Op-ed: Berkeley’s democratic deficit and dog parks

Over the last week a small group of neighbors, some of whom have property directly abutting the Ohlone Dog Park, have been organizing to valiantly make a point about democratic process. They failed before the City Council, which, again, put its concerns for expediting (failed) process above righting a wrong.

The issue in this case is somewhat minor in the world scheme of things, but nonetheless it is indicative of inadequate communication and sharing of information that leads to poor (or none) participation and lose-lose results for the entire community.

The specifics are these: an expansion of the Ohlone Dog Park for small dogs got to the City Council Agenda Tuesday, Feb. 23 without the people who live around the park knowing anything about plans to expand the park. The concern for the neighbors is that already at peak hours of the park major parking and dog-barking creates a nuisance. And an expansion to include small dogs in their own area means, obviously, more attendance and further parking and barking problems.

One would think that those directly affected daily with this nuisance would be invited to attend meetings regarding the park expansion. Yet, though the meetings for designing a small dog park had been ongoing (we were told) since 2011, no neighbors were informed, except one who used the park.

This sad fact was uncovered by a survey of the neighbors bordering the park on the Saturday before theTuesday City Council meeting. All were astonished that they had not been informed. One fourplex sits twelve feet from the fence of the proposed small dog park and a large 20-unit apartment complex overlooks the current dog park. One imagines that those residents would like know if an increase in (high pitched) barking was imminent.

Two dozen petitions were gathered by members of the newly formed Friend of Ohlone Park calling for a delay of the vote on the park for a few weeks. The aim was a convivial discussion with Ohlone Dog Park representatives to arrive at a common understanding regarding some mitigating measures. There was never the intention of halting the construction.

City Council voted down that prospect en toto, but for one abstention.

So, what is the larger issue here? It seems to me, as a participant in this sorry spectacle of failed petitioning of grievances, that Berkeley lacks in its everyday governance a strand of democratic DNA that would assure that all “stakeholders” regarding an issue be informed of facts. This is not a matter of pointing fingers at one or more bad actors, but a matter of participation so ingrained in the dynamic of city politics that no one feels excluded. It is not farfetched to say Berkeley’s parks are a commons and all Berkeley citizens are its members. Maybe if we all think along those lines we could arrive at better governance than that which City Council sheepishly demonstrated on Tuesday.

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Bernard Marszalek is retired from Inkworks Press, an activist with worker-co-ops and has been a neighbor of Ohlone Park for 32 years. Although he is a member of Friends of Ohlone Park, this statement is personal and does not necessarily reflect the views of FOOP.