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Sonoma's proposed acquisition of hillside dogged by pet issue

Published: Sunday, February 10, 2013 at 1:35 p.m.
Last Modified: Monday, February 11, 2013 at 7:45 a.m.

The city of Sonoma appears on the verge of acquiring a 98-acre hillside parcel that promises to open up sweeping vistas of the city to the public.

But dog owners, long concerned with the transfer of the Montini Preserve to the city, say the latest terms of the deal still exclude them from bringing their pets on the property.

"Once again, dogs are at risk of being banned from public space acquired and managed with our tax dollars," Bob Edwards, president of Sonoma Valley Dog Owners and Guardians, wrote Thursday in an email to the group's members.

The preserve's acquisition was to be on tonight's Sonoma City Council agenda, but it was delayed to the council's March 11 meeting because of legal issues related to transfer documents, said David Goodison, the city's planning director.

Sonoma County's Agricultural Preservation and Open Space District bought the Montini Preserve and an adjacent 59-acre conservation easement in 2005 for $13.9 million, including a $1.15 million contribution from the city of Sonoma.

The proposal calls for the Open Space District to transfer both parcels to the city basically at no cost, except for fees related to the transfer, and the city eventually would pick up maintenance costs.

The property forms much of the city's backdrop and is historically significant because it was part of the foothills bought in 1850 by Gen. Mariano Vallejo.

Goodison said the district has a management plan for the property that the city would have to abide by as part of the transfer. That plan includes a prohibition on pets.

Goodison said council members later could seek an amendment to allow dogs. But the Open Space District would have the final say.

Edwards said he fears council members never will act to later allow dogs and he wants the city to negotiate access for dogs now before terms of the deal are set.

"If you get the wrong council majority, they can say they don't want dogs and that they're not going to make the request," he said.

It's unclear, however, where the current council stands on the issue. Edwards said he believes there are two and possibly three council members who would support allowing dogs. He declined to identify them.

Plans call for the Open Space District to finish building two miles of trails before the property is opened to the public. Goodison said that could take about nine months.

Beef cattle and goats already roam the land. It also has been the site of homeless encampments.

The Sonoma Ecology Center submitted a proposal to the city to do maintenance work on the property, a three-year deal worth $71,000. Goodison said the Open Space District would reimburse the city for that.

Annual maintenance costs for the property in future years are estimated at $12,000 to $15,000, which would come from the city's general fund.

You can reach Staff Writer Derek Moore at 521-5336 or derek.moore@pressdemocrat.com. On Twitter @deadlinederek.

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