Sonoma takes no-dog deal on Montini Preserve

Posted on March 6, 2013 by Sonoma Valley Sun

Sonoma will take ownership of the Montini Preserve in 2014, complete with trails offering the first public access through the pristine 98-acre hillside parcel. Dogs, however, are not part of the deal approved 3-2 by the city council Monday.

The council approved a deal some five years in the making when it agreed to take ownership from the County’s Agricultural Preservation and Open Space District. The district will build 1.8 miles of trails on the property this year, then hand it all over to the city in 2014.

The arrangement guarantees that the land will never be developed, and that the public will always have access. But, explained City Planner David Goodison, “there is no immediate allowance for leashed dogs on the trail.”

For that the city would have to seek an amendment to the agreement, but that process, including some form of environmental review, APOSD General Manager Bill Keene said, would add a year or so to the process.

“There would be no trail construction this year,” he said.

Keene told the panel that the change to allow dogs, given precedents set by other local parks, would likely be approved, but the burden to change would fall to the city.

Keene said the district was unwilling to go through with the transfer while the city sought to change the dog rule.

“You can pursue the amendment, we won’t,” he said. “We’ve been negotiating for well over a year, and this issue has come up only recently. To have it brought up at the eleventh hour…’

Councilmember Steve Barbose bristled at the notion that the city, after accepting responsibility for the property, would not have more say in the management plan. “You dropped the ball on us,” he told Keene.

“That property isn’t going anywhere,” said dog advocate Bob Edwards. “It’s going to stay open space no longer how long it takes to amend the plan. The time to change it is now.”

The new trails will link with the Overland Trail and a new entrance along Fourth Street West near the Vallejo Home. The district will pay the Sonoma Ecology Center $70,000 for the first three years of development and maintenance costs. The city would contribute an estimated $15,000 annually.

To the council majority, including Ken Brown, the transfer of the legacy property to Sonoma, for which it forms a scenic backdrop, was the priority. “I could never imagine passing on this deal,” he said. “The dog issue is not the make-it or break-it issue. We have a lifetime to work it out.”