Orange County supervisors took the first step Tuesday towards repealing a decades-old, and apparently never-enforced, law requiring dogs to be leashed at a popular spot between Huntington Beach and Newport Beach, known by many as “Dog Beach.”
The sandy area at the mouth of the Santa Ana River has been enjoyed by dog owners and their canine companions for decades, with many people allowing their dogs to frolic off-leash.
But last year, neighbors complained to Newport Beach Mayor Diane Dixon about dog feces and unleashed dogs, prompting city and county officials to look into the situation.
Ultimately, after strong public opposition to enforcing leash laws there, Newport Beach officials opted to recommend that the county explore lifting the leash requirement.
Supervisor Michelle Steel, who represents costal Orange County from Newport Beach to Seal Beach, then brought the item forward to her colleagues, who voted unanimously Tuesday to repeal the leash law at the beach. A second vote in May would finalize the change.
Before the vote, Steel said she didn’t want dog owners to get worried about tickets for something that’s been allowed for the last 40 years. “This is gonna be great thing for the dog park, [and] for the county,” Steel said.
Orange County is home to several off-leash recreation areas for dogs – including a dog beach at the northern end of Huntington Beach’s city beach – this would be the county government’s first official off-leash dog park.
While a leash law has been on the county books since 1975, county officials say the have no record of ever issuing a ticket for violating the leash law in the Dog Beach area.
The item drew a relatively large public turnout for a supervisors’ meeting: 23 people spoke, the vast majority in favor of repealing the leash law.
Supporters emphasized the benefits of allowing dogs to run around and socialize with one another, and the joy it brings to people.
Lindsay Lier, a longtime Corona del Mar resident, said allowing off-leash dogs is important “because is keeps the community together. It is a social activity that brings the families together.”
“This area is Disneyland for dogs,” she added.
Three Newport Beach council members – Tony Petros, Duffy Duffield, and Scott Peotter – also spoke in favor of lifting the leash requirement. Petros noted that there was “overwhelming” public support for this at a city commission meeting.
Three speakers opposed the measure, saying feces have been left behind at the beach, unleashed dogs have been allowed to run through the nearby neighborhood, and that allowing unleashed dogs raises the risk of children being bitten.
“When dogs are off leash, you lose 100-percent control of your dog,” said Vivien Hyman.
In the end, supporters of lifting the leash rule won out, prompting loud applause from the audience.
Nick Gerda covers county government for Voice of OC. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.