PICTURED: Port Hueneme councilmember Steven Gama’s dog Jackson on a legal dog beach in Morro Bay. Photo courtesy Steven Gama

by Alex Wilson

Port Hueneme City Councilmember Steven Gama loves walking his dog on the beach, but has to leave the city he governs to do it legally.

Gama takes his dog Jackson to nearby Silver Strand beach, or more distant stretches of coastline in Santa Barbara or Morro Bay where it is legal, but he and other dog owners in Port Hueneme could one day have a closer legal option: One June 6, the Port Hueneme City Council voted 4-1 to ask city staff to research the idea of revising an ordinance forbidding dogs on Hueneme Beach first passed in 1991.

“I think it could be a good idea if it could be controlled,” Gama said. “It’s a wellness thing. You know, dogs like to be walked. My dog is a golden retriever, so he’s a water dog and just loves to be around the water.”  

Dogs may one day be allowed on Hueneme Beach. Photo by David Dockter

Port Hueneme does not have an official dog park, and city officials say it’s one of the top priorities mentioned by residents when surveyed about park needs.

Two dog parks are included in a park master plan adopted last year. One is at Bubbling Springs Park that has funding identified and is in the design process, city officials said. Another unfunded dog park is proposed at Hueneme Beach Park but would be located across the street from the beach and not on the sand.

Some councilmembers have raised concerns about the length of time it’s taken to build a fenced-in dog park, which is part of the reason for the interest in opening Hueneme Beach to dogs. 

 Concerns over threatened and endangered birds

During the meeting, representatives of the Audubon Society discussed pros and cons of changing the rules to allow dogs on Hueneme Beach. The bird enthusiast group monitors nests of threatened and endangered birds at Oxnard’s Ormond Beach just east of Hueneme Beach, including western snowy plovers and California least terns. Cynthia Hartley coordinates the Audubon Shorebird Recovery Program and said the current ban on dogs at Hueneme and Ormond beaches is not enforced enough.

Snowy plovers are sometimes scared by dogs. Photo by Alex Vaca

“Because even now with the dog ban on Hueneme and Ormond we still have a lot of dogs,” Hartley told the council. “We have recorded, in the past year, hundreds and hundreds of dogs on Ormond Beach and most of them come up from Hueneme. And we believe that more dogs on Hueneme Beach would mean more dogs at Ormond Beach. And as it is, we are struggling with chick mortality, and more dogs would be potentially disastrous.”

While Hartley has concerns about allowing dogs on Hueneme Beach, she said if rules were created limiting dogs to a certain part of the beach north of the Port Hueneme Pier and were enforced, it might actually be an improvement over the current situation. She told the council that there should be signs installed and a public education campaign if dogs are allowed sometime after a future vote on the issue, and people who break the rules should be issued citations.   

“Without enforcement these ordinances don’t pack much punch. People will do what they can get away with,” she said, adding that she would love to send people with dogs to a legal dog beach that would keep them away from nesting birds.

Deputy City Manager Charles Peretz gave a report during the meeting that detailed all the beaches in Ventura County where dogs are allowed or banned. He said there’s no consistent policy, with eight beaches banning dogs entirely and nine allowing them as long as they are leashed.

Beaches where dogs are prohibited include Rincon Point and San Buenaventura State beaches. Some beaches that allow dogs on a leash include Solimar Beach, Oxnard Beach and Sycamore Cove Beach.

Only one local beach allows dogs off leash, but only during certain hours, and that’s Hollywood Beach, Peretz said.   

 He continued that the dog ban at Hueneme Beach is meant to prevent safety issues involving aggressive dogs, as well as dog waste on the beach and impacts on wildlife.

“The biggest benefit of revising the ordinance to allow dogs down at the beach would be to enhance recreational experiences both for the dogs themselves and also for the dog owners. And we know that this is important for both physical and emotional benefits for both humans and dogs alike,” he said.

 Time, cost, environmental impacts to consider

City Attorney Kevin Spaulding said moving ahead with lifting the dog ban will not be easy, mostly because of the endangered and threatened birds that live in the area. An extensive environmental review process in consultation with state and federal wildlife officials would be required, he said.

“If the object is to get a dog park quick, the beach is not the place to do it. If the object is to change the nature and character of the beach for the community’s enjoyment, and time is not a factor, then perhaps we look at the beach as a place to investigate allowing dogs,” Spaulding said.

Councilmember Laura Hernandez cast the lone “no” vote against further study of the idea, and said the first official dog park with fences and other amenities should be built in the not-too-distant future since planning is already well underway. After the meeting, Hernandez told the Ventura County Reporter that the cost of the required studies was also a concern. 

“I’m not necessarily opposed to the idea,” she explained. “I am concerned about owners who don’t act responsibly and clean up after their dogs. There’s an enforcement issue. There’s an environmental impact issue, there’s a cost issue. There are too many unknowns, which is primarily why I voted against it.”