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Atherton committee members resign over City Council's dog park decision

John Davey and Christine David say council not considering what residents want

When John Davey and Christine David attended a Nov. 20 Atherton City Council meeting they expected council members to simply weigh the pros and cons of their proposed off-leash dog area in the town's only park, but say they were shocked by the council's split vote to remove the option from the town's master plan.

Davey and David felt so strongly about what they say was the council's disregard for what they assert is a priority for Atherton residents that they submitted letters of resignation from their posts on the town's Park & Recreation Committee late last month. The committee had recommended that the council consider a proposal to build an off-leash dog park — funded by donations — southeast of Holbrook-Palmer Park's North Lawn. The concept to create an off-leash area was part of the town's 2015 master plan for the future development of the park.

"Why even have a Park & Recreation Committee if the town council is not going to take seriously our recommendations?" asked Davey, who has served on the committee on and off for three decades, including a stint as chair, before resigning on Nov. 26. His term was set to end in June 2022. "Our (the committee's) objective is to represent the needs of Atherton residents as it relates to the park, and that's what we thought we were doing in good faith."

The two said they were particularly surprised that the council declined not only to consider the proposal, but also to remove it from the park's master plan, a move they say was "unnecessary." David said the master plan was based on decades of experience in the park, plus resident feedback, gathered at taxpayer expense, and that the town should honor it.

Mayor Bill Widmer said at the meeting that the town has "more important fish to fry." He and other council members cited the need to focus on the town's $31.6 million civic center construction project, which is scheduled for completion in 2021.

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Council member Elizabeth Lewis noted that the town would need to survey residents to determine whether a dog park is a priority for residents. A 2015 survey for the master plan determined that residents didn't particularly want to add amenities to the park, but an off-leash dog area was the only major request, with 24% supporting off-leash dog use anywhere in the park and another 44% supporting it in a designated area, for a total of 68% of respondents.

"I'm really surprised this (dog park proposal) is coming to us at this particular time," Lewis said at the meeting. "I thought we indicated it was not a priority. Just because it's part of the master plan doesn't mean we're going to build something that would be nice to have."

Three council members — Lewis, Widmer and Cary Wiest — voted to remove the dog park from the master plan; Mike Lempres opposed the action. Vice Mayor Rick DeGolia, the council's Park & Recreation Committee liaison, abstained. After the meeting, DeGolia told The Almanac that he didn't feel strongly enough about the motion to oppose it, but he would have been happy with keeping the dog park option in the plan.

"While council listens to recommendations, we don't always take recommendations of resident-led committee members," Lewis told The Almanac. "There's no disrespect at all for the committee members. The council has to look at the bigger picture and not just special interests at this point. That's why we decided 'let's just take it off the table.'"

Lewis noted that even if residents raised private funds to construct a dog park, it would take up staff time to survey residents on their desire for the space, and there would be ongoing maintenance costs for such a park. Lewis and Wiest both expressed concerns that a dog park could be a liability for the town if dogs attack others.

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Lempres, the sole council supporter of keeping the option in the master plan, said a dog park would be a "very good use of public space" and would help build community in the town. He said he would support a dog park if it was privately funded.

Council members including DeGolia and Widmer have asked Davey and David to reconsider their resignations. Davey said he will withdraw his resignation if council members reverse their decision.

David said she feels that it would be unethical to stay on the committee if she spoke out against the council, since the council appoints committee members. She said she's also aware that the council could have chosen to remove them from the committee.

David joined the committee in 2017, and her term was set to end in June 2021.

The Park & Recreation Committee began studying the feasibility of an off-leash dog area in the park in March. The park currently has indoor and outdoor facilities that include a baseball field, tennis courts, a playground, gardens and walking paths. Under the current rules, dogs must remain on leash in the park.

David drafted a proposal for a 21,000-square-foot dog park near the tennis courts, and estimated that it would cost between $65,000 and $100,000. But the recommended location is smaller than David's proposed location.

Next steps

Davey and David are now hatching plans to keep their proposal alive. Through email, NextDoor and other channels, the two will reach out to residents and people who live in neighboring areas who use the park to encourage them to contact council members to ask them to add the dog park back to the master plan.

The two say they would consider creating a November 2020 ballot initiative or advisory vote that would measure support for an off-leash dog area in the park.

"People with dogs want to see this happen," Davey said.

DeGolia said that the idea of a dog park in town has been brought up to the council a number of times, but each time the council determined that the costs were too great, the location was not appropriate, or the level of residents' support was insufficient.

