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Santa Barbara Parks Commission Considering More Off-Leash Dog Areas

MacKenzie Park and Ortega Park are among four locations listed in a feasibility study presented to the public

MacKenzie Park on upper State Street is among several locations the City of Santa Barbara is considering for off-leash dog areas.
MacKenzie Park on upper State Street is among several locations the City of Santa Barbara is considering for off-leash dog areas. (Gina Potthoff / Noozhawk photo)

Santa Barbara could gain more off-leash dog park areas, and four possible locations were presented to the public Wednesday.

Dwight Murphy Field (near the Santa Barbara Zoo), Ortega Park (near Santa Barbara Junior High), MacKenzie Park on upper State Street and the Sheffield Reservoir Open Space near Mission Canyon have made the short list of contenders, according to a Draft Off-Leash Dog Areas Feasibility Study prepared by the Santa Barbara Parks & Recreation Department.

Locals got their first glimpse of the study Wednesday during a regular meeting of the city's Parks and Recreation Commission.

Commissioners unanimously voted to recommend further evaluating those four sites plus Plaza Veracruz Park, a small downtown park they agreed was underused.

The draft study was commissioned last fall to identify possible new locations within city parks and city-owned property after residents petitioned for more off-leash space, Assistant Parks & Recreation Director Jill E. Zachary said.

Since no funding exists for adding another off-leash area, Zachary said, the department would prepare reports for future budget cycles.

And since only one public speaker showed up to the meeting, commissioners didn’t think staff should be in any hurry.

The study targeted areas that could accommodate a fenced-in, off-leash dog park, especially in areas that didn’t already have one.

After evaluating and visiting 49 parks and open-space areas, as well as the Sheffield Reservoir Open Space, which is owned by the city Public Works Department, parks staff asked to focus on the remaining four, which would involve developing conceptual designs for improvements, meeting with neighborhood residents and proper permitting.

The areas met neighborhood-compatibility and size requirements — at least a third of an acre available, but ideally up to one acre.

Dogs are currently allowed on leash in all 350 acres of accessible city park land, minus Plaza de la Guerra and the beach from the Shoreline Park Steps to the easterly city limit.

Canines are permitted off-leash in about 305 acres of unfenced recreation areas within the Douglas Family Preserve, the beach between Arroyo Burro Estuary, and the Shoreline Park Steps, Hale Park and Elings Park.

Parks staff discussed management considerations, including loss of vegetation, parking, dog aggression and neighborhood opposition.

Any new off-leash area would also need amenities such as bathrooms, depending on location, and require turf and overall park management — costs staff hadn’t yet calculated.

“Fencing is key,” said City Animal Control Officer Jeff Deming, going so far as to suggest separate areas for large and small dogs.

Commissioners were least excited about the smaller Ortega Park, where traffic is high and parking is scarce.

The eastern corner of MacKenzie Park (away from the ball fields) and Sheffield Reservoir Open Space were lauded as ways to bring an off-leash park to the northern end of town, taking pressure off the crowded Douglas Family Preserve.

Local dog owner Bob Cunningham, who takes his pet to Elings Park, suggested the commission consider finding more off-leash beach areas, possibly at East Beach.

“I’m a little hesitant to take on the additional maintenance,” Commissioner Jim Heaton said. “But (the study) does give us something to point to. I think it’s a good thing to move forward with at this point.”

Noozhawk staff writer Gina Potthoff can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address). Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk, @NoozhawkNews and @NoozhawkBiz. Connect with Noozhawk on Facebook.

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