permit fees and my opinion is no less valid because it comes as as a ‘civilian’ dog owner and walker.

  • Judith Maguire

    Dear Guest,
    Were you at the meeting? Were newts even mentioned as a concern in regards to the dogs? The road is closed to cars for the newts, that is where newts ended being part of the conversation. This is about EBRPD following the ruling put out by their own lawyers in 2000. Obviously, the park can change the rules as they want but this is a BIG change that effects many people who have come to use this road daily in wet weather for over 20 years. Do you think this change made without feedback from their constituents (we pay their salaries and elect the board do we not) should go without any public outcry from parties that are actually effected?And I state, once again, that professional dog walkers with more than three dogs cannot use South Park Road as it is not one our approved trails.
    This info below is taken from EBRPD website. Nowhere in Ordinance 38 Att C does it state that South Park Road is a paved multi-use trail such as Inspiration Point. It is a ROAD that is NOT open to vehicle traffic. Do the research before you interpret laws. For the past 20 years there were signs stating “Bikes slow down. Hikers and off leash dog on road”. I AM biased toward balanced dog policy because so many households, including my own, in Berkeley (over 54% in Alameda County according to East Bay Humane Society) own dogs and there isn’t going to be enough room for them to get proper exercise if there continue to be limitations. So yes, I am biased for dogs. What exactly are you biased by Guest? And who are you exactly?

    “Where must my dog be on-leash?”

    Dogs must be leashed (six-foot maximum) and under control at:

    all parking lots and staging areas

    all public roads open to vehicular traffic

    all picnic areas and picnic sites

    all lawns, turf areas or play fields

    all developed areas

    all decks and patios

    all concession areas and facilities (snack stands, equipment rental areas, etc.)

    all equestrian centers unless posted “No Dogs”

    all archery ranges

    all gun and marksmanship ranges

    all campgrounds

    any area posted “Dog on Leash”

    all (Board designated) paved multi-use regional trails (Attachment C, Ordinance 38)

  • Judith Maguire

    Dear Full Disclosure,

    How can you assess that my dogs are out of control and a menace to pedestrians? How are the dogs a danger to themselves? There are never more than 6 dogs in my groups when on EBRPD land. We pay fees and carry insurance for this right. When I have more dogs in a photo, there is always another handler or owner (often it is a trail walk) with me and we are not in Tilden. I find your statements to be quite slanderous and would very much like to have your full name to pursue this matter further. It is clear you do not like dogs. That is your prerogative but you have no right to defame either myself or my business. And I remind you that I cannot take dogs other than my own personal ones on South Park Road, even when it was allowed off-leash since Nov 2011. This issue does not effect my business in any way.

    I really feel you should get a better understanding of the entire situation before you start throwing out accusations and slanderous remarks.
    With kind regards~Judith Maguire

  • Mary B.

    There are actually NOT a lot of places in the parks where seniors, people with strollers, and people with mobility issues can easily walk their dogs off-leash. There are many people who can’t just head out onto the trails, for one reason or another. You may be thinking that all dog walkers are young, fit people, but the range is a lot broader than that. The average age of the people who spoke at the meeting was probably 65 or over.

  • anotherguest

    I am glad you admit that you are biased and are speaking ONLY for the 54% who own dogs.

    More accurately, you are speaking for the fraction of that 54% that cares about this issue. I have two dogs, but we walk them in our neighborhood and let them run in the local dog park, so you certainly don’t speak for us or for many other dog owners.

    Of course, the park district has to consider 100% of the residents – not just the fraction of the 54% that you speak for – and also has to consider protecting the land and wildlife.

  • guest

    Bicycles are not vehicles, but are subject to all applicable sections of the Vehicle Code.
    VC 670.
    “A vehicle” is a device by which any person or property may be propelled,
    moved, or drawn upon a highway, excepting a device moved exclusively by
    human power or used exclusively upon stationary rails or tracks.”

  • anotherguest

    Full Disclosure said:
    “up to 8 dogs at a time off-leash and out of control in Berkeley parks.”

    Judith Maguire replied:

    “There are never more than 6 dogs in my groups when on EBRPD land.”

    But Full Disclosure said you take up to 8 dogs off-leash in Berkeley parks – not on EBRPD land. Is that true?

  • Better Better Fact Checker

    >One of the park people also mentioned that newts emit such powerful
    neurotoxins that if a dog were to mess with one, it would be one of the
    last things that dog ever did.