"Three members of the council felt strongly that they didn't want to go through another serious review of this issue and that they could best accomplish that by removing it from the master plan," he said. "My understanding is that they weren't stating opposition to the concept. They were stating that it is a low priority. ... Setting policy for and managing a municipality takes lots of compromise and respect for other people's opinions and perspectives. I believe that if there is a well-developed and fully funded proposal put together for an off-leash dog area, and if there [is broad community support for it, then the council would support it."

Alex Keh, Julianna Robertson and Bob Roeser remain on the Park & Recreation Committee, according to the town's website. Last week, the town put out a call for applications to fill vacancies on town committees, including Park & Recreation, according to its website. Applications are due Jan. 17 at 5 p.m.

Applicants must be Atherton residents and appointments will be for four-year terms. For an application go here or visit the town's offices at 150 Watkins Ave. in Atherton.

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Atherton committee members resign over City Council's dog park decision

John Davey and Christine David say council not considering what residents want

by / Almanac

Uploaded: Wed, Dec 18, 2019, 11:06 am

When John Davey and Christine David attended a Nov. 20 Atherton City Council meeting they expected council members to simply weigh the pros and cons of their proposed off-leash dog area in the town's only park, but say they were shocked by the council's split vote to remove the option from the town's master plan.

Davey and David felt so strongly about what they say was the council's disregard for what they assert is a priority for Atherton residents that they submitted letters of resignation from their posts on the town's Park & Recreation Committee late last month. The committee had recommended that the council consider a proposal to build an off-leash dog park — funded by donations — southeast of Holbrook-Palmer Park's North Lawn. The concept to create an off-leash area was part of the town's 2015 master plan for the future development of the park.

"Why even have a Park & Recreation Committee if the town council is not going to take seriously our recommendations?" asked Davey, who has served on the committee on and off for three decades, including a stint as chair, before resigning on Nov. 26. His term was set to end in June 2022. "Our (the committee's) objective is to represent the needs of Atherton residents as it relates to the park, and that's what we thought we were doing in good faith."

The two said they were particularly surprised that the council declined not only to consider the proposal, but also to remove it from the park's master plan, a move they say was "unnecessary." David said the master plan was based on decades of experience in the park, plus resident feedback, gathered at taxpayer expense, and that the town should honor it.

Mayor Bill Widmer said at the meeting that the town has "more important fish to fry." He and other council members cited the need to focus on the town's $31.6 million civic center construction project, which is scheduled for completion in 2021.

Council member Elizabeth Lewis noted that the town would need to survey residents to determine whether a dog park is a priority for residents. A 2015 survey for the master plan determined that residents didn't particularly want to add amenities to the park, but an off-leash dog area was the only major request, with 24% supporting off-leash dog use anywhere in the park and another 44% supporting it in a designated area, for a total of 68% of respondents.

"I'm really surprised this (dog park proposal) is coming to us at this particular time," Lewis said at the meeting. "I thought we indicated it was not a priority. Just because it's part of the master plan doesn't mean we're going to build something that would be nice to have."

Three council members — Lewis, Widmer and Cary Wiest — voted to remove the dog park from the master plan; Mike Lempres opposed the action. Vice Mayor Rick DeGolia, the council's Park & Recreation Committee liaison, abstained. After the meeting, DeGolia told The Almanac that he didn't feel strongly enough about the motion to oppose it, but he would have been happy with keeping the dog park option in the plan.

"While council listens to recommendations, we don't always take recommendations of resident-led committee members," Lewis told The Almanac. "There's no disrespect at all for the committee members. The council has to look at the bigger picture and not just special interests at this point. That's why we decided 'let's just take it off the table.'"

Lewis noted that even if residents raised private funds to construct a dog park, it would take up staff time to survey residents on their desire for the space, and there would be ongoing maintenance costs for such a park. Lewis and Wiest both expressed concerns that a dog park could be a liability for the town if dogs attack others.

Lempres, the sole council supporter of keeping the option in the master plan, said a dog park would be a "very good use of public space" and would help build community in the town. He said he would support a dog park if it was privately funded.

Council members including DeGolia and Widmer have asked Davey and David to reconsider their resignations. Davey said he will withdraw his resignation if council members reverse their decision.

David said she feels that it would be unethical to stay on the committee if she spoke out against the council, since the council appoints committee members. She said she's also aware that the council could have chosen to remove them from the committee.

David joined the committee in 2017, and her term was set to end in June 2021.

