OAKLAND -- An Alameda County Superior Court judge has ruled that the East Bay Regional Park District did not comply with state environmental law in its analysis of the consequences of plans to renovate Albany Beach.
In response to a challenge filed by the group Sustainability, Parks, Recycling and Wildlife Defense Fund, Judge Evelio Grillo on April 9 tentatively ordered the park district to vacate its resolution certifying the Albany Beach Environmental Impact Report. The park district has 15 days to respond.
Specifically, Grillo found that the report failed to address the current and possible future consequences of off-leash dogs at the beach. Off-leash dogs are prohibited at the beach, but dog owners regularly violate the rules.
"The EIR did not recognize a qualitative distinction between on-leash dogs and off-leash dogs, while implicitly recognizing that the distinction was significant," Grillo wrote, later adding, "The EIR's lack of factual information is troubling given that the draft EIR specifically identified 'dogs' use of Albany Beach' as an area of controversy."
He further wrote, "Given that the EIR suggests that off-leash dogs harass wildlife, conflict with bird watching and bicycling, run through dunes and cause erosion, and significantly degrade habitat value by deterring shorebirds, the amount and type of information necessary for an informed discussion would at a minimum include some data on whether the baseline is 10 percent, 25 percent, 50 percent, or 75 percent off-leash dogs."
Ted Radosevich, legal counsel for the park district, said the judge's ruling is not final, but tentative, and that the district has 15 days to comment or hold a hearing.
Radosevich said the ruling indicated that the judge simply wanted more information on the percentage of dogs that are on leash or off leash at the beach.
"We think we disclosed the information properly," Radosevich said. "We think with time, we can reasonably move forward to keep project moving on."
The environmental report included a response to a comment that signs informing parkgoers of the rules have been removed or vandalized by the public and that district police issue verbal warnings.
In his order, Grillo said that the document should have included the lack of enforcement of current leash rules as part of the baseline for evaluating future impacts. He pointed out that the environmental analysis states that the number of dogs at the beach is expected to increase, but the park district does not intend to alter its enforcement.
Grillo also noted that people on both sides of the debate specifically requested that the district address the issue by collecting and disclosing data to inform the public debate. He called that failure "prejudicial to public discussion and informed decision-making."
Should the order be finalized, the park district will have to continue the environmental impact process to correct the deficiencies.
Staff writer Katie Nelson contributed to this report.