Noe Valley Voice October 2000

Upper Noe Dog Run Passes Muster for Most

By Heidi Anderson

After three months of trial running, the Upper Noe dog run appears to be a compromise that will work.

The entire field, also known as Day Street Park, also contains a youth baseball diamond and space for soccer or football practice. The park reopened in mid-July after almost a year of repairs. While everyone waited, neighbors snarled at each other over future off-leash dog use. Bones of contention were dog feces, urine damage on the grass, and equal access to the field.

When the field reopened, Rec and Park's Acting Supervisor Dan McKenna handed everyone a compromise: A fenced dog run would circle most of the field for exclusive use of off-leash dogs and their owners. The rest of the field was for humans only.

At a public meeting in June, McKenna promised the entire plan would be evaluated in 90 days.

Forty-eight days into the trial, things seem to be going well enough for dogs and athletes alike. Dog owners, though, would like a few adjustments.

"They have us trapped down here," says dog owner Joby Shinoff, who lives on Church Street near the park and organized the 110-member Day Park Dogs about a year ago to lobby for off-leash dog running on the field. He brings his dog Lilly to the run daily. "It'll be dark here in the evening soon, and we need lighting." Shinoff says he met with Rec and Park directors recently to discuss lights.

Neal Mosher walks his dog Edie to the run twice a day from his 30th Street home. He has used it since the day it opened in July. He feels the most important issue is overcrowding.

"You can tell right away when there are too many dogs here -- they get yappy. There was a fight here last night because there were just too many dogs. Eight to ten dogs should be the maximum."

Also, Mosher and Shinoff have already noticed some wear and tear on the turf, damage likely caused by foot and paw traffic. The grass is yellow and patchy in a large area of the run. Mosher feels the dead grass and bare patches are due to inconsistent watering in the dog-run corner of the field. He anticipates a muddy mess during the rainy season.

But others gathered at the run on a recent September evening were quick to point out the benefits of the new setup.

Barbara Lambert lives in Bernal Heights and comes about three times a week with her terrier Sparkle. "I know he's safe here because he'll run away if he's off-leash. Terriers have a tendency to explore, so I always need an enclosed place." She had been taking Sparkle to fenced areas in Golden Gate Park before Upper Noe opened. She prefers Upper Noe because it's closer to home.

Laidley Street resident Liza Finkelstein agrees with Lambert, adding, "The dogs are all right here, most of them are social." Finkelstein is an infrequent user of the run, having brought her dog only three times since it opened. "It seems to work well for dog owners and I'm all for it."

Several dog owners mentioned that the stretch of grass which runs parallel to the third base line had originally been regarded as useless because of its steep incline and relative distance from the larger "common area" at the other end of the run. But this strip along 30th Street has quickly become a place to exercise less-than-social dogs.

Upper Noe Recreation Center Director Chris Borg thinks the new arrangement is a success for humans as well.

"We have soccer practice here every afternoon, there's an organized neighborhood touch football game for adults here on weekends, and families are actually picnicking on the grass out there," Borg remarks. The Rec and Park youth baseball league will begin again in the spring and possibly Junior Giants Baseball after that.

And more importantly, she says, "Dogs now have access all the time to their park."

Still, Borg has received complaints that the athletic portion of the field is locked when a staff member is not on site. This means the baseball diamond and outfield area is inaccessible after 5 p.m. on Saturdays and occasionally closed all day on Sundays. She says the closing was Supervisor McKenna's decision and that the rule will be discussed at the neighborhood meeting. The dog run stays open 6 a.m. to 10 p.m. seven days a week.

"I think he wants to protect the new grass [on the athletic field] from improper use," she says.

Shinoff claims this means the staff doesn't trust dog owners to stay off the athletic field. Borg maintains it is for the safety of the entire neighborhood.

The promised meeting at the end of the 90-day trial has not been scheduled. McKenna had made it clear in June, however, that the meeting would focus on where the fence is located and not on whether the dog run will remain in place.

Mosher sums up the mood of dog owners as the trial nears its end. "This is better than nothing."