West Coast
Orange County Sheriff’s Deputies Duvignau, center, and Pefley, politely clear the “unofficial” dog beach on the Newport Beach side of the Santa Ana River on Friday, August 30, 2019. (Photo by Kevin Sullivan, Orange County Register/SCNG)

Dog days are doomed as enforcement ramps up at ‘unofficial dog beach’ at mouth of the Santa Ana River

There’s a small canine haven wedged between Newport Beach and Huntington Beach, a swath of sand where pups frolic free, splashing around where the salty sea blends with fresh water flowing from the Santa Ana River.

But it seems the carefree dog days at this “unofficial” secret puppy paradise are doomed.

Enforcement has ramped up at this county spot north of Newport Beach’s border, with Orange County Sheriff Department deputies making regular appearances in recent weeks – including Friday afternoon, Aug. 30 – to warn dog owners they must leave or face citations.

“It’s going to be a bummer,” Keanu Kaaa said of the prospect of losing beach access. “We have a few friends nearby, we all bring our dogs here to meet up.”

On Friday afternoon, deputies showed up to ask the 20 or so dog owners for voluntary compliance – with everyone opting to leave with their dogs.

It’s a different vibe here, Kaaa said, a quaint place where dog owners always get along and it is a small enough space where they don’t have to worry about dogs fleeing away down long stretches of sand or up onto a busy highway, as they do at the official Huntington Dog Beach.

He even prefers making the trek from his home in Long Beach, rather than go to Rosie’s Dog Beach in his city, where he said the water doesn’t circulate as much.

The area at the Santa Ana River has been a hot topic in recent years, with nearby homeowners arguing that the dogs create a nuisance and mess, environmentalists who worry about impacts to the nearby bird populations, and passionate pup owners who want to see the area remain a place for their dogs to play.

While there’s been no change in policy – with dogs on and off leash never allowed within the county’s flood control channels – the county has stepped up its enforcement, said Shannon Widor, strategic communications officer for OC Public Works.

“It’s all about keeping the public safe,” he said in an email. “OC Sheriff’s Department is now regularly monitoring the site with educational enforcement – meaning the county’s approach is to kindly inform those individuals of the restrictions and allow them to exit the flood control channel area.”

Widor said he’s aware of only one person who was cited because the person refused to leave after given the warning. “Aside from that one occurrence, everyone has complied with the educational enforcement.”

Heather Rangel, public informational officer for the Newport Beach Police Department, said their officers do not give citations on county property, but there have been warnings and citations given to dog owners who cross over Newport Beach property to get to that area of county land.

“I wouldn’t say there’s been a rise, but there’s been a steady enforcement,” she said.

A group called Speak Up Newport will be gathering on Sept. 11 to discuss rules and regulations in the area. A panel will include Sean Levin, Newport Beach’s recreation and senior services department deputy director; the city’s animal control officer, Nick Ott; and Garry Brown, founder of Orange County Coastkeeper.

The title of the talk, which starts at 5:15 p.m. in the Civic Center Community Room, is titled “Is Newport Beach Going to the Dogs?”

Brown in the past has spoken about the area being one of the few places where two rare bird species – the least tern and western snowy plover – call home and that dogs frighten the birds and disrupt breeding. He and other environmentalists last year asked the California Coastal Commission to help keep dogs off the county land.

The county in 2016 was close to permitting the use of the area as a dog beach, with the Board of Supervisors voting once in favor, before the approval was halted prior to a necessary second vote by environmentalists who charged there was a negative impact to nearby sensitive habitat.

Mike Glenn, who at the time spearheaded efforts to keep the beach a doggy haven, said since then there’s been a change in leadership in the county and city levels that are cracking down.

At the time, he gathered nearly 6,000 signatures from people in favor of keeping the area a dog beach.  That same year, Newport Beach’s Parks, Beaches and Recreation Commission discussed whether the city should take over enforcement in the area. The room was packed with dog owners who spoke against the proposed new restrictions.

Currently, the law in Newport Beach allows dogs on the beach only before 10:30 a.m. and after 4:30 p.m. – and even then, they must be on a leash.

Christi Evans, a Huntington Beach resident with two Labradors,  Blondie and Sugar, was at the beach twice in the last week when officials told her she was not allowed in the area with her dogs.  She said two of her friends were given citations.

“We’re out enjoying ourselves, we all get along, we have responsible dog owners here,” she said. “It’s a wonderful place.”

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