Updated as of 7:50 a.m. Wednesday
The San Clemente City Council Tuesday shot down immediate plans for a dog beach, but told staffers to start working on a plan to let leashed dogs in more parks and build more fenced open space for dogs to run.
Council voted 5-0 in favor of the park proposals, but Mayor Jim Evert didn't call for a motion for a vote on moving forward with the beach because other council members made it clear they wouldn't support immediate plans.
Still, council members Lori Donchak, Tim Brown and Jim Dahl didn't reject the idea out-of-hand. They said they wouldn't support it now, however, because of regional mandates to reduce coastal bacteria levels and a pending federal beach replenishment program that could add more beach area in the next several years to make a dog section more feasible.
"I do think we need to increase the amenities for dogs and pets," Brown said. "[But] we don't have an abundant beach line -- we have a strand that has been disappearing over the years."
Tom Bonigut, assistant city engineer, said that though an increase in bacterial levels in San Clemente's coastal waters may be negligible if a strip of beach were open to dogs, any increase could result in steep fines from regional water quality agencies.
Bonigut said, however, allowing more dogs in parks wouldn't cause problems with water quality, according to a runoff study now underway in the city.
Councilman Bob Baker, a dog owner wholeheartedly in favor of extending pooches' park access, stopped short of supporting an off-leash dog beach like the one proposed by staff and some San Clemente dog owners.
"Your dog should be on a leash at all times when you're in public," Baker said. "If you're letting your dog run around on the beach without a leash, you're making a big mistake."
The strand of beach in question Tuesday runs from Dije Court to Mariposa Point and would have been open to dogs from 4 a.m. to 10 a.m.
About a dozen residents spoke against the beach plan, while about two dozen spoke in favor of it.
"One of the things we're really disappointed with is the lack of amenities for dogs," said San Clemente resident Lee Bexiga. She said the small patch where dogs can run off-leash at is inadequate.
"It's not the type of amenity I would have expected from a vibrant and progressive city like San Clemente," she said.
Resident Kirk Kegel was vehemently opposed to the idea of letting dogs anywhere in the city other than where they are allowed now.
"I'm very disappointed that this community would even consider letting dogs on beaches and parks," Kegel said. "Now I see there is a special interest group puting their interests above the rest of the residents."
According to Steve Streiger of the Beaches, Parks and Recreation Commission who worked on developing the dog beach plan, San Clemente is home to 16,000 dogs. Only 5,000 of those are licensed.