The Park & Recreation Committee began studying the feasibility of an off-leash dog area in the park in March. The park currently has indoor and outdoor facilities that include a baseball field, tennis courts, a playground, gardens and walking paths. Under the current rules, dogs must remain on leash in the park.

David drafted a proposal for a 21,000-square-foot dog park near the tennis courts, and estimated that it would cost between $65,000 and $100,000. But the recommended location is smaller than David's proposed location.

Next steps

Davey and David are now hatching plans to keep their proposal alive. Through email, NextDoor and other channels, the two will reach out to residents and people who live in neighboring areas who use the park to encourage them to contact council members to ask them to add the dog park back to the master plan.

The two say they would consider creating a November 2020 ballot initiative or advisory vote that would measure support for an off-leash dog area in the park.

"People with dogs want to see this happen," Davey said.

DeGolia said that the idea of a dog park in town has been brought up to the council a number of times, but each time the council determined that the costs were too great, the location was not appropriate, or the level of residents' support was insufficient.

"Three members of the council felt strongly that they didn't want to go through another serious review of this issue and that they could best accomplish that by removing it from the master plan," he said. "My understanding is that they weren't stating opposition to the concept. They were stating that it is a low priority. ... Setting policy for and managing a municipality takes lots of compromise and respect for other people's opinions and perspectives. I believe that if there is a well-developed and fully funded proposal put together for an off-leash dog area, and if there [is broad community support for it, then the council would support it."

Alex Keh, Julianna Robertson and Bob Roeser remain on the Park & Recreation Committee, according to the town's website. Last week, the town put out a call for applications to fill vacancies on town committees, including Park & Recreation, according to its website. Applications are due Jan. 17 at 5 p.m.

Applicants must be Atherton residents and appointments will be for four-year terms. For an application go here or visit the town's offices at 150 Watkins Ave. in Atherton.

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Comments

paula
Registered user
another community
on Dec 18, 2019 at 2:39 pm
paula, another community
Registered user
on Dec 18, 2019 at 2:39 pm
7 people like this

I think it was reckless of the council to disregard the park and rec committee recommendation for an off leash dog park at Holbrook Palmer park. There are many dog owners in Atherton and if they want to keep their seats they should be aware


PeninsulaGirl
Registered user
Atherton: West of Alameda
on Dec 18, 2019 at 2:48 pm
PeninsulaGirl, Atherton: West of Alameda
Registered user
on Dec 18, 2019 at 2:48 pm
6 people like this

The aspect of all this that I find particularly offensive is the removal from the 2015 Master Plan. I can see why the council might want to table the dog park for a later date, but why on earth was it deemed necessary to remove it from the Master Plan? A great deal of time, resources and community input went into that plan back in 2015, and it seems like a blatant abuse of power and a violation of community trust for the Council to just strike off the dog park without any corresponding community input in the present.

In particular, I don’t understand why the council felt the need to trash the idea when it was made quite clear that it would be privately funded.
I was not aware of the survey in 2015, but had I been, I certainly would have responded in favor of an enclosed off-leash area for dogs.

At present, the only off-leash area that the town’s dog owners can use----as a decidedly UNOFFICIAL dog park----is the field at La Entrada (after school hours, obviously). It is not ideal for many reasons, as both the school district and dog owners would probably admit, but it’s all we have.

I think that a dog park would be a terrific community-building opportunity. The Atherton of my youth was a much more friendly and community-oriented place——i.e., one without so many walls and gates that prevent neighbors from interacting with one another easily.

It appears that the Council not only acted rashly but also offended and alienated two dedicated volunteers on the Parks & Rec committee. I don’t know how successful the town will be in recruiting more volunteers when existing committee members are treated so disrespectfully.


MP resident
Menlo Park: Sharon Heights
on Dec 18, 2019 at 8:41 pm
MP resident, Menlo Park: Sharon Heights
on Dec 18, 2019 at 8:41 pm
2 people like this

Incredible that they would remove this from the master plan without at least surveying residents first to find out if it is justified. Many people here have dogs and need a place for them to play. This is bad governance.


WOW Speachless
Atherton: Lloyden Park
on Dec 18, 2019 at 8:47 pm
WOW Speachless, Atherton: Lloyden Park
on Dec 18, 2019 at 8:47 pm
1 person likes this

Build the community give us money, but we could care less about what the residents want. 40 to 52 million on a community center but a dog park doesn't matter. Oppose any funding Atherton wants. So sad they do not care enough about the residents with dogs. I hope it bites them in the butt.