    No, not really. Only if a dog tried to eat a newt would it be fatal. Stomping one to death wouldn’t harm a dog at all.

  • guest

    There are plenty of places around here that fit that bill. Far more than most other communities.

    The people who are fighting this are not “seniors and people with mobility issues” they are professional, for-profit dog walkers who want to bring large groups of other peoples’ dogs there to let them roam off-leash so they don’t get dirty.

  • Fact Checker

    >There are never more than 6 dogs in my groups when on EBRPD land.

    The photos on your Yelp page show groups of 8.

  • guest

    Dear Sir or Madam:

    First, I repeat that your insistence on attacking a poster in this way will not influence the opinion of reasonable men and women. It would be wonderful if you were to stand down on doing this.

    Secondly, your argument is ineffective. Every time I drive my car on any road (I do not take ‘Sunday drives’) there is a financial component. I am going to work to make money. By your ‘logic’ my opinion should be discounted because this is the case. Likewise, a professional driver such as a taxi driver, bus driver, UPS driver, over the road trucker, postal carrier, meter minder, or limousine driver will have no say on how roads are regulated because they earn money by driving and thus their input is like EXXON’s on natural resource management – false, self-serving, and to be rejected out of hand.

    Thus, by your ‘reasoning’ only people who drive just to be driving (who does that beside those guys who ride their loud fancy motorcycles up to that wall on GPB?) should be in charge of how the roads and highways are managed.

    I will post no more on this subject since we never will agree. But I also refuse to stand by and see somebody who posts valid and interesting information rudely dismissed by someone who seems to have a questionable command of the facts.

  • guest

    Dear Judith:

    Although I do not know you, it has been my pleasure to try to get this poster to stand down from these gratuitous attacks on your profession. I find your posts interesting and informative. Thanks for them and for conducting your chosen profession in a responsible manner.

    And never mind that poster. S/he has some different and unworthy motive.

  • Mbfarrel

    My god, this is a cranky, petty town.

  • guest

    Bicycles are not vehicles,

    You are citing the California Vehicle Code but Ordinance 38 has its own language. Look at subsections 409.8 and 902.2 which make a clear distinction between “vehicle” and “motor vehicle”. While the scope of 409.8 is most immediately section 409 it is nevertheless necessary to harmonize the reading of the full ordinance which appears to preserve this distinction throughout.

    So there are two ways to “get there” to the EBRPD’s current position: Either the off-season road functions as a developed area with mandatory dogs on leash or it functions as a road still open to (some forms of) vehicles with mandatory dogs on leash.

    Either way the intent of the ordinance is also clear: that where dogs and bikes (or other vehicles) share a paved trail or road the dogs must be on-leash for safety reasons.

    The claim has been repeated a few times that the ordinance was altered to not require dogs on leash on South Park Drive but as of yet nobody has pointed to any language that supposedly does this.

    Then there is something about a letter from EBRPD in 1999 but for some reason the public doesn’t get to see that, so far, either.

    Here is my cynical suspicion: The EBRPD board is an elected body. The off-leash advocates come from a generally affluent and politically powerful part of town. I suspect we have a law-shouldn’t-apply-to-us crowd putting political pressure on the board to find some flimsy excuse to back off from implementing what Ordinance 38 plainly requires.

  • guest

    Please name even one resource that is used by 100% of the population.

  • That’s Easy

    In Berkeley? Sewage. Water. Trash collection.

  • anotherguest

    Imagine that, without saying what they did for a living, truck drivers posted comments on an article giving miscellaneous reasons that a road in Tilden Park should be open to their heavy trucks.

    Imagine that someone posted a comment mentioning that these other commenters were truck drivers.

    Would you be so outraged? Would you say:
    your insistence on attacking a poster in this way will not influence the opinion of reasonable men and women.

    I think the vast majority of readers would be interested in learning that these commenters were truck drivers and would consider it relevant.

  • Guest

    Something something Walnut Creek something something.

  • anotherguest

    Regardless of how many people use the resource, the park district should consider what everyone wants to do with the land – not just what some fraction 54% wants to do.

    I think there are many people who dislike having off-leash dogs in parks, even if they never use those parks, because of the damage they do to wildlife.

    Incidentally, environmentalists recognize that there are resources that are used by 100% of the population – such as air and water. Asking that question reveals that you are not an environmentalist.

  • sue tomasello

    Not really. There are a FEW folks who just like to stir things up. Ignore them and learn the facts if you are really interested. Otherwise move on. It does amaze me the people that like to spout off just to annoy.

