Jessie has taken her dog to Laurelhurst Park for years--but not anymore. Two weeks ago, she was walking her dog near the park's bathroom when, she claims, four women jumped out of the bushes. The women were park rangers and county animal control officers. Jessie had her dog off-leash and was immediately ticketed.
"It used to be a fun place to bring my dog and have him play with other dogs," Jessie wrote in an email to the Mercury. "But now that I have to keep an eye on him to make sure he doesn't get poisoned, or go out of bounds and have some cop ticket me, it's not worth it."
A month ago, new summertime hours went into effect at 27 parks around the city. As part of a new plan by the city's Parks & Rec Bureau, the new rules prohibit dogs from running off-leash except, at most parks, during the hours before 8 am and after 8 pm. Those new rules, say many dog-owners, have made the parks unusable. A violation clocks in at $200 plus.
Already, the new rules have dramatically changed the landscape at city parks. Before the new rules, Mt Tabor teemed with dozens of dogs on the weekends--but on a recent Saturday morning, the park was nearly empty. One neighbor was letting his dog run free across the crest of the hill. Besides an occasional squirrel, there wasn't another animal for 100 feet. But from the top of the hill, an animal control officer swooped down on his bike and fined the man with a $200-plus ticket.
The new rules, say dog owners, have chilled their enthusiasm for the city's esteemed collection of parks. It has also brought another concern to the surface: That local government is making rules to appease a few, vocal crybabies and is moving towards a Singapore-style, overly sanitized city.
Four months ago, for example, City Councilmember Randy Leonard pushed through a "time, place and manner" ordinance. Under the new rules, residents may file complaints against what they view as troublesome liquor stores, taverns or clubs. If a store or bar receives three such complaints within a month, that venue will be subject to curtailed operating hours or other restrictions. Bar owners worry the new rules put far too much power into the hands of a slim minority. A grouchy resident who abhors anything other than strict silence now can easily harass a nearby tavern or store with complaints. That law joins a cluster of like-minded rules designed to reduce urban clutter: the poster ban, the noise ordinance, sit-lie rules.
Likewise, say groups like C-SPOT, the new park rules favor a small group of vocal residents and fail to take into account the thousands of dog owners who simply, silently, and responsibly used the parks for years. For example, recognizing that the number one complaint about dogs in the parks is poop, for the past decade dog owners and citizen groups have asked that the city fund more trash cans and dog poop bag distribution kiosks. But the city has balked, saying they don't have the funding. (Oddly, the fines collected for off-leash violations do not help fund the city's parks. Instead, it's the county who is responsible for enforcement and those fines go into a general slush fund. The city does not receive a dime.)
A spokesperson for Parks & Rec admits there have been a "few scrapes and bruises" during the test period. In September, city council will consider whether to make the new rules permanent or whether to tweak them at all.
But the indication from the city so far is that they intend on going stubbornly forward with the new plans. In neighborhood meetings, the mood from city representatives has been defensive. A few weeks before the new summertime rules took hold, residents in the northwest met to hear more about new hours and enforcement plans for two popular dog parks in the area--Couch and Wallace Parks. When asked whether the premise for the rules was based on sound reasoning, the city's representative retorted: "We have plenty of anecdotal evidence to back up the rules." When pushed for specifics, she was unable to provide any details.
Likewise, in an interview with the Mercury, a spokesperson for Parks & Rec said she did not have any specific data about Wallace Park available. "I know one resident," she went on, "who felt like he couldn't bring his children to the park." The spokesperson also mentioned there "haven't been any serious incidents." She quickly added, "But when someone says they feel personally threatened, we need to listen to that."