After months of heated hearings filled with impassioned pleas on both sides of the fence, the Kaua‘i County Council in a 5-2 vote yesterday approved legislation that allows residents to walk their leashed dogs on a portion of the Eastside multi-use path starting Dec. 1 for an 18-month trial period.
The decision puts to rest, at least for now, an issue that has divided the community on multiple fronts since it entered Council Chambers on May 17.
“I’m very happy to see the hind end of this issue,” said Councilman Tim Bynum, who introduced Bill 2265. “We’re not talking about the launch of a space shuttle. We’re talking about the liberty of walking a dog on the path.”
Councilwoman JoAnn Yukimura characterized the final version as a compromise that found “a way that we can all live together and share both privileges and responsibilities.”
Community members will be able to walk their dogs with nonretractable leashes a maximum of 6 feet long on the stretch of the coastal path that runs roughly two miles from Lihi Park in Kapa‘a to south of the picnic shelter nearest Kealia bridge, according to the legislation.
They will be required to pick up their pets’ feces and visibly carry on their person a means for doing so, such as a baggie. The Kaua‘i Humane Society has said it will assist the county by installing multiple DOGIPOT dispensers along the path.
“Our community, like many, has issues with dogs,” Bynum said. “I want dog owners to understand their responsibilities are very serious.”
Two last-minute amendments introduced by councilmembers Shaylene Iseri-Carvalho and Mel Rapozo, who voted against the bill, were narrowly defeated.
Iseri-Carvalho’s amendment would have required dog handlers on the shared-use path system to be at least 18 years old.
She said this was in part to avoid a situation where a parent would have to go to court to pay the fine if their child was ticketed for a violation.
Iseri-Carvalho said her top concern with allowing dogs on the path continues to be liability.
Bynum said he received a written communication from the County Attorney’s Office saying the county has never been sued for a dog bite, but Iseri-Carvalho said allowing dogs on the path presents a new situation for such incidents.
The amendment was defeated in a 4-3 vote, with herself, Rapozo and Councilman Daryl Kaneshiro in support.
Council members said when residents license their dogs with the county, there will be a new procedure requiring them to sign a liability waiver.
The Dec. 1 effective date was another contested issue with the bill.
Rapozo’s amendment would have extended that date to Jan. 1. He said the county Parks and Recreation Department needs the extra time to develop the program to implement the legislation, which includes signage and enforcement of its provisions.
Council Chair Jay Furfaro recalled Parks and Recreation Director Bernard Carvalho’s testimony two weeks ago saying his department could meet the Dec. 1 deadline.
But Carvalho, who is running for mayor, on Friday took an extended leave of absence from his position pending the outcome of the fall elections.
“Your boss … committed to that date,” Furfaro told acting Parks and Recreation Director Kylan Dela Cruz. “When someone commits to a date, you accept that responsibility.”
Rapozo said the department is making commitments it can not fulfill, noting the slow nature of the government procurement process and need to hire new park rangers. He said his amendment was tied to Carvalho’s saying he needed 120 days before he could implement the bill.
“In good leadership, your operation runs when you’re on vacation,” Furfaro said. “I have good faith this can be accomplished.”
Rapozo’s amendment was defeated 5-2, with himself and Iseri-Carvalho voting for it.
“Many people will be happy and many people will be unhappy,” Rapozo said, referring to the council’s decision to pass the bill. “All I hope is the responsible dog owners police the irresponsible dog owners.”
After noting the opposition to the bill by a county employee union and the advisory committee to the Parks and Recreation Department, Iseri-Carvalho said it would be “irresponsible for me to support that, especially as an attorney.”
Citing the divisive nature of the bill and its effect on “everyone on this island,” she said it is indeed “like launching a spaceship on Kaua‘i.”
Kaneshiro, who said the bill has “enough teeth,” pointed at the added benefit residents will have in being able to exercise with their dogs on the path after feasting at Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year’s.
Several residents in earlier testimony cited health reasons as a primary motivation for wanting the council to allow leashed dogs on the path.
Bynum said the key words in the debate over the proposal were “reasonable, customary and liberty,” noting that people enjoy the right to walk their dogs on virtually all shared use path systems throughout the country.
The council unanimously passed two related bills that will create a new dog park in Wailua and toughen the existing ordinance regulating animal nuisances.
Mayor Bill “Kaipo” Asing on Aug. 6 proposed establishing a dog park on some 2.8 acres of the 17-acre park at Wailua Homesteads.
The county has finished the first two phases of its proposed 16-mile multi-use path that will skirt the coast from Nawiliwili to Anahola. The completed segments include a 2.3-mile stretch from Kapa‘a to Kealia Beach and a 2.5-mile loop at Lydgate Park. A 1.8-mile stretch from Kealia Beach to Ahihi Point is nearing completion.
“People will have their places to walk in either mode,” Yukimura said. “The split vote shows that this council represents all of the community.”