Santa Cruz deliberates on whether to loosen the leash on its downtown dog ban
The Santa Cruz City Council will consider at its July 12 meeting whether or not to temporarily alter the city's ban on dogs downtown. This comes after a recommendation by the Downtown Association, which voted back in March 2010 to support lifting the ban for a trial period of six months with various stipulations. These include limitations on leash length, the number of dogs gathered in close proximity, and the time of day dogs will be allowed downtown, as well as restricting panhandling with dogs.
The existing ordinance, which bans dogs from Pacific Avenue, has been in place since 1976 with additional restrictions for Locust Street, Church Street, Walnut Avenue and Lincoln Street between Cedar Street and Front Street in place since 1985. Dogs are also not allowed on some public beaches, the Santa Cruz Municipal Wharf, or in San Lorenzo Park.
While dogs might not be welcome on the streets or sidewalks of Pacific Avenue and surrounding areas, some unlikely local businesses, from an antique shop to a cafe welcome them inside.
“It's nice for people to have options when they are out with their dogs instead of leaving their dogs locked up or at home, and the dogs become better socialized,” says Farouk Algosaibi, co-owner of Cedar Street's Cafe Limelight.
Cafe Limelight not only allows diners to bring their furry pals along, but encourages it via a five-item dog menu that includes fresh roasted turkey, Milk Bones and other treats.
“It's pretty common in other cities for dogs to be allowed at outdoor patios, and in Europe, for example, they can go right inside cafes,” Algosaibi says. “And here, all service dogs are allowed inside restaurants and cafes.”
Algosaibi, who says that the concern over having dogs inside businesses is really more of a “cultural issue” than an issue of cleanliness or safety, hesitates to take a stance on the issue of removing the Pacific Avenue ban, citing it as something that should be discussed among businesses that may be affected. While many Pacific Avenue feeder streets are off limits, canine access to Cedar Street is not currently restricted.
“The two—Pacific and Cedar—are so different,” says Algosaibi. “There could be 1,000 people on Pacific and at the same time only three on Cedar.”
On the other side of town, houseware shop Saffron and Genevieve on Soquel Avenue also welcomes pets, with both dogs and cats roaming inside and outside of the shop.
“Lots of people ask if they can bring their dogs inside and I just say ‘yes.’ I assume that everyone is a responsible dog owner and so far I've been right,” says owner Scarlett Reed. “In fact there have been children who have peed on our floor but we haven't had that problem with dogs.”
Former downtown resident Debbie Cedillo received a ticket approximately eight years ago for being in violation of the ordinance while walking her dog on Pacific Avenue. Cedillo says while she was aware of the ban, she considered her mild-tempered 13-year-old Samoyed more of a friend than a pet, and took it out anyway.
“I couldn't really believe it. To me it just seemed like a huge waste of time for something I didn't even really consider breaking the law,” says Cedillo. “If they are concerned with the cleanliness of the streets, there are other ways to address that. I don't see that people walking their dogs really hurts.”
Cedillo now lives in Los Gatos, which she says does not ban dogs from its downtown and is a more friendly area for dog owners and their pets. “They allow dogs to go in businesses and have water bowls out for them,” she says. “Actually, lots of places are like that, and now if I'm going somewhere I look into it beforehand to make sure it’s in a dog-friendly area.”
Linnaea Holgers James, who has been on the Downtown Association board for two years, has owned Artisan Gallery on Pacific Avenue for three years and has been an employee at the gallery for more than 15 years. She says that while dogs are not allowed on Pacific Avenue, they are allowed in Artisan Gallery and have been for years. James was the only decanter in last year’s Downtown Association vote, which passed 8-1.
“My concerns were coming from a sense of a lack of support from the police in terms of their ability to enforce the ordinances already in place,” says James. “I thought it was not the time or place to be discussing the issue and we should instead focus on making downtown a safer place. My fear was that lifting the ban is a good idea in theory, but not able to be put into practice.”
Santa Cruz Police Department Spokesman Zach Friend says that while most local residents are aware of the ban and not many citations are issued for violating the ordinance, there has been a rise in recent years of what he describes as “exploiting a well-known loophole.”
“There are really two separate issues: people who want to walk their dogs and take them along while they shop downtown, and people who should not have pets downtown and exploit a loophole in the current ordinance,” says Friend. “People exploit this loophole by claiming their dogs are service animals, and we have no way of challenging that claim.”
Service animals are protected by federal disability laws, and while officials say homeless people in Santa Cruz have manipulated this in claiming their pets as such, once the claim is made the animal cannot be removed under the ordinance. Friend says that, to some, this appears as selective enforcement.
“[SCPD] is pretty agnostic to the whole issue of lifting the ordinance or not. We just want a clear direction and a uniform decision because right now we're faced with a ban that can only be partially enforced,” says Friend.
Some merchants and community members have expressed concern about the mess that could be left behind by inattentive dog owners, as well as the potential for aggressive panhandlers to be accompanied by dogs, which could create an unwelcoming environment.
“The main concerns I've heard are poop on the sidewalk, potential dangers to small children and seniors, and street people bringing more dogs,” Vice Mayor Don Lane writes in an email to GT. “Most of the conversations I've had about it have a humorous element—along the lines of 'here we go again' and 'why is this such a big deal?'”
Since the Downtown Association vote, James says elements have been added to the proposal that was sent to the city council. These include restricting leash length and not allowing dogs in packs, which address some of her initial reservations.
“I'm in favor now of having a test period to see if it can be effective,” she says. “In fact, since we voted on it, some people have mistaken that to mean that the change has been in effect and we've seen an increase in dogs, and so far it hasn't been an issue.”
James' sentiment is echoed by Lane, who says that while he has not yet made a determination on how he will vote later this month, he is open to considering temporarily removing the ban to test its effects.
“[I am] not sure how I will vote since I haven't seen the details of what's proposed, but I am generally inclined to give this a try if we see it as more of a trial run rather than a permanent decision,” he says.
Santa Cruz area dog-friendly shops >
Photo credit: Kelly Vaillancourt
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