Merced County supervisors vote to allow dogs at Lake Yosemite

08/18/2014 7:57 PM

08/19/2014 11:19 AM

The Board of Supervisors approved an amended ordinance to allow dogs at Lake Yosemite Park on a temporary basis, but the proposal drew criticism from some supervisors who worried owners won’t take responsibility for their pets.

“I have a real concern going forward with this ordinance because I think it’s going to do damage to our park,” District 5 Supervisor Jerry O’Banion said during Tuesday’s board meeting. “Probably more people use that park than any other park in the whole county.”

The supervisors voted 4 to 1 to approve the ordinance, with District 3 Supervisor Linn Davis voting against it.

Dogs are currently prohibited at all 16 Merced County parks, but Tuesday’s action will allow residents to bring dogs to Lake Yosemite from Sept. 12 to Dec. 31. Owners would need to restrain their dogs or keep them on a leash no more than 6 feet in length, according to the ordinance.

A maximum of two dogs will be allowed per person, and there are no breed restrictions. Owners will be responsible for disposing of their dog’s waste and for injuries or damage caused by their pets.

“I think the main point is the owners will be responsible to maintain their dogs,” Merced County Public Works Director Dana Hertfelder said at the board meeting. “Dog owners will have to pick up after their dogs and make sure they are controlled.”

Dogs won’t be allowed to swim in the water or go near the beaches, Hertfelder said. The ordinance also prohibits aggressive dogs and female dogs in heat.

If the Board of Supervisors does not take action to extend the ordinance after Dec. 31, it will expire and dogs will once again be banned from the park. Park personnel will provide oversight seven days a week, Hertfelder said, and a deputy from the Sheriff’s Department patrols the park during summer.

District 4 Supervisor Deidre Kelsey, whose district covers Lake Yosemite Park, said she’s gotten requests from constituents to allow dogs at least a dozen times since taking office.

“There are many people that live nearby within walking distance and I’ve received this request for quite a few years,” Kelsey said, adding the ordinance will be tested during months that the lake is closed for swimming. “Going with a trial period when the lake is closed would give us an opportunity to see whether or not it would work.”

Lake Yosemite’s water level will be drawn down sometime after the middle of September when the Merced Irrigation District winds down this year’s irrigation season, said spokesman Mike Jensen. The irrigation season ends when Lake McClure reaches 85,000 acre-feet.

MID officials urged growers to use their water allocations by Sept. 15, according to a news release.

Animal activists and county residents sounded off Monday about the new ordinance.

“I think it’s a great idea because people like to hang out at the lake with their dogs,” said Marilynne Manfredi, president of Merced Dog Owners Group, a nonprofit that helped establish Merced’s first dog park. “As long as they can monitor it and people can follow their rules, I think it’s great.”

A question posted on the Merced Sun-Star’s Facebook page received more than 25 responses.

Belinda Webb suggested having separate areas for large and small dogs. “My only real concern would be dogs running loose and getting into fights,” she posted.

Donene Berry said it could create “potential liabilities” for the county. “Personally I think dogs should be allowed to go, but there should be a designated area where dogs are allowed,” she said. “Let’s face it, some folks are just downright scared of some dogs.”

“It’s usually not the dogs that are the problem, it’s the owners,” Gerry Browning chimed in. “As long as there are responsible dog owners, there shouldn’t be a problem.”

If the amended ordinance is successful, Kelsey said, the supervisors might consider allowing dogs in other county parks. However, the Board of Supervisors can terminate the ordinance before Dec. 31 if there are problems.

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