  • withak30

    This isn’t a freeway. Factors other than what is comfortable for the driver (i.e. pedestrian safety, wildlife concerns, etc.) can be taken into account in setting the speed limit.

  • guest

    Well, you clearly know best. Even though you weren’t at the meeting, didn’t hear what the park district’s concerns were, and aren’t absorbing much from this discussion.

    It must be really satisfying.

  • Mbfarrel

    mumble, mumble, mumble; mutiny, mutiny, MUTINY!

  • Better Better Fact Checker

    Indeed it is.

    Try picking up a book and doing some research rather than just limiting your knowledge base to whatever someone happens to tell you.

  • Evelyn Karnate

    Just to clarify… the current ordinance specifically allows bicyclists on South Park, so the cyclists are not in violation of the closure ordinance. The speed limits are a separate issue and one that affects all users of South Park Drive, not just the newts.

    As a cyclist, I’m in favor of re-examining the speed limits (15mph sounds about right for the turns; other stretches of the road could safely be at 25mph) and then enforcing them. Bombing down that hill is dangerous for newts, dogs, hikers AND cyclists.

  • Evelyn Karnate

    All of this concern about dogs and bikes on South Park Drive misses a larger point: cars are the real threat — not dogs or bikes — and that has already been addressed by the seasonal closure of South Park.
    As someone who has been riding a bike in this area for 20 years, I can assure you that most of the roads in Tilden (and other parts of the East Bay) also have lots of newts in the spring. South Park gets closed partly because it’s prime newt territory, and partly because it CAN be closed. Whether or not you have a dog, and whether or not it’s on a leash: if you drove to South Park via Wildcat Canyon, CHECK YOUR TIRES when you get to the parking lot. Even if you’re careful about newts after you get out of your car, you probably pancaked a few on your drive over.

  • Mbfarrel

    What would Karel Čapek do?

  • S. Biasi

    To Full Disclosure
    Ms Maguire is a PROFESSIONAL dog walker and it is because she IS a highly skilled and informed professional that I seek her services. I fail to see how she could “benefit more” from performing her professional services in one place rather than another. I do not pay her a different fee according to where she walks my dog. She has an informed opinion, she expresses it articulately, and she is not hiding in anonymity, as you do.

    to the general audience:
    I also I walk, or, I should say. i did walk my dog/s off-leash on South Park during closure for several years, especially because it is an easy (i.e dry clean safe) walk in winter time.
    I have seen overall peaceful coexistence of bikes-dogs-walkers-newts and i do not see the reason to change what has overall been WORKING for the past years. Nothing is ever perfect, there will always be a barking dog, a squished newt, unruly children, too fast bikers and old folks. it is called LIFE. Get some perspective.

  • guest

    You fail to see how she would benefit more from providing her professional services in one place rather than another.

    I find it obvious that she is biased, because people tend to defend their existing habits.

    It is a good thing that Full Disclosure told us all about her, so we can decide for ourselves whether she is biased.

    You don’t do a very good job of promoting the interests of dog walkers when you say: ” i did walk my dog/s off-leash on South Park during closure for several years…. there will always be a barking dog, a squished newt….” It sounds to me like you do not have enough control over your dogs, a good reason to ban dogs here.

  • S.Biasi

    it sounds to me you are not seeing the bigger picture…i am obviously referring to ALL barking dogs, not mine, ALL fast bikers, ALL newts .. perhaps we should forbid all beings from walking/riding/being on South Park Drive, just in case they do not have control over themselves. Sound like a good reason to ban everyone from existing.

  • Ok, sounds good.

    Banning all vehicle and pedestrian traffic sounds just fine to me. The whole reason to close the road is to protect threatened species, and banning all traffic would be the best way to do that to the fullest possible extent.

  • sue tomasello

    You can’t reason with some people. I agree with your assessment of the park thing, but “guest” sounds like they are just causing an argument for the sake of arguing. I recommend not driving your self crazy. Your dogwalker deserves your support but I think she can handle herself fine. I would hire her if I needed a dogwalker.

  • guest

    “Guest” is arguing because he has been attacked and bothered several times by dogs in Berkeley, while their negligent owners did nothing to control them.

    There was one dog owner whose dog was bothering everyone sitting in the park and even went right up to some people who were picnicking and stole their food – while the picnickers yelled and the owner walked along and said nothing to stop the dog. When I told the owner that he should control the dog, he said to me, “You’re annoying.”

    I am sure that owner also thought that, if his dog bothered anyone, that is LIFE.