The Cambrian

Leash law violations at Cambria's Fiscalini Ranch Preserve discussed

View south along the bluff at Cambria's Fiscalini Ranch Preserve.
View south along the bluff at Cambria's Fiscalini Ranch Preserve.

Cambria’s Fiscalini Ranch Preserve was a hot topic when services district directors met on Feb. 26. 

The Cambria Community Services District Board of Directors debated for a while about county leash laws and the ranch, and then bounced the issue back to the Friends of the Fiscalini Ranch Preserve and the district’s own Parks, Recreation and Open Space Commission (PROS), so members of the public could comment, lodge complaints or make suggestions.

The Friends group (FFRP) holds the conservation easement over the 430-acre coastal ranch that’s owned and managed by the district. 

Its previous decision to comply with county leash laws and change some signage is sure to draw yelps of protest from dog owners whose pets enjoy romping on the ranch without leash restraints. In fact, there are rumors of a petition being circulated against the decision.

The leash issue came up again during a Feb. 26 report by Director Mike Thompson about his observations when he represented the district as liaison to a previous PROS meeting. 

“It was brought to my attention that there have been a number of issues with dogs off leash,” he said, including “dog bites, dogs engaging in aggressive activity with other dogs, dogs chasing birds and other animal life on the ranch.”

He said he was told the ranch isn’t exempt from following the provisions of the county leash law, and therefore FFRP was going to change some signs to make sure ranch management complies. Thompson noted, however, that enforcement was going to be the issue, because “we don’t have the ability to police dogs being off leash.”

That was the takeaway at a Feb. 3 PROS meeting, too, where commissioners decided they had no choice but to follow the law or code, now that they’re aware that the code applies to the publicly owned park land. 

Chairman Steve Kniffen, who wrote in an email interview late that day that “FFRP is complying with county code … we agree. We are in compliance.” However, “we have no say” and “we are not enforcers either. 

“Similar to the skate park: If the sheriff wants to give you a ticket for not wearing your helmet, that is up to the sheriff.”

The ordinance 

The law under the county’s code of ordinances states “It is unlawful for any person to suffer or permit any dog owned, harbored or controlled by him to be on any public street, alley, lane, park or place of whatever nature open to and used by the public in the unincorporated area of the county unless such dog is securely leashed and the leash is held continuously in the hand of a responsible person capable of controlling such dog, or unless the dog is securely confined in a vehicle, or unless the dog is at “heel” beside a person and obedient to that person’s command.”

According to an FFRP email sent Feb. 23, the nonprofit resolved to:

  • Comply with the county leash law and state code 3342
  • Remove all signage referring to off-leash access for dogs on the ranch
  • Remove all mentions and photos of off-leash dogs from the district and FFRP websites
  • Work on new signage that states anyone entering the ranch agrees to “abide by state and county laws and the ranch management plan,” with a brief listing of dog restrictions, along with prohibitions on smoking, firearms, radio-controlled vehicles, etc.

Firearms have also been a problem on the ranch, according to Board President Gail Robinette. She said there have been reports of people carrying and shooting guns on the ranch, and other reports of people smoking. 

None of those activities is allowed there, and they put the forest and other ranch habitat at great fire risk, she said, not to mention the houses and other structures that surround the property.