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Best Case Scenario

The Children’s Fairyland Board of Directors voted unanimously last week to not support a dog park at the former police stables. They voiced several concerns, their overriding one being the well-being of children afraid of dogs. And really, who could blame them for being overly cautious when their raison d’être is to provide a safe place for all children, even those who might be afraid of dogs?

Beyond that, many of the arguments against supporting a dog park were ones we’ve heard over and over in trying to site the Lakeview Dog Play Area: there will be more noise, people won’t pick up after their dogs, it won’t be clean, it will smell, there’s no formal maintenance from the city, etc., etc., etc.

As I listened to the mostly negative comments and potential fears expressed by the Board, it got me wondering why we as a society so often react with negativity and fear to change? Instead of looking for opportunity and possibility, why do we tend to look for misfortune? I’m no psychologist or sociologist, so I don’t have an easy answer to the question.

Politically, however,  I can see clearly that fear can be a great galvanizing force in getting people to support your agenda. Our neighbors against the dog park at Lakeshore and MacArthur have done a pretty good job of stirring up a lot fear with worst case scenarios. I’m not going to enumerate them here. Poke around on their website if you’re up for a downer.

So… How about a best case scenario for a change when thinking about the Lakeview Dog Play Area? In a city where no dogs are allowed on leash in any city park, in a 155 acre area off-limits to an untold number of dog owners, what if we sacrificed half an acre sited away from the wildlife sanctuary for dogs and their owners to legally play off-leash?

The neighborhood gets a new gathering spot where people spend some time with other like-minded people. Over time friendships develop and people come out to catch up with their friends while the dogs play. Dog owners with kids bring the kids and get a two-for-one – kids and dogs tire themselves out in a single outing. Families thinking about getting a dog get to see a variety in action and get to ask questions. Kids afraid of dogs get to watch safely from behind the fence and over time get more comfortable with dogs. Those who love dogs are frequently distracted from the goings on in the tot lot by the goings on in the dog play area. A few get dragged away in tears, not ready to leave their furry friends.

The community embraces the park. It’s so easy to walk to—no more driving to Alameda(!) and it’s situated in a spot that’s clean and attractive. It’s not stuck under a freeway or in a blighted area that feels unsafe if there’s no one around. Most people pick up after their dogs. They don’t want to get a bad reputation with the other users. Volunteers routinely clean up after the few neglectful owners and perform other routine maintenance. Why? Because it’s their park and they take pride in it.

A little café on the other side of the dog park sees an upturn in business from the increased foot traffic in the area. A business developer thinks that empty lot where the gas station used to be might be a great place for a café or restaurant with outdoor seating. There are passersby every day of the week, not just Saturdays during the Farmer’s Market.

Lakeview Dog Park becomes a model for future Oakland dog parks, attractive, easy to walk to, in locations people want to visit. The days of dog parks as an afterthought, tucked out of sight and out of mind are over. Public perception of Oakland as the unfriendliest city in the Bay Area for dogs starts to change. Property values nudge upwards because amenities like dog parks are a drawing point for new buyers. Oakland’s walkability score increases.

All this from a dog park? Who knows? It’s not impossible. But, we’ll never get a chance to find out if their campaign of fear succeeds.

Thanks for Stopping By!

If you’ve stopped by our website because you’ve picked up a card at ODOG’s Pet Food Express fundraiser this weekend: Welcome! We’re an all volunteer group dedicated to finally getting the Lakeview Dog Play Area built. It’s been in the works for over a decade now and it’s been through dozens of public hearings. It has been approved twice now (in 2006 and again in 2010) by the Parks and Recreation Advisory Committee.

It was included in the Lake Merritt Master Plan, and has been featured on television and radio news, and covered in every major local newspaper. Chip Johnson of the San Francisco Chronicle wrote an editorial in favor of this park. ODOG (the Oakland Dog Owners Group, who started this process in 1998) has talked about the dog park in its newsletters, sent emails and given presentations to local neighborhood groups. We even went door-to-door delivering flyers.

Why hasn’t it been built yet? Good question. After all these years of publicity, a small but vocal group led by an uptown bar owner stepped up just this year to oppose the project. First they said it was too small and too close to the childrens’ play area. Then, they proposed a different location that was smaller and adjacent to a landmark children’s amusement park and the lake’s wildlife sanctuary. They claim that dogs will scale the fence and attack children. They claim businesses will go bankrupt.  They claim property values will decrease. As the executive director of Children’s Fairyland recently wrote on the topic, “can we not just tone all this down a little?”

Oakland’s Hardy Dog Park (scroll down in that link for the image) is even closer to the kids’ play area and hasn’t had any incidents in 20 years. We propose (and there’s plenty of evidence to support it) that amenities like dog parks are good for the community, good for business, and increase property values.

There’s 155 acres of parkland surrounding the lake – and none of it is available for walking your dog – even on leash. You can be ticketed if one paw steps on a blade of grass. If you live by the lake and want to socialize with your dog, you’ve got to drive somewhere else like Alameda. Almost every Oaklander we interviewed that drove out to Alameda’s Lower Washington dog park, also stopped and spent money there. Money they would otherwise have been spent closer to home. Trader Joe’s was the most oft-cited example. Local business supports us.

Today, this lawn at Macarthur and Lakeshore next to the roaring 580 freeway sits empty more often than not. We want to see this diamond in the rough really become the gem that the opposition claims it is. We want a gathering place for people and their dogs. We want people out of their cars and into their neighborhood parks. We want to build community.

A dog park here would be used daily by residents in the Cleveland Heights and Grand Lake neighborhoods. Apartment dwellers would have a place to exercise their dogs. Those without transportation could walk to their neighborhood dog park. This location provides easy access for those with mobility issues and the elderly. Baby boomers are aging, and people over 50 make up over a third of residents by the lake. A dog park in this area would be a vital resource for older people to get out and socialize with their dogs.

Again, thank you for stopping by. We’re glad you did. There’s a lot more information available here, so poke around. If you want to join our cause: Like us on Facebook and consider writing a letter to Oakland officials about your support for this park; or subscribe to this blog with the “Sign Me Up” button up top. If you have any questions, feel free to comment here, or send us an email.