After hours of public testimony from dozens of speakers before the Oakland City Council Tuesday night, the future of a proposed dog park at Lake Merritt remains in limbo.
The council could not muster enough votes to either approve or reject the plan for the Lakeview Dog Play Area at Astro Park, at the corner of Lakeshore Avenue and MacArthur Boulevard. That means the contentious issue will come before the council again at its Dec. 18 meeting, although no further public comments will be heard.
Council members were voting on whether to grant or deny an appeal of the Planning Commission's rejection of the dog park earlier this year. According to City Attorney Barbara Parker, that requires five council members — a majority of the full eight-member council, not just those in attendance at the meeting — to agree.
District 1 Councilmember Jane Brunner was absent from Tuesday's meeting, and remaining members split 4-3 in two votes (one to grant the appeal, one to deny it).
In favor of granting the appeal and allowing the dog park: Ignacio de la Fuente, Rebecca Kaplan, Nancy Nadel and Libby Schaaf.
In favor of denying the appeal and rejecting the dog park: Desley Brooks, Patricia Kernighan and Council President Larry Reid.
The votes came after a parade of speakers passionately argued for or against the dog park, with most speakers receiving a round of applause from audience members who agreed with their positions.
The dog park issue has divided the Lake Merritt community, and even a recent mediation session — led by a professional mediator who volunteered his services — didn't help the two sides reach any compromise, council members said.
The dog play area, if approved, would be a little under half an acre, with a four-foot-high fence screened by plantings. A concrete foundation would be covered by several inches of wood chips. The interior would be divided into sections for large and small dogs.
It would occupy part of an area that's now covered in turf and used mainly for children's play and pick-up soccer games and other sports, along with occasional youth group activities. The Grand Lake Farmers Market sets up shop nearby on weekends.
Plans for a dog park in the area have been in the works for nearly 15 years, and it's been part of the city's Master Plan for Lake Merritt. City staff recommended the exact site because — among other reasons — it's far enough from Lake Merritt itself to avoid contamination and as distant as possible from the core of the lake's bird sanctuary area.
Proponents of the dog park cite the need for a space where nearby residents — especially those in the densely populated Adams Point neighborhood, where many apartment dwellers don't have backyards — can exercise their pets. Several speakers in favor of the park were disabled or senior citizens who said it's difficult for them to drive to other off-leash dog parks.
"Ninety-five percent of people in Oakland have to drive to dog parks," noted one speaker.
Opponents cited aesthetics and a loss of open, unstructured play space.
"This is an oasis of green in a built-up area," said John Sutter, one of several speakers who praised the beauty of Astro Park as it is presently.
Others talked about playing in the park themselves as children or with their own children today
"It's about the kids," said Jerry Wolfe. "That palce is used by kids from every one of your [council] districts"
Councilmember Nadel, who's been involved with planning for the dog park for several years, said it would still leave "more than the equivalent of a soccer field" for children's and sports activities.
Under the proposal, volunteer groups — especially ODOG, the Oakland Dog Owners Group — would be heavily involved in maintaining the dog park.