Some 80 people attended the public meeting on White Rock’s proposed bylaw amendment to allow leashed dogs on the promenade in off-season months. (Contributed photo)

Meeting over dogs on promenade divided

Only those footing the bill should have input, says opponent

A majority of people voicing their opinion – or providing written submissions to the city – favour allowing dogs on White Rock’s promenade in off-season months, Coun. Helen Fathers said.

Fathers said that a public meeting chaired by Mayor Darryl Walker Jan. 30 to gather community input on a proposed bylaw amendment – which would allow leashed dogs on the promenade from September through April for a one-year trial – showed a distinct leaning toward the measure.

But resident Susan Potzold said she and other opponents of the amendment at the meeting “left feeling as though we’d been kicked in the gut.”

“It seemed to us to be a very one-sided meeting in terms of response from the mayor and some of the council members,” she said.

“They generally seem to have been in favour of dogs on the promenade from the beginning.”

Fathers said the meeting at White Rock Community Centre drew some 80 members of the public and was attended by all of council – except for Coun. David Chesney, who was out of province – provided them with good public feedback.

“It was about three to one in favour, and that’s what we’ve received through email as well,” said Fathers, who made the original motion for the amendment last December.

Among points opponents made at the meeting, Potzold said, were that only seven per cent of White Rock residents have paid for a dog licence, and that the promenade is currently the only dog-free area of the city.

“One woman from East Beach who spoke is the parent of an autistic child who is (scared of dogs),” Potzold said. “Lots of people are scared of dogs, but nobody seems to think of that.”

She said that many who attended the meeting were not White Rock residents, but were from Surrey or other areas, and won’t be bearing the costs of administering the trial, including the city spending some $22,000 to provide dog-waste bags and dispensers along the promenade, and a further $10,000 on signage.

“We don’t understand why people who are not going to be paying have the same voice as people who will be,” Potzold said.

Fathers acknowledged that while both verbal and written feedback was recorded, she did not make a note at the meeting of the numbers of respondents on either side of the issue who were from White Rock.

The bylaw, which has already had first, second and third readings, is scheduled go to a final vote on Feb. 11 – and the ultimate fate of the proposal will be decided by the will of council, she said.

“That will be a full meeting of council,” she said. “I’m sure there will be a lot of questions, and hopefully, we’ll get a lot of answers from staff.”

The bylaw was in response to a delegation by former civic candidate Mike Armstrong, representing the Dog Owners Group of White Rock, who had suggested a one-year reviewable program, arguing that a key to restoring vibrancy on the waterfront was to allow dog owners to walk their pets on the promenade in off-season months.

At a January meeting of council, councillors Erika Johanson and Scott Kristjanson voted against the measure, after suggesting shorter limits to the trial period.

“It was a really great turnout and there were excellent points and excellent speakers on both sides of the issue,” Fathers said.

“What I heard is that a lot of people want to make sure there is adequate enforcement (of existing regulations) down there. At this point we don’t know what that will look like.”

Fathers noted concerns voiced about health and environmental hazards from fecal contamination, and also safety of other pedestrians on the promenade who will be in close proximity to dogs.

“I agree with everything that was said about the dangers of extended leashes and other concerns about safety,” Fathers said. “We’ve got to make sure we really take care of these concerns, otherwise we’re going to have people saying ‘I told you so’.”

But Fathers said that negative interactions with dogs – whether related to un-bagged feces or inadequately controlled pets – are as likely to happen anywhere else in the city as on the promenade.

“It seems to me like some people are making the argument for not having dogs anywhere,” she said. “I’m hopeful this can be a positive thing. I don’t think you can make decisions based entirely on a worst-case scenario.

“People have said the city will be liable for anything that happens on the promenade, but we’re already liable everywhere – in effect, the promenade is just another street in White Rock.

“In the (existing) bylaw we already have tight controls on these things. Unfortunately we have had some incidents – but they have been dealt with according to the bylaw.”

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