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Identifying appropriate leash-optional beaches and parks in SC County read more

Identifying appropriate leash-optional beaches and parks in SC County


  1. Determine whether the county needs more off-leash areas
  2. Identify suitable off-leash beaches and parks
  3. Suggest ways to enforce responsible dog owner behavior


The next meeting of the Parks and Recreation Advisory Commission, where they will be discussing whether or not to allow limited off leash access to dogs on Live Oak beaches, is October 21 at 7 PM at Simpkins Swim Center.

To share and follow this workshop on Twitter, use the hashtag #cruzdogs



Dog ownership is popular in Santa Cruz County. The county is home to almost as many dogs (51,000) as children (55,000), according to the Santa Cruz Sentinel, making canines an inevitable subject of civic discussion.

In recent years, the people of Santa Cruz County have begun grappling with how to manage the presence of dogs in our public spaces. Questions of where, when and in what manner (such as on- or off-leash) dogs should appear in public places have animated discussions at the city, county and even state level.

Generally speaking, the arguments in favor of more dog-friendly and/or off-leash areas cite current inadequacies: too few places for dogs to exercise and the inconsistency or unenforceability of current ordinances. Those opposed to bringing dogs into public areas or making certain areas off-leash frequently cite problems with dog waste, public safety issues and threats to wildlife.

Currently dogs are officially allowed on-leash at 16 area parks and off-leash within fenced enclosures at 8 area parks. A ninth off-leash area, and the only beach on the list, is Mitchell Cove on West Cliff Drive in Santa Cruz. Off-leash times there are restricted to before 10am and after 4pm.

Recent History

Lighthouse Field State Beach is a property of the state. The city of Santa Cruz handles day-to-day operations there. From 1993 until 2007, dogs were allowed off-leash at Lighthouse Field. In 2005, the California Department of Parks and Recreation ordered the city to reverse that rule starting in 2007. A group called Friends of Lighthouse Field tried to maintain off-leash status for Lighthouse Field but did not prevail, and today only leashed dogs are allowed there. (The popular nearby Its Beach, which is part of Lighthouse Field SB, remains a de facto off-leash area.)

The city of Santa Cruz took on its own dog question in 2011, when the city council considered, and ultimately passed, an ordinance allowing dogs in the downtown commercial area for the first time in 30 years. Dogs must be leashed and registered.

Live Oak

Most recently, discussion has focused on the unincorporated mid-County area, where dog owners have for years treated several beaches and parks as de facto off-leash areas. In Jan. 2012, Santa Cruz County Animal Services announced it would be ramping up patrols and writing tickets at parks and beaches in unincorporated Santa Cruz County due to complaints about off-leash dogs.

A group of owners responded by forming a collective called LOOLA (Live Oak Off-Leash Advocates) and creating a petition requesting that the 21st Avenue beach area be granted off-leash status during morning and evening hours. The group contends that the county’s existing off-leash areas are too few and too small and that leaving the prime beachgoing hours of 10am to 4pm as on-leash time at 21st Avenue Beach will accommodate the needs of other visitors.

A group called Leash Law Advocates of Santa Cruz County (LASCC) which represents "a group of neighbors and friends concerned about recent attempts to weaken Santa Cruz City and County leash laws by creating off-leash dog hours at local beaches" opposes the move. "LLASC is also concerned about increasing violations of leash laws and lack of consistent enforcement." LLASC Website

What's Next?

In August 2012 the Santa Cruz County Animal Shelter Board of Directors, which is made up of city and county officials, recommended in principle creating more off-leash areas for dogs throughout the county and its four cities (Capitola, Santa Cruz, Scotts Valley and Watsonville). Board recommendations are not binding.

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