Assemblyman Mike Gatto’s (D-Los Angeles) bill to help local governments create dog parks for their residents passed the Assembly Local Government Committee on Wednesday with a unanimous, bipartisan vote of 8-0. The idea for the bill came from Laura Friedman, a Glendale City Councilmember, who expressed to Gatto that cities would open more dog parks, but for the liability concerns.
“I approached Assemblyman Gatto in the fall about how to help the City of Glendale afford a dog park for our residents,” said Friedman. “One of the biggest issues has always been protecting the city from liability concerns, I am glad to see Mr. Gatto tackling this problem for Glendale and other cities.”
Gatto’s AB 265 addresses uncertainty that cities and counties face when operating dog parks by limiting liability and protects them from litigants who claim, for example, that they were unaware of the potential dangers (i.e., dog bites) that can occur at such parks. While some laws and legal rulings already limit the liability of cities and counties with regards to parks and public spaces, such limitations have never been codified with specific regard to dog parks, causing many local governments to pass on the parks until the law, and their potential financial liability, is more certain.
Burbank City Councilman Jess Talamantes explained the importance of providing certainty for decision makers. “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 Co-author, Assemblyman Brian Maienschein (R-San Diego), who served for 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 major barrier to creating these valuable spaces, especially in small- and medium-sized cities that cannot afford to self-insure.”
Jennifer Fearing of The Humane Society of the United States echoed 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.”
There is precedent for the state stepping in to limit liability for the public good, especially for the use of public resources that come with some inherent danger. 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.
“By offering our communities more certainty on this issue, I believe we can help make more dogs parks available in our neighborhoods, improving the lives of dog lovers and our canine companions,” said Gatto.