With a 4-1 vote Monday, the Sonoma City Council decided to pursue allowing leashed dogs on the Montini Trail. The 1.8 mile trail is under construction on the 98-acre hillside Montini Preserve at the city’s northern edge.
The County Open Space District’s no-dog rule was part of the deal by which the city will take ownership of the property in early 2014. There is a provision for amending that rule, however, and Monday’s vote authorizes city staff to begin that process.
First up is commissioning an impact report to show that dogs, if allowed, would have a minimal impact on the trail area.
The decision ultimately rests with the Open Space District, whose director, despite mixed signals very early in the Montini purchase, has, Councilmember Steve Barbose said, “given an unofficial nod of approval” for the city to make its own choice.
More than 20 people spoke at the meeting. Opponents of dog access, including Stephen Dale, director of the Sonoma Ecology Center, said the designation of nature preserve is incompatible with dogs. Others worried that dogs will make messes along the trail and disrupt wildlife.
The pro-dog contingent argued that if humans can use the trail, dogs should be able to accompany them. “I’m not taking a walk unless my dog comes with me,” said Beverly Page.
Submitting a petition signed by 385 people, Jennifer Hainstock said, “I’m an environmentalist and I know dogs and nature can coexist.”
While cautioning that “this is not a done deal, Councilmember Steve Barbose fully endorsed the dog-friendly trail. “I don’t have time to take myself for a walk and then take my dog for a walk.”
Councilmember Laurie Gallian agreed. “My prime objective has always been getting people on that property.”
Members David Cook and Ken Brown said the issue is also about regaining local control of the city property. The Open Space District bought the preserve in 2005 for $13.9 million, including a $1.15 million contribution from the city. Sonoma takes ownership and responsibility of the property early next year, but is still subject to the District management plan.
Councilmember Tom Rouse was the lone vote against the move. “The experts tell us this preserve was not designed for dogs,” he said. “This is not a regional park.”
Several sticking points remain. The western trailhead, on Fourth Street West, crosses State Parks property. Because dogs are not allowed on any State Park land, officials would need to be satisfied that no dog owners would begin or end their hike on that end of the trail.
Another issue is the connection of the new trail to the Overlook Trail, which prohibits dogs. Those trails will meet on Norrbom Road. The biggest hurdle is convincing the District that dogs will not impact, or conflict with the mission, of the preserve.
In the meantime, more meetings and paperwork. “This is but a first step,” said Mayor Ken Brown.