Sonoma City Council to decide on dogs in Montini Preserve

Sonoma dog lovers face a crucial test Monday in their quest for access to the 98-acre Montini Preserve, which, when it opens this spring, could afford lots of space for romp-around fun.

The City Council is scheduled to decide Monday whether to seek an amendment to a transfer agreement with the Sonoma County Agricultural Preservation and Open Space District that could lift the preserve's prohibition on dogs.

Advocates who for years have salivated at the prospect are expected to show up in force Monday to agitate for the change. Their vocal lobbying efforts include circulating a petition that as of Friday had 153 signatures.

"We feel our last chance for a good cardio hike for ourselves and our dogs is Montini," Jennifer Hainstock wrote in an email to council members and city staff. Hainstock was an aide to former 1st District Sonoma County Supervisor Valerie Brown.

Dog owners would be required to leash their pets and stick to a 1.8-mile trail that has been constructed on the preserve, according to David Goodison, the city's planning director.

Advocates also are asking for a one-acre dog park to be created on the Montini site north of the city's Field of Dreams.

Opponents express fears that canines would harm the preserve's vegetation and wildlife. They also raise concerns about how the city would manage a prohibition on dogs at the city's Overlook Trail, which connects to 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 agreement 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.

Bill Keene, general manager of the Open Space District, signaled at earlier forums that he is not opposed to dogs at Montini. The district has approved requests to allow dogs at several other properties that it transferred to other entities. That includes most recently Taylor Mountain Open Space Preserve, which forms a backdrop to Santa Rosa.

The city staff is recommending that the council reject the idea of a dog park, however, on the grounds that the Open Space District already communicated that such a use would be inconsistent with limitations imposed by the easement, specifically that it support "low intensity outdoor recreational uses."

Staff estimates that an amendment to the Montini management plan could take up to nine months to complete and cost $7,000. An environmental analysis included in that amount would have to demonstrate that the presence of dogs would not have a "significant impact" on the preserve habitat.

California State Parks also would have to be consulted with regard to the preserve's western access, which begins at a trail head on Fourth Street West and passes through Vallejo Home State Park. Dogs are prohibited at state parks.

If state parks refused to lift the ban, the city would have the option of creating a new western access within five years, at the city's own expense.

You can reach Staff Writer Derek Moore at 521-5336 or derek.moore@pressdemocrat.com.