Why We Need Dogs at the Albany Waterfront

For decades, the East Bay community has enjoyed the Albany waterfront for recreation of all kinds. ALDOG is committed to preserving a diverse, dynamic mix of user groups and activities, including the healthy, highly social activity of recreational dogwalking.

 

The Albany waterfront area, like much of McLaughlin Eastshore State Park, is landfill. The City of Albany created the areas known as the Bulb and the Plateau through years of dumping construction debris in San Francisco Bay. Tiny Albany Beach only began to form against the edge of the landfill in the lat 1950s and early 1960s.

The City of Albany has jurisdiction over the Albany Bulb (the westerly part of the landfill), the Neck (the high trail out to the Bulb), and the Albany portion of the Bay Trail. Albany does not have a leash law, so presumably dogs may be off-leash on city-owned property as long as they are under voice control.

Albany Beach and the Albany Plateau are both part of McLaughlin Eastshore State Park (MESSP) but are managed by the East Bay Regional Park District (EBRPD). State parks don’t allow off-leash dogs, while EBRPD’s more progressive policies allow them in undeveloped areas. Because MESSP was purchased in part with EBRPD funds (that is, East Bay taxpayer money) and is managed entirely by the EBRPD (again, at East Bay taxpayer expense), we believe our local, EBRPD dog policies should apply.

People with dogs have been one of the large users groups of the Albany Landfill area ever since the former construction-debris dump closed in 1987. When MESSP was being established in 2002, new state rules threatened to eliminate people with off-leash dogs. At public hearings, 3,000 signatures were submitted in support of grandfathering in the longtime user groups and retaining the Albany Landfill area’s unique, gritty character. (In 2011, ALDOG and other dog owner groups submitted 10,000 more signatures to the EBRPD Board of Directors in support of off-leash recreation at the Albany waterfront and throughout the EBRPD.)

The California State Recreation and Parks commissioners ultimately determined that the Albany waterfront area needed a comprehensive park planning process of its own. (In other words, the Albany waterfront did not and does not fit neatly into MESSP’s General Plan.) Commissioner Caryl Harte also said that, in view of the 3,000 signatures, she believed that if the new sports field were put in off Gilman Street then the Albany Plateau should remain off-leash.

Albany Plateau Halved

What actually happened is that a few years later roughly half of the Albany Plateau was fenced off as a burrowing owl winter habitat experiment. This was  done as mitigation for putting in sports fields half a mile away, off Gilman Street, where a burrowing owl had been observed. Artificial burrows were installed on the Plateau and signs went up about restoring the area within the enclosure. Burrowing owls never established, however, and no restoration efforts within the enclosure were ever conducted. The duration of the habitat experiment was to have been five years. After five years it was acknowledged to have failed but the enclosed area was  declared a permanent conservation area and remains behind chain-link fence and off-limits to the public.

Albany Bulb Handover

The MESSP General Plan calls for the Albany Bulb to eventually become part of the state park. However, the Bulb belongs to Albany and the EBRPD has not been willing to assume responsibility for it for several reasons:  concerns about safety (exposed rebar and other construction debris), sculptures and paintings created by visitors; homeless encampments (gone as of mid-2014), and possibly off-leash dog policies.

Albany issued a contract in the fourth quarter of 2014 to a firm that has begun a park planning process intended to make the Bulb attractive to the EBRPD. The plan will very likely include a public comment period early in 2015. Once the project is approved and carried out, the goal is to officially transfer title of the Bulb to the park district.

Albany Beach Hassle

East Bay people with dogs have been sharing the beach with other users since the early 1960s when Albany Beach began to form against the edge of the Albany Landfill.

Albany Beach is technically a state beach and most state beaches don’t allow dogs. However, MESSP is an anomaly amongst state parks:

  • It is largely landfill
  • It is in a highly urban area
  • The land for the park was purchased in part with EBRPD funds (that is, East Bay tax payer monies)
  • It is managed entirely by the EBRPD at East Bay taxpayer expense.

In addition, the beach has historically been enjoyed by many user groups.

In 2012, the EBRPD did a comprehensive Environmental Impact Report (EIR) for its upcoming Albany Beach Restoration and Public Access Project. It determined that the project is likely to draw additional park users to the beach (one of its goals) and that some of those might bring dogs. However, because the overall beach and park area would be expanded a bit, the impact of a few more dogs over a larger area would be a wash.

Sierra Club, Citizens for East Shore Parks, and SPRAWLDEF submitted comments regarding the EIR that focused almost entirely on dogs. Sierra Club cited 18 references to cynophobia (the abnormal fear of dogs) and suggested that because cynophobia is a disability the park district would be in violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act if it did not crack down on dogs.  SPRAWLDEF’s comments were identical (and by the same Sierra Club executive.) The park district did not agree. After it published its final EIR, SPRAWLDEF sued to keep the project from going forward.

Ultimately, the judge ruled that the EIR was inadequate solely because it didn’t distinguish between on-leash and off-leash dogs. (He did not rule that dogs can or can’t be on the beach.) Now the park district is obliged to create a Supplemental EIR that spells out how many of the dogs it observed during its survey were on-leash and how many off-leash. The Supplemental EIR will be issued in mid-December 2014 and public comment will be due around the end of January 2015.

ALDOG believes that Albany Beach is a vital recreational option for the roughly 800,000 East Bay residents crowded along the busy urban shoreline between Hayward and Richmond, an estimated 40 percent of whom have dogs.

Dog-walking has many health and community-building benefits and is arguably the most popular recreational activity in the EBRPD. Multi-use Point Isabel, which encourages off-leash dog-walking, is by far the most popular location in the EBRPD system according to the park district’s own count. However, with more than 1.3 million human visitors a year, Point Isabel is seriously oversubscribed. Also, Point Isabel has no easy water access. Dogs and people are injured every year on the boulders that line the shore and channel.

Albany Beach is not good habitat, not a designated swimming beach, has a long history of being shared by multiple user groups, and should continue to be a recreational option for people with dogs.

People walking dogs on Albany Beach take nothing away from other park users. The district has 11 freshwater swim areas. None of these allow dogs, nor does Crown Beach in Alameda (2.5 miles entirely off-limits to dogs). The EBRPD’s staggering array of attractions includes 1,200 miles of trails, two botanical gardens, two golf courses, an archery range, stables, 40 fishing docks, three bay fishing piers, 235 family campsites, 10 interpretive centers, 18 children’s play areas, and much more.

And we are glad that it is does! We believe it’s the best park district in the United States and it’s a big reason we live in the East Bay.

But those of us along the Hayward-to-Richmond shoreline can’t always travel long distances to Del Valle, the Hayward Shoreline, or even Lake Anza — nor should we. People who walk with their dogs in the parks tend to do so every day. The carbon footprint of urban-corridor park users having to go long distances for this simple, benign recreational option would be huge.

Also, ironically, the very populations the EBRPD is trying to reach out to — urban, inner-city, not necessarily traditional park users — already flock in great numbers to Albany Beach.

As a matter of social justice, we believe that tiny, urban Albany Beach should continue to be shared by many user groups — including people with dogs.

 

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great off-leash options in the East Bay!

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