Alderman Bart Delaney (Fifth Ward) was first to express concern about "giving dogs access to the park." He spoke of constituents and DPW and suggested, "We need to pursue the dog park idea." Alderman Ohrine Stewart (Fourth Ward) agreed with Delaney, commenting, "We don't have the policing power to oversee this."
Alderman John Friedman (Third Ward), who chairs the Legal Committee which drafted the amendments, countered, "The reality is that people use the park now with their dogs," and warned against "limiting citizens' freedom based on one branch of government not wanting to enforce the law."
Delaney reported that "DPW says, before the law was enacted, the place was really a mess, and it's much better now." "Before the law was enacted" was more than ten years ago, when the park was in its very first stage of development. Back then, it was pretty much just a big grassy field, and the people who took their dogs there were in the habit of letting them run free. More than a decade later, however, the park is quite different. It has been expanded twice. There are paved paths and picnic tables and benches. It is the setting for all manner of community events--concerts, festivals, flea markets, craft fairs, circus performances. It is regarded differently today than it was back then, and the higher value that citizens place on the park is reflected in the way people and their dogs use the park. As Alderman Nick Haddad (First Ward) said last night, "People are acting very responsibly, and the law should reflect that."
It was decided that the Council would discuss this amendment further at the informal meeting in March, after the proposed changes to the law had "ripened." In the meantime, a couple of ideas were suggested on Tuesday night that merit consideration.
Council president Don Moore suggested a "sunset clause." The ban on dogs in riverfront park would be suspended for a year to see what happens. Those opposed to lifting the ban seem to think this action would result in the park being inundated with dogs whose owners, although law abiding citizens when it came to "No Dogs Allowed," would be flagrant scoff laws when it came to the City's leash and pooper scooper laws. What seems more likely to happen if the ban were suspended (or abolished altogether) is that nothing would change.
Another idea worthy of consideration came from former mayoral candidate Victor Mendolia, who suggested establishing a "dog free" area within the park, noting that, although dogs are allowed in Central Park in New York City, there are some parts of the park that are off limits to dogs. His suggestion was dismissed as impracticable, but the rejection was too hasty and unfair. There is a part of riverfront park that could logically and very easily be designated a "dog free" zone. It is the large grassy area to the right of the entrance--what was the park when dogs were originally banned more than a decade ago. Most of the events in the park take place here. This is where the gazebo--the "stage" for all manner of performances--is located. This is where people spread blankets and sit on the ground. This is where parents let their children run and play. This is an area it makes sense to keep dog free, but not the entire park.
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