Noe Valley Voice March 2003

Something to Chew on: A Dog Park Plan for Upper Douglass

By David Ryan Alexander

Nearly a year after the city introduced a new leash law and rules for creating off-leash dog areas, the future for dogs in Douglass Park--Noe Valley's biggest patch of green, along four blocks of Douglass Street--is still up in the air.

Last May, the San Francisco Recreation and Park Commission established a tougher leash law, stating that in all parks smaller than 10 acres, which includes Douglass Park, off-leash dogs must be kept in a separate area. A separate dog run already existed at the park (where 27th Street dead-ends), but both dog owners and Rec and Park staff agreed that the area was unsafe for dogs, due to the steep cliff that bordered the run. In fact, a wooden sign hanging near the path read, "Danger Cliff, Stay Back."

Since that time, Rec and Park has been taking proposals from the community about what to do about dogs in the heavily wooded park.

"Communities have choices," said Rec and Park spokesperson Becky Ballinger. "What we encourage and hope is that the dog-walking community will organize to designate a place--to ask people who are out using the park where they would like the off-leash area to be."

Resident James Collins, who owns a dog and lives near Douglass Park, came up with one such proposal and in January posted it on Craig's List ( his neighbors to read. Collins stated in his proposal that drainage problems make the athletic field in the park unusable for most of the year. He also said local residents and professional dog walkers have been allowing their dogs to play in the park off-leash, with or without city sanction. He therefore proposed that the entire upper tier of the park--known as Upper Douglass Park--be made an off-leash area for dogs. The lower half of the park, called Douglass Playground, would remain off-limits to dogs.

"Lower Douglass Park has more than a million dollars worth of improvements," Collins told the Voice, in discussing his plan. "[Much of it is] dedicated to the benefit of the neighborhood children, and that's great. But dogs are explicitly prohibited from entering that park."

The upper half of the park, on the other hand, has been sorely neglected.

"Upper Douglass Park has an abandoned restroom facility and poorly drained turf. It's used almost exclusively as an off-leash dog play area now," said Collins. "[My proposal] is not a change of use, just an official designation--that's all we're asking for."

Collins said that more than 140 neighbors and users of the park had signed his petition and proposal to Recreation and Park to make it legal for dogs to be off-leash at Upper Douglass.

But at least one local resident has expressed concern about allowing dogs to roam free. The resident, who preferred not to give her name because of past controversy surrounding use of the park, said she thinks a separate designated area would be great, but she worries about whether there will be enough room for kids to play also. "You can't pretend that there isn't at least a potential for danger," in areas open to both children and off-leash dogs, she said.

According to Ballinger, Rec and Park is still accepting proposals from the community and all the proposals will be presented at the next meeting of the city's Dog Advisory Committee. The committee can then choose to go back to the community for further discussion or designate a new policy.

No meeting is currently scheduled, but Ballinger said that at the end of the month, once the commission's budget had been submitted, a meeting date would be set.

To offer your own proposal or to get more information, call the Recreation and Park Commission at 831-2750. To view a copy of the city's dog park policy, visit h