The Santa Cruz Dog Leash Debate


Perhaps you’ve heard that there is a debate right now over whether to allow dogs off-leash on Santa Cruz County beaches. Currently, there are some beaches in the city of Santa Cruz that allow for off-leash dogs, such as Lighthouse and Its Beach. However, there are no county beaches that allow for off-leash access.

This question came to a head recently as the Santa Cruz County Parks and Recreation Commission recommended the Board of Supervisors explore an off-leash pilot program. The issue has traditionally inspired broad engagement, with proponents on one side arguing about the benefits of letting dogs run free on beaches – that this is an important outlet for them to exercise, play with other dogs, and in general to stay healthy. Opponents have raised concern about the environmental impact of dog feces, but also the risk of injury, especially to youth and seniors, from being bowled over by a sprinting canine.

Since this is an important local issue that will soon have its moment of truth before the Board of Supervisors, we at Civinomics did what we do best and created an online initiative on the topic, asking our members if they want an off leash pilot program for Live Oak beaches. Well, we appear to have struck a civic chord – to date, 141 votes have been cast on this issue. Roughly 80% of the votes are in favor, and, unsurprisingly, the area contributing the most votes is Live Oak, followed by the city of Santa Cruz.

On top of that, we’ve seen a hearty debate take place, with a total of 75 comments made so far. You’ve got those in favor advocating for the value of allowing dogs on beaches, both for their pet’s health, as well as the feeling of community that can result. And you’ve got those opposed, pointing out the potential environmental and safety hazards of letting dogs loose.

But unlike pretty much every other online political debate out there, this one is – dare I say – genuinely civil and constructive! The comments have helped broaden and inform the debate, people have responded to each other respectfully, overall creating an authentic discussion around this issue. And, people have shown a unique willingness to compromise, something hardly found in the halls of online political discourse.

Have you seen it for yourself? And while we’re at it, have you voted yet? If not we invite you to see what your fellow community members are saying and weigh in on the debate here:

Do You Want an Off-Leash Pilot Program?

The Santa Cruz County Parks Commission is recommending a pilot program that would allow dogs to run free on some county beaches.


  1. Hello Russell:

    It’s important when discussing an issue as complex as dogs on the beach to get the basic facts correct.

    The motion passed by the Santa Cruz County Parks Commission asked the Board of Supervisors to “consider an off-leash pilot program on a county beach.” Not county beaches.

    There is only one beach in Santa Cruz City that allows dogs off-leash. That beach is Mitchell’s Cove, which allows dogs off-leash from sunrise to 10 am and 4 pm to sunset. Its Beach (Lighthouse Field State Beach) is a State Beach where dogs are required by state law to be on-leash at all times. Unfortunately, dog owners who choose to ignore the law and the posted signs at all entrances let their dogs run off-leash at all hours.

    Leash Law Advocates of Santa Cruz County (LLASCC are opposed to the County allowing unleashed dogs on the beach due to concerns about the environmental impact of dogs chasing shorebirds and other wildlife, particularly within the Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary, which borders County beaches at the mean high tide line. LLASCC is also concerned about the risk to humans and leashed dogs from attacks by unleashed dogs.

    In general, the question asked in the Civinomics poll is misdirected. The question the Board of Supervisors will address is whether or not it is in the interest of the public to suspend a public safety law in shared public spaces, and to dilute or eliminate environmental protections in the County’s General Plan and Local Coastal Program, to benefit a single user group.

    • Jean Brocklebank says:

      I will add two other corrections to Russell Sterten’s editorial.

      First, the concern is not primarily about the environmental impact of dog feces, as stated in the editorial, although it is true that owners allow their unleashed dogs to wander while socializing with other owners and many times do not see their dogs defecating. If the dog was leashed, it would be impossible to miss the deed.

      Second, and most important, people have certainly not “shown a unique willingness to compromise,” as Russell states. In point of fact, those who want their dogs to be unleashed at the beach do not acknowledge that simply having their dogs at the beach, on leash, is already a compromise. This is true especially at the two County-owned parcels at Corcoran Lagoon Beach, with its shorebird nesting sites, because the County LCP says “In some cases, dogs may be prohibited from beach areas designated as Sensitive Habitat, leashed or not (LCP5.3.2).”

  2. Bob zufall says:

    Board, spend money and work real issues. We have enough keeping our beaches clean. Leave the two no leashes open but would shut them down also. What crazy issue to spend time on.

  1. […] of this blog may recall our coverage of Santa Cruz County’s off leash dog debate. Well, virtually the same issue appears to be coming again to the fore, this time involving the […]

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