Thank You!

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Thank you all for the overwhelming response for the Sept 22 hearing and a special thanks to everyone who SHOWED UP!

It was a huge crowd and there has been a lot of great press following the hearing.

If you missed it and weren’t watching the live feed, here’s what Cole had to say:

Hello, and thank you for the opportunity to speak here tonight. I’m Cole Eckerman and I am the Executive Director of Citizens for Off-Leash Areas. Our group has advocated for, managed and maintained Seattle’s dog parks for twenty years.

First, we would like to take this opportunity to publicly recognize the thousands of COLA supporters and dog lovers who took the time to write, email, and call Parks and Recreation and our elected officials on this issue. Your support has made a huge difference and we Thank you!

Responding to thousands of emails and petition signatures, the Superintendent’s addendum to the People Dogs and Parks draft is an important step toward a park system that works for all types of families in Seattle. We thank Jesús, Christopher, and others in the department for listening to the concerns Seattle dog owners had about the draft as it was released, and for working with COLA to improve upon the recommendations and policies presented in the draft. COLA is excited to continue our work with Parks and Recreation to build an equitable and more expansive off-leash system that will include not only capital improvements to our existing parks, but new off-leash areas, pilots for strategic land use, and additional swimming beaches for our dogs.

We appreciate that SPR now acknowledges that the canine community needs more water access and swimming opportunities for the health of our pups. Seattle has over 200 miles of shoreline. Working with environmental groups, we know that we can find additional water access for dogs in areas that do not contain critical habitat.

For far too long, dog owners of Seattle have been denied reasonable access to legal off-leash land, with an OLA system that’s inadequate in both size and quality. We view the revisions presented this evening as an important policy shift to more accurately reflect the needs of the taxpaying dog owners all over this city. This addendum is laying important groundwork; together, COLA and SPR can build an equitable OLA system that is easily accessible to every dog owner in their local community. We can only achieve this though, if we have adequate funding and a more strategic, objective, measurable approach to our land use.

The stated policy shift is certainly welcomed, but without sufficient funding beyond the current budget, the goals for increasing and adequately maintaining OLAs are unrealistic. Together we have made progress toward a plan. What remains outstanding is a financial commitment from the City to adequately fund the plan beyond the $104K in the Parks District annual budget.

Seattle spends more on its Parks system per capita than any other city in the US; we also have the highest ratio of dogs to kids in the country. However, the average Seattle taxpayer will pay $200 a year in taxes for parks, and only 67 cents of that will go to off-leash areas. Assuming the average dog owner spends $50/mo per dog just for food and treats, Seattle dog owners pay more than $8.6 million per year in sales tax alone. Seattle needs a budget for off-leash areas that more accurately reflects not only the amount of money dog owners pay in taxes each year, but one that also acknowledges the importance of community-building that happens in neighborhood OLAs. Off-Leash Areas are a gathering place not only for dogs, but also their owners. While Seattle has provided playgrounds for families with children to recreate, the City has been too slow to recognize the recreation needs of pet parents. OLAs are the playgrounds of the families of the canine community.

the 2016 recreation demand study concluded there is a need for innovative, creative solutions to meet future recreation needs. More OLAs will be required to meet participation model projections, particularly in the urban centers and villages. COLA believes one creative solution is an hours or multi-use system for dogs to be off-leash in equitably and carefully selected parks. This concept is used successfully in nearly every other West Coast city, including cities in the Puget Sound region, and it affords a much more reasonably priced way to separate incompatible uses of parkland while serving all needs. COLA asks that the Parks Board recommend a feasibility study on the viability of multi-use off-leash areas in Seattle before any formal policy is adopted. COLA is happy to secure a grant to help fund this study. We ask that once this study is completed and the results are openly shared, that a determination around multi-use be made based upon the study’s findings.

Seattle needs to act to correct the gap in accessibility to legal off-leash land across the City. I want to be clear: COLA does not advocate for every park to become an OLA. In fact, we are trying to stop that from happening. In a city with over 150,000 dogs, enforcement alone cannot solve this problem. We need a significant increase in access to legal off-leash land.

We are encouraged by the relationship we have been developing with Seattle Parks and Recreation and look forward to furthering it as we work together to build a larger, more equitable OLA system. On behalf of our board, volunteers, supporters, and the dogs of Seattle, thank you for your time.

If you would like to see the whole hearing, check it out here:

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