Opinion: Albany Beach should be dog-free two weekends a month

The rules state that dogs need to be on leashes the whole time, but the law is routinely ignored making the beach an unwelcoming place for many. There needs to be a compromise.

Albany Beach. Photo: Lance Knobel

On Dec. 29, Berkeleyside posted a photo to Instagram of Albany Beach. It showed the San Francisco skyline, the Golden Gate Bridge, and numerous dogs running around off leash.

What’s wrong with this picture? The dogs. Rules established by the East Bay Regional Park District clearly state that Albany Beach is a “developed area” in which dogs must be on-leash.

The East Bay Regional Park District and the city of Albany have turned a blind eye to the fact that Albany Beach is overrun with a huge number of off-leash dogs — many of which are brought by Berkeley residents. This situation denies public access to many members of the public such as the dog-phobic, disabled people with service animals and certain mobility disabilities, families with small children, and dog owners who want to avoid off-leash dogs.

Dog phobia is much more prevalent than most people would think. A 2001 Gallup Poll states that 21% of adults aged 65 or older — that’s more than one-fifth of seniors — as well as 14% of women, and 11% of people, in general, are scared of dogs.

Allowing off-leash dogs prevents disabled people with service dogs and with certain mobility disabilities from accessing Albany Beach. There is extensive documentation that off-leash dogs prevent service dogs from doing their job and that their very presence can traumatize service dogs and require them to be retrained or replaced, and attacks on service dogs by off-leash dogs are common. Here is some documentation:

Contributing to denying disable people free access to public places seems to be against California law. 

“(a) Individuals with disabilities or medical conditions have the same right as the general public to the full and free use of the streets, highways, sidewalks…and other public places.”

“(a) Any person or persons, firm or corporation who…interferes with the rights of an individual with a disability under Sections 54…is liable for each offense for the actual damages and any amount as may be determined…Interfere,” for purposes of this section, includes, but is not limited to, preventing or causing the prevention of a guide dog, signal dog, or service dog from carrying out its functions in assisting a disabled person.”

For those who think that off-leash dogs at Albany Beach don’t pose a threat to anyone, there is a well-documented history of dog attacks at Albany Beach:

Here is a flyer describing a vicious ppit bullattack on another dog, causing severe injuries at Albany Beach in 2018:

Families with small children and have found it impossible to enjoy a day at Albany Beach, for example, see the official comment submitted to the Albany Beach restoration plan:

“My own experience provides one example of how the culture of an off-leash dog park that EBRPD has allowed to develop at Albany Beach is incompatible with other activities that members of the general public ordinarily expect to enjoy at a beach”

As to equitable solutions, at a bare minimum, two weekends a month should be dog-prohibited at Albany Beach. Dog owners could still access the beach with their dogs the vast majority (87%) of days in the month.

And there are plenty of places to let dogs run. Dogs are allowed off-leash on the entirety of Albany Bulb except for the plateau area right next to Albany Beach, on all of Point Isabel two miles away, on the beach areas next to Frontage Road between Berkeley and Emeryville, on parts of the Berkeley Marina, etc.–while the closest decent-sized beach area just for humans  is at Crown Beach, all the way in Alameda.

For more supporting documentation, ideas and suggestions, including building separate official off-leash dog beaches on parts of Albany Beach and Point Isabelle, please read a vastly expanded version of this op-ed.

I hope that we can come up with solutions to let dog-lovers, the dog-phobic, disabled with service animals, families with small children, and everyone in our communities to be able to fully and freely enjoy our public spaces.

James B. Smith has lived in the Bay Area for 20 years — in Berkeley, Oakland, and now Albany — and is a horticulturalist.