Planning Commission Denies Key Permit for Off-Leash Dog Pilot Program at Pillar Point Bluff

Seasonal pond and wetlands – Pillar Point Bluff Photo by Lisa Ketcham

On February 9, the San Mateo County Planning Commission put wildlife and public safety first as it voted 3-1 to deny a Coastal Development Permit (CDP) for an Off-Leash Dog Pilot Program at Pillar Point Bluff. While the Commissioners would have approved the CDP for the program at Quarry Park, which we supported, the Parks Director advised against it citing the Board of Supervisors’ approval of the program at both parks.

Commission Finds Program Inconsistent with Coastal Act and County Local Coastal Program

In November 2021, the Board of Supervisors approved the Off-Leash Dog Pilot Program at Pillar Point Bluff and Quarry Park. The Supervisors’ approval was specifically contingent upon the Planning Commission’s finding that the project was consistent with applicable policies of the Coastal Act and County Local Coastal Program (LCP). Planning Commissioners Ketcham, Gupta, and Hansson determined that the program at Pillar Point Bluff did not comply with LCP policies mandating the protection of sensitive habitats, including seasonal wetlands, rare coastal prairie grasslands, and many special status wildlife species found there.

They also were concerned that off-leash dogs would be inconsistent with Coastal Act and LCP requirements for safe access for all people applicable at Pillar Point Bluff due to its oceanfront location.

As the Midcoast Community Council (MCC) noted in its letter calling for the Commission to deny the CDP at Pillar Point Bluff: “…the MCC must weigh the needs of pet owners against the needs of our entire community including minorities, the elderly or disabled, families with children, and non-dog owners who use the bluffs for recreation (meditation, family walks, and photography, as it is one of the few bluff locations with an ADA accessible dirt-packed trail where a person can view a sunset over the ocean while watching the full moon rise over the harbor). By approval of a pilot program and subsequent publication of Pillar Point Bluff as uniquely available for off-leash dogs on numerous social media sites, this will bring new dog owners to the coast which will discourage non-dog owners from freely and safely using these parks.”

As we and others had recommended, the MCC and Planning Commissioners were in favor of approving the program only at Quarry Park, but not at Pillar Point Bluff. However, County Counsel advised that the Parks Department – the Applicant for the CDP – would have to agree to this. Unfortunately, the Parks Director believed he did not have the authority to alter the program based on the Supervisors’ vote in November 2021.

Final Decision Rests with the Board of Supervisors

The Planning Commission’s denial of the pilot program has been appealed to the Board of Supervisors. Thanks to the Midcoast Community Council and Planning Commission’s votes, we are cautiously optimistic that the Supervisors will only approve the CDP for the Off-Leash Dog Pilot Program at Quarry Park. There is far less potential for impacts to wildlife and environmentally sensitive habitats at Quarry Park due to its predominantly non-native eucalyptus forested habitats and location away from the coast.

Stay Tuned for Updates!

We will let you know when the Board of Supervisors will consider the Appeal of the Planning Commission’s decision. We hope you will again join us in speaking up for wildlife and sensitive habitats that don’t have a voice in this process.

Thanks again to the hundreds of people on the coast and throughout San Mateo County who have written and spoken up for the protection of wildlife and sensitive habitats at Pillar Point Bluff; your voices have made an enormous difference!

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