Peter Carpenter
Registered user
Atherton: Lindenwood
on Dec 18, 2019 at 8:50 pm
Peter Carpenter, Atherton: Lindenwood
Registered user
on Dec 18, 2019 at 8:50 pm
5 people like this

"Incredible that they would remove this from the master plan without at least surveying residents first to find out if it is justified"

That is the arrogance of this Town Council - they KNOW what is best for the residents!

In a carefully conducted survey less than 10% of the residents want a separate fire department but the council still pursued this at a cost to taxpayers of over $100k. And in the end here is what their own staff report stated:

"Based on the results of the Study and subsequent conversations with the District and LAFCO, it
is unlikely that a tax agreement could be negotiated; unlikely that Special Legislation would be
supported; and a detachment application through LAFCO, although it could be pursued and
would be processed, would not be supported by LAFCO staff. "

All of these outcomes were known to the Council BEFORE they wasted a single penny of the taxpayers' dollars.


Dog Owner
Atherton: other
on Dec 18, 2019 at 9:56 pm
Dog Owner, Atherton: other
on Dec 18, 2019 at 9:56 pm
10 people like this

As a resident and dog owner in Atherton, there is a serious dog issue at Holbrook Palmer — and it’s not the lack of a dog park.

I can’t take my small dog for a walk there without passing three dogs that are off leash. Some people attach a leash when I get close, but most just don’t care. A friend was walking her small dog two weeks ago when a huge dog ran at him and nipped at him. The owner said “oh I’m so sorry, my dog has never done that before” — it doesn’t matter! Put your dogs on a leash and leave them there. There are rules for a reason, and just because you’re not worried about your dog doesn’t give you the right to flout those safety rules.

I wish the leash ordinance would actually be enforced.


Alisa
Atherton: other
on Dec 19, 2019 at 5:46 am
Alisa, Atherton: other
on Dec 19, 2019 at 5:46 am
Like this comment

I’ve been walking my dogs at HP park for years. While I love walking my dog off-leash, I’ve rarely seen a well-kept, clean off-leash dog park. They are dusty, dirty and usually in an unappealing fenced-off area. Also, the concept of an off-leash area seems to mean to some owners that their dogs have free reign with little supervision. I have a smaller dog and rarely use off leash areas because she’ll get trampled on. This is why dogs are separated by size at doggy day cares. There are a lot of dog owners in the area but there are many people that don’t own dogs who enjoy the park. I think an off-leash area would ruin the natural beauty of the park that makes it a special place.


Clowns
Atherton: other
on Dec 19, 2019 at 5:55 am
Clowns, Atherton: other
on Dec 19, 2019 at 5:55 am
8 people like this

Lewis is the self anointed queen of Atherton. She doesn’t want the dog park? It’s gone. Wiest will do whatever she says. Now Widmer will as well, after being scared straight when she took his job away from him as city manager in SoCal.

De Goila was for it, but technically voted against it? Or abstained? Seems consistent with a lot of his double talk designed to not appear like a jerk to residents while still maintaining fealty to Lewis.

What a bunch of clowns. This was just mean.


Love dogs
Atherton: West Atherton
on Dec 19, 2019 at 6:07 am
Love dogs, Atherton: West Atherton
on Dec 19, 2019 at 6:07 am
2 people like this

I live 2 blocks from HPP and have walked my dogs there for years. In the past couple of years I’ve been driving to Sharon Park instead to walk my dog. I have found owners to be more courteous, responsible and friendly there. There is a leash sign but dogs run off-leash on the field or walk the path, like at HPP, but owners are respectful and they supervise their dogs. It’s relaxing and pretty and I’ve never seen the MP police there - probably because there is no need.


PeninsulaGirl
Registered user
Atherton: West of Alameda
on Dec 19, 2019 at 11:38 am
PeninsulaGirl, Atherton: West of Alameda
Registered user
on Dec 19, 2019 at 11:38 am
9 people like this

Hi All,

I just wanted to update my post from yesterday, because I have learned a few things that demonstrate INACCURATE REPORTING by the Angela Swartz of The Almanac.
I have been in communication with both George Rodericks, our Town Manager, and with Rick DeGolia---the ONLY Council member who responds to his constituents, and promptly at that---and it seems that this article has some SERIOUS inaccuracies.

The most striking FALSEHOOD in Ms. Swartz's article:
The article states, "A 2015 survey for the master plan determined that residents didn't particularly want to add amenities to the park, but an off-leash dog area was the only major request, with 24% supporting off-leash dog use anywhere in the park and another 44% supporting it in a designated area, for a total of 68% of respondents."

