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SLO residents want more access for off-leash dog walking

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When SLO established its open space program in the mid-1990s, it also established a set of rules for what would and wouldn’t be allowed in the natural reserves.

One of those rules outlawed off-leash dog walking, meant to protect the natural habitat and prevent altercations between dogs as well as conflict with hikers and mountain bikers.

Two decades later, a growing number of SLO dog owners are joining forces to advocate for a rule change, to allow some off-leash dog activity in open spaces. Resident Wendy Eidson said many people are frustrated with a recent crackdown on off-leash violations: Since 2015, city rangers levied 85 off-leash fines, at $561 per ticket.

“When I first moved to SLO in 1989, none of those rules existed,” Eidson told New Times. “It just sort of escalated, and suddenly these fines are ridiculous. It went from maybe too lax, to way too tight. A lot of people have been complaining.”

In the last month, Eidson, Phil Clarkson, Karen Brower, and Joe DeMartini started a Facebook group—“See Spot Run!”—that had 107 members as of press time. The group’s goal is mobilize support in the community for “solutions to help change the laws that are overly punitive and encroach on the SLO lifestyle that drew us here.”

On the Facebook page, members point out that the city has only one off-leash dog park, Laguna Lake Park, and the next nearest dog park is El Chorro Regional Park. They suggest the city could allow off-leash dogs on select open space trails, or in particular areas of open space.

“Why contribute to global warming by driving 20-plus minutes to let my dog run when a trail is a block away?” Debra Muse wrote on the Facebook group.

Eidson said the group’s goal is to present a proposal for a rule change at a SLO City Council meeting over the summer. Right now, she’s currently focused on generating more support and ideas.

“We’re trying to get input and get a sense of what would be realistic,” Eidson said.

SLO and its residents are also discussing making improvements to Laguna Lake Park—and dog parks in general. The city is running an online survey through May 31 to gather community input. But the city’s survey doesn’t address access to open space trails, which is what the group’s main focus is.

“You still can’t hike,” said Clarkson, a 40-year SLO resident. “If we can have one spot that we can do this, then I think that’s a compromise.”

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