In looking to move forward with a leash-free dog beach six-month trial period between Palm and Carnation Avenues, City Manager Gary Brown asked direction from council on seven recommendations made by his office.
Brown recommends the city and IB Yappy enter into a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) to have the group who intially proposed the idea to the city take on certain roles and responsibilities during the trial period.
He recommended policing the area, liability disclaimers, ensuring bags to dispose of waste are available and joint evaluation of the site with the city.
"As our attorney sees it, all liability falls with the pet's guardian," Brown said.
Mayor Jim Janney questioned placing responsibilities on IB Yappy with a MOU, noting that he thinks there is little the small organization can do.
Brown said IB Yappy will not be liable for anything, but it would be a simple agreement to police the area and educate dog owners on the rules. Brown said the MOU would have no more legal backing than a handshake.
Mayor Pro Temp Brian Bilbray reiterated his support to giving the trial a chance and agreed IB Yappy could play a role monitoring the trial period.
"It is just too easy for a city to say no," he said. "I think it is very reasonable to enter into a MOU with IB Yappy."
Gene Hillger, Ocean Blue Foundation president said the foundation supports a leash-free dog park and agreed to add additional plastic bag dispensers in the area should a dog park be approved.
"You are always going to have objections," Hillger said. "We all know that the dog owner is liable and there is no liability to the city."
Brown said the Coastal Permit process is for public information to residents and that the project would require an expensive environmental review. He recommends the option of Council requiring IB Yappy cover the cost of the Coastal Development Permit and environmental review.
"Let's use the Farmers Market as an example," said Brown. "We tried to keep the cost down, but the Farmers Market did have to pay a portion of that cost."
City estimates suggest it could cost $20,000 to get a leash-free dog beach approved.
Hillger said it's not right to expect the residents of the city come up with the money. He said Ocean Blue is dedicated to the project and will provide as much financial support as it can, but the large figures he has seen is money his organizations and residents cannot cover.
"I encourage you to make it as easy as possible on the people proposing this," he said. "I'm not going to come up with that amount of money and I doubt IB Yappy is either."
Tim O'Neal said he lives on the beach and his family supports a leash-free dog area. He said this is no different from Skate Park, which was built for the community, and that IB Yappy shouldn't have to be responsible for financing the project.
Councilwoman Lorie Bragg said it is a difficult decision boiled down to two things: location and money.
Bragg suggested looking toward other locations.
"Does it have to be at the beach?" she said. "If we look at the parks, we might not have to go through such an environmental review expense. That is the reality of it."
Dr. Mike McCoy, veterinarian and long-time local environmentalist said Dog Park in Balboa Park is a good example of how a good dog park works. He said all dogs act differently off-leash, and many can be aggressive and confrontational. Other concerns he has includes behavioral differences in non-spayed/neutered dogs and the spread of disease among non-vaccinated canines.
"The owner of the dog is going to have to take the responsibility in order to make this idea work," McCoy said. "There are those who do not take the responsibility. If you are going to make a public leash-free area with coastal access, you need to think about that."
Hillger said the majority of dog owners are responsible people that obey the rules, pick up after their pets and keep their animals under control. He said if it fails in the six-month trial then take the privilege away, but he thinks Imperial Beach dog owners are capable.
"To me, these are just the types of arguments that come up when someone just doesn't like the idea or don't want to try something new," Hillger said. "Let's give the city of Imperial Beach residents the benefit of the doubt."
O'Neal said either you are a responsible dog owner, or you are not. This is for the locals and the locals respect the beach.
"We see more dog owners on the beach with Ocean Blue's blue bags than not," he said.
McCoy said he has dealt with dog bites, attacks and dog beach leash-free areas for many years and in his experience, the majority of attacks are a small dog against a large dog, and costs of animal care from attack can be high.
"If you are going to mix public into an off-leash situation," McCoy said. "That is going to have to be thought through very carefully. You never know how these things are going to develop."
Bragg's main concern, opening innocent bystanders for attack with a public leash-free area on the beach.
"And that scares me," she said.
Brown said the Coastal Development Permit is more intended to raise public awareness of the proposal for area residents.
He said the city could forgo the permit and hold a public meeting for residents in the area. Then an ordinance can be brought to the City Council to suspend the city's current on-leash rules for the six-month period or go through the City Attorney.
Janney requested to move forward with the ordinance and schedule the public meeting at the same time as the first reading. He also requested notification of all residents in the immediate area of the public meeting. Janney said if anything comes up that involves litigation, the process needs to stop for reevaluation.
The mayor said he fully supports the trial period but wonders how the city can work around the costs.
"There has to be a way to do this in some way to give it a trial," he said. "Then prove it either will work, or won't."