Op-Ed: RA Should Stay Away From Dog Park Conflict

Sign at dog park at Baron CameronThis is an op-ed by Tom Krasselt, formerly of RestonDogs, the nonprofit that administered the dog park at Baron Cameron Park. It does not represent the opinion of Reston Now. 

I used to lead the RestonDogs organization and don’t usually make posts about issues related to the dog park in public forums. However I felt like I needed to provide a few comments about the Reston Association (RA) recommendations for Fairfax County Park Authority (FCPA) about the Reston Dog Park or Reston Off Leash Dog Area (OLDA).

First of all, the decision on the location of the Reston Dog Park has already been litigated and decided by the court system, the case was dismissed without being heard; the case was very weak on any factual data.

The primary question I have is why is the RA taking this on as an issue. Do they feel some urgent need to tell FCPA how to do their job and does RA have a specialty in noise, or park/dog park management? With few exceptions, dog park users are extremely happy with the support we get from FCPA. Let’s not make FCPA the problem, FCPA is not the problem, and everyone at the park will agree on that.

Even those individuals that were a part of the task force will say the only reason why they joined the RA task force is to make sure the Reston Dog Park had an equal voice on the perceived noise issue, that was what this task force was initially created to address, the task force was not initially to point out landscaping issues we usually work with FCPA to address unless they were related to noise reduction.

If RA is taking on Reston Dog Park landscaping issues are we to go to them in the future, who should we contact? We’re just not sure what RA is thinking. Maybe it has something to do Michael Sanio, the Vice President of the Reston Association, being a member of Longwood Grove as we all found out after the task force completed. He is openly voicing agreement with the five families who brought the lawsuit, but that would also be a huge conflict of interest and it would seem like we should have known he was a member of Longwood Grove while making spending recommendations.

What is, and always has been, lacking in these perceived “too much noise” allegations are facts. We have never treated this subject lightly but there comes a point when you need to have something more than the claim “it’s really bad.”

In all honesty, we at the dog park don’t hear any type of noise along the lines of what is being claimed. It seems highly exaggerated to us, statements saying dogs are barking non-stop from 5:30 a.m. to 10 p.m., creating life-altering noise.

Well, everyone’s initial reaction when they hear something like that, including my own would be, “that’s awful, something needs to be done!” Yet when I go to the dog park at 5:30 to witness this issue first hand, I find not a noisy soul around for a period of over a month, the month of June, one of the longest of the year. This was prior to FCPA changing the opening time of the park which is 7 a.m. (8 a.m. on weekends).

Here is another example. As everyone was aware, RA created a task force and that task force did attend the dog park during a typically busy time on a Friday afternoon as part of their Dog Park Task Force Activity. While there, the RA officials remarked at how quiet the dog park was as compared to claims (this comment didn’t make it to the final report). The neighbor’s response was the dog park folks staged this meeting and loaded the park up with “good” people just for this meeting.

Understand, it was the neighbors that picked the date and time for the meeting and we don’t have any control over who comes/goes from the dog park, there was no broadcast message sent out to 1,500 people saying “all you ‘bad people’ stay away.”

At that same meeting, one of the neighbors said “you should have been here at 7:00 this morning and you would have heard what it’s normally like, there was a huge dog fight and unbelievable noise at 7:00 in the morning.”

Unfortunately and unknown to the neighbor making the claim one of the dog owners and fellow member of the task force standing across from him actually happened to be at the dog park at 7:00 and the whole morning that day, he corrected the resident on his non-factual claim, there was no fight or disruption as the neighbor stated, the neighbor stopped telling his story after laying that egg and walked away.

It’s easy to make claims like this, and, as in this case meant to sound bad, but where’s the beef?

Yet another example that occurred in early June, the neighbors called the police to report someone in the park and making noise prior to the opening time of 7 a.m., the police arrived to find two dog owners with their dogs in their cars waiting for the opening time prior to entering.  Claims are easy to make but facts are extremely hard to come by, and now the police are also going to get dragged into these frivolous claims.

Also, a couple months ago when this all started I sent RA a copy of the survey RestonDogs did a couple years ago where 1,500 people signed a petition in support of the Reston Dog Park, yet all I see on the RA final report is a mention of a petition of 45 members of Longwood Grove, why is this?

On its final report, RA recommends dues are collected prior to enter the park and round-the-clock paid monitors be provided by FCPA and paid for by the county (I assume). FCPA is already in the process of creating a volunteer monitor oversight of the park similar to what was in place before the neighbors sued the sponsoring volunteer organization RestonDogs only under the direct oversight of FCPA. In the past this has been one of the best sources of rules enforcement and keeping any perceived noisy periods to a minimum.

Does RA realize recommendations like full-time paid monitors and collecting dues cost taxpayers money? We’re probably looking at 3-4 full time paid FCPA employees to stay at the park around the clock, with another 2-3 full-time FCPA employees to collect dues.

Over a five-year period this will amount to several million dollars when you include benefits, bathrooms and shelter for the employees to be installed at the park, etc. And what benefit is gained? What are they going to speak some special paid monitor language to get better results? This seems like a reckless recommendation. Is having a paid monitor and dues collectors going to make any difference or add a benefit that is worth the cost millions of dollars?

It seems like what might be needed is for FCPA to assemble a task force to resolve issues with how RA does cost/benefit analysis prior to making spending recommendations. That way we can have every agency in Fairfax and Reston government poking around in one-another’s business (Could someone please post the RA cost-benefit analysis if it exists?) If RA and the Longwood Grove neighbors feel an urgent need for full-time, paid monitors and dues collectors then maybe they should fund them.

The neighbors have previously had an injunction denied by the courts, and a lawsuit dismissed without being heard, this exercise with RA was actually a third significant setback for the Longwood Grove neighbors as throughout this exercise Longwood Grove kept pressing for their primary motive at every meeting, a recommendation coming from RA to “relocate the dog park,” but that did not occur.

As I said above RA officials themselves remarked at how quiet the dog park was compared to claims when they visited the park. I encourage anyone who has an interest in this topic to do that. Unlike the neighbors, I’m not making a statement and asking you to believe me, I’m asking you to not believe me, visit the dog park yourself and form your own opinion.

The neighbors will point to a noise study they did that shows a steady 65dB, that’s about the amount of noise coming from a normal conversation, so it actually does show some noise, however what they fail to say is that study also includes the street noise, and in that area there is a significant amount of street noise.

All one needs to do is walk on the sidewalk outside the dog park, the only thing you’ll notice is you’ll need to yell at the person next to you to be heard over the street noise, and it’s so overwhelmingly loud that you don’t even think about noise coming from the dog park which is a very distant sound. And just let a motorcycle, ambulance, or large truck roll by and even yelling won’t help.

One thing I can assure everyone reading this is this is not over, the Longwood Grove neighbors will continue to pursue this with nothing more than a set of hearsay issues until they find another agency that will say, “that’s awful, someone needs to do something.” And “the dog park will be relocated.”

And if you don’t believe me, stay tuned.

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