MORAGA — The debate over off-leash dogs at town parks is now not just about how they should be accommodated, but where.
The Town Council, at the suggestion of a Moraga resident, on Feb. 10 asked staff to see if there are places in town beside Rancho Laguna Park that would be appropriate for dog owners to let their four-legged friends run free.
That could pave the way for the creation of a dedicated dog park to replace current off-leash hours at Rancho Laguna, although how it would be paid for is still unclear.
Two potential dog park sites, suggested by resident Bob Reynolds, are a little-used portion of Moraga Commons across from the library, known as the "back 40," and town-owned property across from the entrance to Saint Mary's College.
The latter site is one Moraga hopes to sell to pay for the purchase and upgrade of town facilities on Rheem Boulevard.
Although the council had originally asked the Park and Recreation Commission to study a physical barrier between dogs and people at Rancho Laguna, Councilman Mike Metcalf said it became clear the commission should have been asked to broaden its scope to include other sites.
"Before you make a decision you might as well find out what all options are," added Councilman Howard Harpham.
Currently, off-leash dogs are allowed at Rancho Laguna before 9 a.m. and after 6 p.m. April through September and after 4 p.m. October through March. The council set those hours in July after some residents raised safety concerns about having off-leash dogs near children, and about dog feces left on the grass.
Dog owners say there's no reason to change the off-leash hours because they've worked well for years.
Others are free to use the park during the day when dogs aren't present, and complaints have been overblown, said Seth Freeman, a member of Friends of Rancho Laguna Park, which advocates leaving off-leash hours intact.
"There's no evidence of any public health problem," Freeman said. "There's not one police report of a dog-bite incident during off-leash hours."
The town does receive some complaints about dogs at the park, said Parks and Recreation Director Jay Ingram, but the issue is also one of limited resources. Moraga has less park space than it should, Ingram said, and Rancho Laguna is the only town-owned property with a flat grass surface suitable as a playing field.
Off-leash dog use at Rancho Laguna has gone up, Ingram said, but that has also driven other groups, like athletic teams, away.
"The question for me is are we maximizing the usage of our limited resources," Ingram said.
The Park and Recreation Commission recommended two options for Rancho Laguna. One, preferred by the Friends of Rancho Laguna Park, included fencing off the children's play areas, fencing off a small area for smaller dogs and leaving the off-leash hours intact for all other areas.
The other option would combine the two play areas on one side of the park and fence off an area in the north side of the park where dogs could be off-leash at all times.
Constructing a separate dog park elsewhere in town is not only unnecessary, it's also expensive, said Friends of Rancho Laguna Park member Bill Cosden.
"How is the town going to pay for it?" he said. Even if they find the suitable space how are they going to pay for it?"
It would be up to the council to decide if a dog park is a priority and if so, how they would like to fund it's construction, Ingram said.
Contact Jonathan Morales at 925-943-8048. Read the Lamorinda Sun blog at www.ibabuzz.com/lamorindasun.