The REALITY: THERE WAS NO TOWN-WIDE SURVEY. "2015 survey for the master plan" makes it sound like an official town-wide survey, doesn't it?
What really happened: In 2015, committee members posed the dog-park question to people who were walking around the pathway at Holbrook-Palmer, and most of them were dog owners. (Think about that small sample population compared with that of the entire town!)
Apparently, that survey was challenged from the beginning, and Angela mentions NOTHING about that.

Also, that $60K figure for the "cost" was NOT accurately reported. The off-leash dog area described in the Master Plan had a cost of about $250,000. The $60,000 figure referred to in Angela's article was a figure that came from Christine David and had not been vetted with staff at all. One example: it assumes two water basins for dogs, but allocates no cost to building that water conveyance (i.e., plumbing). It also doesn't take into account that for any construction in the Park, the Town has to send it out for bids. So the cost would be far closer to $200K than $60K.

I am hoping that Mr. Rodericks will write to the Almanac to lists the facts---which are easily verifiable via town council meeting minutes from 2015 on. He can explain it far more thoroughly than I can. That said, I know that town staff is busy overseeing the new town center construction and dealing with the stress of working out of those portables in the park.

I'd like to add one more thing: of that small sample of path-walking residents surveyed in 2015, the article states that "residents didn't particularly want to add amenities to the park."
The "amenities"---more like NECESSITIES---that ARE in the Master Plan are things like BATHROOMS in the Pavilion, which are very important and are in the pipeline of projects being funded in the future at the park.

The long and the short of it: Nothing prevents a private survey being conducted and a private proposal from being presented to the Council for a project that is fully funded. (Of course, there will still be concerns about insurance liability, insurance costs, maintenance costs, Park impact, construction timing, etc.)

I hope that the Almanac will start FACT CHECKING its reporters' articles in a deliberate way.


Colleen
Atherton: West Atherton
on Dec 19, 2019 at 12:52 pm
Colleen, Atherton: West Atherton
on Dec 19, 2019 at 12:52 pm
2 people like this

I do not understand how they are saying there wasn't a survey. I filled one out. A huge number of our social group filled one out and we wrote in a dog park. We can ask Menlo Park what the cost was for them to have a dog park. They are super dog and community friendly.


Colleen
Atherton: West Atherton
on Dec 19, 2019 at 1:46 pm
Colleen, Atherton: West Atherton
on Dec 19, 2019 at 1:46 pm
1 person likes this

Years ago the town was presented on more than one occasion of a great idea. Here is what was proposed:

Small and large dog park.
Membership fees and a pre-screening must be done in order to even get a key.
Talk of having a dog trainer on-site and establishing doggie play hours.
It must be privately funded even before the project is started.
Basic polite rules must be set-up. Now we could just use the Menlo Park's rules.

Just like tennis courts. That being said years ago they found the tennis court money if I am not mistaken used for other things. Does anyone remember what happened with that?


All politics are local
Atherton: other
on Dec 19, 2019 at 2:26 pm
All politics are local, Atherton: other
on Dec 19, 2019 at 2:26 pm
3 people like this

Two points stand out here.

First, it's totally understandable that these committee members are resigning. If the Atherton council doesn't trust their judgment, why are they donating their time to perform this function?

Second, we can all quibble about what the costs for this would have been. It's very striking that the town center plan is very, very expensive, and when certain questionable items were debated – such as the world class fitness center for the police department – the response was akin to "don't be so short sighted."

In all reality, the dog park – which would have been paid for by private donations – would have had much more positive effect on the lives of dog loving Atherton residents (not a small number) than the police fitness center.

By the way, the residents are the ones paying for the town's functions.


Peter Carpenter
Registered user
Atherton: Lindenwood
on Dec 19, 2019 at 2:43 pm
Peter Carpenter, Atherton: Lindenwood
Registered user
on Dec 19, 2019 at 2:43 pm
10 people like this

This is what happens when you have an entire Council serving terms for which they were not elected = zero accountability.


Laughing
Menlo Park: other
on Dec 19, 2019 at 8:05 pm
Laughing , Menlo Park: other
on Dec 19, 2019 at 8:05 pm
64 people like this

Typical Toon Town politics!!!! This would be funny if it were not TRUE!!!! Pathetic is the word for these unimportant so called council members of a town where they are part of nothing more than a coffee clatch of snooty rich people. THEY don’t want a dog park...POOF! Dog park eliminated from the master plan.


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