Editor’s note: This is one of multiple stories from the Oct. 10 City Council meeting.
Evanston’s pooch-friendly shorefront will host dogs and their owners at least until early December, City Council members agreed at their Oct. 10 meeting.
Standing at the lectern before the council, Deputy City Manager David Stoneback asked for direction: what to do for the remainder of the fall and what to do in 2023.
In a memo to council, Stoneback wrote that the City Code “designates the area south of the Clark Street breakwater, north of the Church Street boat ramp, and the adjacent sandy area, as a dog beach.” The same section of the City Code describes regulations of the beach and allows the City Manager to open or close the dog beach.
“This dog beach site was closed in 2016 due to the rising lake level that caused the beach to disappear. The dog beach was temporarily relocated south of the Church Street boat ramp for the 2017 season but had to be closed again for the 2018 season,” the memo continued.
A sandy portion of shorefront is again available for a dog beach, but the entrance is not in great shape, as storms during the period of high lake levels destroyed the access. The dog beach is not ADA accessible, and the beach itself is unregulated, Stoneback said.
If City Council wants to “turn a blind eye” to a Cook County ordinance requiring proof of vaccinations for dogs on the beach, then staff would leave the gate open to the beach, Stoneback said. At the direction of the council, staff could create a temporary safe access path to the dog beach to allow it to be reopened for the remainder of the 2022 season until closing the beach on Dec. 5, he said.
“It will be use-at-your-own-risk,” he said, with signs stating “Use Dog Beach At Your Own Risk” installed at the gate to the dog beach.
Council Member Devon Reid, 8th Ward, asked how a Cook County ordinance could preempt Evanston’s home rule powers. Corporation Counsel Nicholas Cummings said the state Animal Control Act delegates the administration to the county. “We can’t do anything in conflict with what the administration of the Cook County Board promulgates,” he said.
Council members seemed eager to have the dog beach opened and suggested that enforcing the ordinance be a low priority.
Jonathan Nieuwsma, Fourth Ward Council member, said, “I add my support to the dog beach … de-emphasizing enforcement.”
Council member Clare Kelly, 1st Ward, said, “I also support getting the beach open as soon as possible in a sort of laissez-faire way, at your own risk.”
Dog beach 2023
Noting the impact on the upcoming budget, Stoneback said staff recommends that the city enforce all the regulations of the dog beach in 2023, including a mandate that owners buy a season pass, which would require showing proof that a dog is registered, in good health and vaccinated. While the season passes will garner some revenue, capital expenditures could be significant.
“Staff would develop a system of periodic surveillance to monitor compliance with the dog beach regulations outlined in the City Code. In order to meet requirements
and comply with Cook County’s Animal and Rabies Control Ordinance, staff also recommends that in 2023 the entrance to the dog beach be designed in such a manner as to secure against accidental opening (double gate system) with signs stating all dog beach regulations,” Stoneback’s memo said.
The final issue the memo dealt with was constructing an accessible path from the gated area to the dog beach, which could be either a simple gravel path or a more
permanent one complying with ADA requirements, which would likely require hiring a consultant.
“We will come back with a cost proposal for that, with seeking approval from the City Council to hire that consultant,” Stoneback said. “I understand this is not your approval right now. I just want to direction so we don’t waste our time getting to quote. … So, thank you for your time. I appreciate the direction.”
That said, however, the discussion was not over.
Seventh Ward Council member Eleanor Revelle said, “I do support opening the dog beach 2022. … We certainly, if we’re going to be building a ramp, [need] to make it ADA compliant, so we definitely want to hear what the consultant has to say.”
Krissie Harris, newly appointed as council member for the Second Ward, said, “So, I, too, am in support. And I just have got to agree with Council member Revelle. We don’t have staff members that can make that assessment.”
Stoneback agreed, “We don’t have any structural engineers on staff, and we don’t have the equipment to do soil borings. So when you construct a concrete ramp, you’re going to have to put in the piers in to be able to create the slope that you need. How deep do you have to sink those piers? What is the soil that you’re gonna sink those piers into? Those are questions that staff is unable to do on our own. And that’s why we would seek the assistance of consultants. So that’s what we want to implement in ’23. And I know at least one speaker in public comment indicated that they want the city to make sure that the other dogs are vaccinated and … safe.”
Mayor Daniel Biss had the last word: “I guess just in the spirit of weighing in, I’ll say that my view on this, I think, was well captured by a public comment participant who asked us to be the ‘city of Yes.’ I think that’s an attitude that would serve us well, in this and other contexts.”