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City Council Lashes Out At Leashes
November 16, 2005 - Ryan Gierach, West Hollywood
When the West Hollywood City Council met on November 7, no one imagined yet another pet law coming out of it, but the council is known for sometimes doing the unimaginable.
Constituent complaints, most importantly a tragic one from a resident who lost a beloved cat to a dog on a retractable leash, compelled the council to direct staff to design an ordinance that would ban the use of the leashes in the city.
Complaining that dog owners sometimes demonstrate little respect for passersby and property when they fail to rein in their animal companions, the council asked staff to write an ordinance that would control the use of the popular devices, up to and including a possible ban on their sale within the city limits.
A few irresponsible WeHo dog guardians who use long retractable leashes inconsiderately will bring down a ban on the leashes upon the rest. By Ryan Gierach
Spending the following day in a polling place and watching the long-leash phenomenon at work convinced council member Jeff Prang of the correctness of the action. "These leashes are a hazard to people who get caught up in them as the dogs race around," he told WeHoNews.com on Nov. 8. "I watched a lady bring in four of her beloved canine companions who proceeded to sow chaos because she had a long leash extended so they could roam all over the room. It's especially dangerous for the seniors who get caught up in the tangle," he said.
But legislating respect for others is always a touchy business, he ceded. "Dogs and their guardians like to give the animal a feeling that they can roam freely, I can appreciate that," he told WeHoNews.com, "but they impede foot traffic on the sidewalk when they don't rein [their dogs] in; people have to walk around them or get tripped up. We live in a dense urban environment where people rub elbows pretty closely; we have to call attention to the problem to raise awareness. Maybe a law against them will do that."
Reaction on the part of dog guardians and pet shop owners was universally disdainful. "This city council is out of their tree!" Hal Bodner, owner of Heavy Petting Pet Boutique told WeHoNews.com. "We have huge problems with homelessness and issues with failing small businesses, like with the A frame ban. There's a lack of middle-income housing, and no parking and they want to ban long doggie leashes? There are irresponsible dog owners and irresponsible drivers and, dare I say, irresponsible city council members. You can't legislate away irresponsibility."
Roughly 150 homeless people make West Hollywood their 'residence,' but many more than that roam through town, panhandling and impacting on businesses and residents alike. By Ryan Gierach.
Dan Abramson, walking his whippet along SMB on a retractable leash, said, "I'd like to see them enforce that law." His whippet, Pippin, sniffed a tree fifteen feet away and discovered his owner had stopped and bounded back. "You see how nice [retractable leashes are] for the pets," he asked?
Council member Prang all but conceded that enforcement was well nigh impossible, in fact, he thought it might just be a "hedge height controversy all over again," referring to the brutal 2003 row with property-owners over regulating hedge rows. "The 'pooper scooper' law is difficult to enforce, too," he acknowledged, "but we have to do something to protect others' rights and the safety of other dogs."
In a late-breaking development after publication of this article, Mr. Prang's office provided WeHoNews.com word that a county statute to control dogs "running at large" already stands on the books. The text of that law follows:
10.32.010 Dogs -- Running at large prohibited -- Exceptions.
No person owning or having charge, care, custody or control of any dog shall cause, permit or allow the same to be or to run at large upon any highway, street, lane, alley, court or other public place, or upon any private property or premises other than those of the person owning or having charge, care, custody or control of such dog, in the unincorporated area of the county of Los Angeles, unless such dog be restrained by a substantial chain or leash not exceeding six feet in length and is in the charge, care, custody or control of a competent person. (Ord. 9454 § 1 (part), 1967: Ord. 8043 § 12 (part), 1961: Ord. 4729 Art. 7 § 701, 1946.)
According to Sam Baxter, the city's Facilities and Landscape manager, since West Hollywood has adopted the county's care and control regulations, the city could enforce that code to address the problems associated with long retractable leashes, and the city need not create any new ordinance.
That same night the council took another action some had said was too long in the taking - they granted the Rent Stabilization Commission a voice in discussions on city Housing Policies. Council directed Michael Jenkins, WeHo City Attorney, to prepare an amendment to the West Hollywood Municipal Code expanding the scope of the commission from merely a mediation and adjudication body to an advisory role.
Additionally, in a tentative step in the direction of creating a formal Housing Commission, council directed staff to explore the city's options on creating such a Commission or, as Mayor Abbe Land took pains to point out, something similar.
"I have some questions about what the role of a Housing Commission would be," she told WeHoNews.com, "but we will be glad to hear the voices of those on the Rent Stabilization Commission in the important area of housing. Until now, the most experienced and knowledgeable people in the area of housing have been kept silent because of the limitations on their role as mediators. We'll now get the benefit of their knowledge."
Under the changes, members of the commission would be authorized
to place on their agenda for discussion, policies and programs that
might serve to advance the City's policy encouraging the development
of housing opportunities in the community.
Council Member Sal Guarriello's office echoed the enthusiasm for the idea by issuing the following statement. "I believe that going with expansion of the duties of the Rent Stabilization Commission will help to nurture and foster low- and moderate-income housing, and we're all for that."
An item that would have directed staff to design a means by which street names inside the city limits could be changed went down to swift defeat after only brief discussion. Brought to the council level by residents who considered the name of their street - Dicks Street in old Sherman - to be sexually provocative and wanting a change.
Council member John Duran did not like the idea of setting a precedent for changing street names. "What if someone wanted to change their street's name for publicity purposes?" Jeff Prang cited the expense and the trouble in his opposition. "It's a hugely expensive process involving changes to every map, every legal document for every household on the street, and every municipal and governmental agency. If we do this I hope we make it as onerous a process as we can make it."
Mayor of West Hollywood, Abbe Land. By Ryan Gierach.
Seeing a consensus develop against the measure and lacking a motion on it, Mayor Land bemusedly tabled the item "indefinitely; in fact, forever."
Finally, in other major council news, the council's proposed ordinance curbing helicopter noise crash landed when they were informed that they could pass any law they wanted, but they could as effectively pass a law changing the sun's tint. Explaining in a report that the City cannot enact effective restrictions in its air space, Los Angeles Sheriff Department Aero Bureau Captain Di Giovanna, a member of the city's Helicopter Over Flight Task Force, did advise the council that "good will, communication, and cooperation can go a long way" to solving the problem and offered to express the West Hollywood residents' concerns about over flights and hovering to the County's helicopter community. Capt. Di Giovanna meets regularly with the Professional Helicopter Pilots Association, and promised to discuss this issue with the Association at its November gathering.
Additionally, Mayor Abbe Land's office will send a letter requesting neighborly consideration on their part to Pilots Association.