At least 100 people showed up at the Old West Austin Neighborhood Association's March 5 meeting to discuss the future of West Austin Park
, which many neighborhood dog owners have used as an off-leash area for 20 years. In June 2000, the City Council approved a neighborhood plan for Old West Austin that included a request for a six-month trial period to determine whether the southern end of the park could work as a leash-free area. But in recent months, PARD patrol officers have stepped up enforcement of the park's off-leash ordinance, giving tickets to several dog owners and in one case, arresting a resident who claims his dogs weren't off-leash. Several city luminaries attended the March 5 gathering, including Acting City Manager Toby Futrell, PARD Director Jesus Olivares, and Acting Assistant City Manager Michael McDonald, and by the end enough neighbors had signed up for a team that will try to implement the trial period and conduct an evaluation with the city's cooperation. McDonald said Austin has never before mixed loose animals with kids, and that whatever happens at West Austin Park "could have an impact on parks around the city." Speaking on behalf of themselves and each other, neighbors emphasized that most dog owners who use the park responsibly control their pets and pick up droppings. Since the city can't transfer liability onto OWANA, however, it would have to put up a fence costing $18,000 to $20,000 to contain the dog area, McDonald said. Participants generally appeared pleased with the meeting's outcome, but a few asked why OWANA had to decide again on an item already approved in their neighborhood plan. Such is the way in Austin.
Meanwhile, the West Austin Youth Association, for whom PARD reserved West Austin Park for tee-ball games (without telling residents), has decided not to use the park. "We would like to use the field, we appreciated the opportunity to use the field, but the free-roaming dogs and the amount of waste they leave behind is not conducive to having kids participate at the park," said Executive Director Greg Rives. "There are safety and health risks that we can't accept." WAYA has other fields at its disposal and will make do, he adds.