Assemblyman Mike Gatto’s (D-Burbank) bill to help local governments create dog parks was signed into law by Governor Jerry Brown. The idea for the bill came from Glendale City Councilmember Laura Friedman, who told Gatto that liability concerns were preventing small- and medium-sized cities from siting dog parks.
Gatto’s AB 265 limits the liability that cities and counties face when operating dog parks and protects them from litigants who claim, for example, that they were unaware of potential dangers. The current legal situation is muddled, causing many local governments to feel uncertain about potential liability.
Burbank City Councilman Jess Talamantes echoed the importance of AB 265. “As a Councilman, I must be responsible with the city’s public finances and ensure that Burbank is protected from liability. Assemblyman Gatto’s bill provides greater certainty that Burbank’s potential future investment in a dog park will not come back to bite us.”
AB 265’s Republican supporter, Assemblyman Brian Maienschein (R-San Diego), who served eight years on the San Diego City Council, expressed similar sentiments, saying “this bill would have made my life significantly easier when I was on the San Diego City Council and trying to site a dog park.”
“Dog parks help build safer and stronger communities by providing a public space for neighbors to interact while training and socializing their dogs,” said Assemblyman Gatto. “We should not allow liability concerns to be a barrier to creating these open spaces, especially in small- and medium-sized cities that cannot afford to self-insure.”
Jennifer Fearing of the Humane Society of the United States emphasized the social importance of dog parks, especially for animal lovers with physical ailments. “Dog parks enable senior citizens and people with disabilities, who cannot always walk their dogs, a safe alternative,” said Fearing. “The Humane Society is glad for an opportunity to support a bill with the noble goal of nurturing the human-animal bond.”
Precedent exists for the state limiting liability to encourage specialized open spaces. In 1997, the state imposed limited liability under certain circumstances for cities that open skate parks. State lawmakers reasoned that more recreation opportunities were needed, but that skateboarding is inherently dangerous, and should be done at the users’ risk, and without massive liability for cities and their taxpayers.