Saturday, January 24, 2009

update and thoughts

i want to thank betsy roberts, jim hall, julia grant, david gordon and pat riceci for meeting yesterday at the flc to look at possible alternatives for a loop in lower hull's gulch. everyone is busy, dogs have taken up a lot of time over the past year, and i appreciate the few hours out of everyone's day yesterday.

chickadee is definitely off the table. anything near the learning center is off the table. we did identify one spot where it might be possible to connect red fox to where red cliffs comes down so people wouldn't have to leash up to go through the parking lot and then un leash again. only there's an aase's onion patch there, so it will take some more looking.

in the course of this conversation, we had some discussion about how the public process has worked. opinions in the room ranged from "not so well" to "followed models used in most similar situations" to "meetings need to be when public can attend" to "it was fine, only a small group has a problem with it". i would hazard a guess that if a similar scenario played out with a larger user group- say mountain bikers- there would be a larger group with an issue.

i am trying to put my finger on exactly why it has been so painful. parks dept personnel have all been very responsive to requests (thanks julia, david, amy & margaret) and unfailingly polite. mr. hall has listened. some of the fcac members- annie black, suki molina, anne hausrath, betsy roberts- have been open to conversation.

i am not writing this to point fingers but rather to understand how, from this citizen's perspective, the process could be improved. what it comes down to for me is discussion and two way communication.

i don't know how the working group was chosen. it appears that there was only one member selected because she recreates with off leash dogs in the foothills. margie was a lucky accident for us, but she was put on the working group to represent swimba, not as an off leash dog trail user. i know one dog owner who called & asked to serve on the group and was turned down. i don't know how appropriate it was to have 2 members of the fcac, the body that would later vote on the proposal, as participating members of the working group. (correction- there was one member sitting and 2 members traded off to cover the spot)

as far as we're concerned, we never saw hard data to support the original working group recommendation. there was no specific wildlife study cited, no map of sensitive plant areas, nothing that we read in the public comments that supported such a drastic change. we agree that there are issues that need to be addressed- dog owners need to pick up poop, follow the leash laws and not let their dogs chase wildlife or bother people (and other dogs). we have never disputed any of that. we just asked for information on where and when problems were occurring so that the issue could be approached with a scalpel rather than a chainsaw. we have called for enforcement of existing rules from the beginning.

here are a few of the things along the way that made me less than comfortable with the process:

  • i repeatedly requested the specific wildlife study used in the working group. i was finally told by the fish and game representative who was on the working group to google dogs and wildlife "and let me know if you find any studies showing that dogs are good for wildlife". an inappropriate response.
  • our initial proposal requested (among other things) site specific information to identify sensitive areas to manage to the problem rather than look at a blanket response. several of the fcac members accused us of stalling. these members did not talk to us, ask why we were suggesting what we did or offer a different approach. they assumed we were stalling rather than giving us credit for seriously requesting information and trying to work together toward a solution. on a side note- the fcac was later provided with a specific dogs and wildlife study (from boulder) and a sensitive plant map. i am not certain why it was stalling when we requested this information but became germane later.
  • as i have done in the past with council matters, i requested contact information for fcac members. i was told that i needed to go through chairman mcdevitt. talking with one person is not the same as being able to converse with various committee members. the few conversations i had with mr. mcdevitt did not leave me feeling like there was much point in contacting him again. fortunately, i know several other committee members and was able to have discussions with them, but for someone who has not been involved in city government it could be a completely different (and very intimidating) situation.

i do not think any of this is intentional or agenda driven. we have forged a working relationship with ridge to rivers that we can build on. dog owners needed to get organized, and this situation made that happen.

but i am damn tired of hearing that the process worked fine from the people who ran it. it would make me a lot more comfortable if we were talking about how it could have gone better from both sides. which i guess puts me back where i started this whole thing in paragraph 5.

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