OAKLAND -- The fate of the long-debated Lake Merritt dog park may rest with outgoing Councilwoman Jane Brunner.

With Brunner absent on Tuesday, the council failed to muster the needed five votes to either approve the dog park or kill it.

The issue will return for a vote on Dec. 18 -- the final scheduled council meeting for Brunner as well as dog park supporters Nancy Nadel and Ignacio De La Fuente.

"We think we have a very good chance. Jane is a rationale person," said Emily Rosenberg, co-founder of the Oakland Dog Owners Group, which has been pushing for the park for 12 years.

Four council members voted in favor of the dog park: Rebecca Kaplan, Libby Schaaf, Nadel and De La Fuente. The three voting against it were Desley Brooks, Larry Reid and Pat Kernighan.

Because the issue is an appeal of an earlier Planning Commission ruling rejecting the park, five votes are needed for either side to prevail.

If the council deadlocks at its next meeting, Mayor Jean Quan would break the tie.

Although Quan and Brunner have not made any public statements about the dog park, advocates on both sides said the political odds favored approval of the facility.

The dog park, slated for the intersection of MacArthur Boulevard and Lakeshore Drive, near the I-580 interchange, has generated lots of controversy in the Grand Lake neighborhood, where 2,200 people signed a petition opposing it.

Public comment on Tuesday lasted for about three hours, with 173 people signed up to speak.

The facility would fence off about one-quarter of a large grassy expanse that is a frequent home to soccer games, football catches and children's games.

"This open lawn is far too valuable to be fenced off for one user group," dog park opponent Brad McCray told the council.

Rosenberg and other dog park advocates said there would still be room for other activities.

A mediation session Monday failed to produce a compromise, and proposed alternative sites near Children's Fairyland and at the shuttered Lakeview Elementary School proved unworkable.

Oakland has five dog parks, and fairly draconian laws prohibiting dogs from other city parks. No dogs, even on leashes, are currently allowed at the proposed dog park site at the southeastern edge of Lake Merritt.

Kernighan, whose district includes neighborhoods around the proposed dog park site where opposition is strongest, said the open grass area was too valuable to fence off.

Council members backing the dog park said there would still be room for recreation. "At the end of the day, we all have to share," De La Fuente said.

Contact Matthew Artz at 510-208-6435.