The Sonoma County Board of Supervisors is expected to hear from dog lovers today on a tentative agreement to transfer control of a stunning hillside parcel to the city of Sonoma.
A conservation easement on the 98-acre Montini Preserve, which forms the backdrop to downtown Sonoma, includes a prohibition on pets.
Dog advocates are calling for an amendment to the transfer agreement that would lift the prohibition.
The demand is opposed by the county's Open Space and Agricultural District and General Manager Bill Keene, who said city leaders in Sonoma should decide the issue.
"Basically, we're listening to a very small minority who wants to dictate whether this property should be transferred. I don't think that's good policy-making," Keene said Monday.
The Sonoma City Council last Monday voted 3-2 to accept transfer of the property from the Open Space District during a heated public hearing in which Keene was put on the defensive about the ban on dogs at the Montini site.
The prohibition was put in place when the Open Space District was in negotiations to transfer the property to California State Parks, a deal that fell apart during the state's financial crisis.
The objections to allowing dogs on the property were that they would disturb the natural wildlife and vegetation.
Keene all but said Monday that he would approve any request from the city to allow dogs on the site.
"Leashed dogs (at Montini) is not a big issue," he said.
But those assurances have failed to mollify dog lovers, who, barring a lift on the ban now, want supervisors to take away Keene's ability to veto any such request made later.
Their other demand is that the city of Sonoma not have to foot the bill for an environmental review that Keene said would be required before he would consider allowing dogs at Montini.
The Open Space District bought the preserve and an adjacent 59-acre conservation easement in 2005 for $13.9 million, including a $1.15 million contribution from the city.
The property forms much of the city's backdrop and is historically significant because it was part of the foothills bought in 1850 by Gen. Mariano Vallejo.
The plan calls for the Open Space District to transfer both parcels to the city basically at no cost, except for fees related to the transfer, and the city eventually picking up maintenance costs.
Keene said any changes in use at the site would have to be consistent with the goals of the conservation easement.
"We have an interest in the property. We spent $14 million of taxpayer money to buy it," he said.
Jennifer Hainstock, an aide to former Sonoma Valley Supervisor Valerie Brown, charged in an open letter to the current board that Keene has not acted in good faith in his negotiations with city leaders in Sonoma.
She claimed the dog issue has presented an unnecessary obstacle to the deal going forward.
"What should have been a happy event turned into a contentious matter here in Sonoma," Hainstock wrote.
Keene argues the same point.
"I don't understand why the dog community is so concerned about it," he said.
The Open Space District has approved requests to allow leashed dogs at several other properties that it transferred control of to other entities. That includes most recently Taylor Mountain Open Space Preserve, which forms the backdrop to Santa Rosa.
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