No fewer than 18 residents of East Hampton Village and surrounding hamlets delivered impassioned pleas to the village board on Friday asking it not to add further restrictions to dogs on village beaches.
Over the course of lengthy and sometimes combative remarks, the board listened quietly as speakers cited a deep bond with their pets and “the old bucolic, wonderful ways of East Hampton” as grounds to table a measure they called misguided and pointless. It was even suggested that board members retire or be voted out of office should they act to further regulate dogs’ presence on village beaches.
The proposed amendment would require that dogs be on six-foot or shorter leash within 500 feet of any beach road end in the village. Already, dogs and other animals are forbidden from village beaches between 9 a.m. and 6 p.m. from the second Sunday in May through Sept. 30, and people are required to clean up after their pets or risk ticketing.
But, according to the introduction to the proposed amendment, “animal waste left on the beach continues to be a frequent problem, notwithstanding the signage alerting dog owners to clean up and the availability of plastic bags for use in cleaning up.”
On Friday, speakers including Sara Davison, executive director of the Animal Rescue Fund of the Hamptons, and Jennifer Berkeley, a co-founder of the volunteer group beachdogs11937, accepted the leash legislation but objected to the 500-foot requirement, calling 200 feet a reasonable compromise.
“I urge more official enforcement, more scheduled patrols,” of village beaches, Ms. Berkeley said. “We as residents and volunteers can increase our presence over the summer.”
A leash requirement upon entry to the beach is sound, Ms. Davison said. “It’s reasonable to scope out the area, make sure your dog is not going to interfere with a picnic. However, we do feel that the 500-foot measurement is truly unrealistic.” Like Ms. Berkeley, Ms. Davison promised her organization’s educational outreach, “so that beachgoers with dogs know exactly what the regulations are.”
Quickly, though, speakers focused on what they called ambiguous wording in the proposed amendment. While asserting a dramatic improvement in dog owners’ self-policing efforts and the resulting cleanliness of the beaches, Michael Dickerson and subsequent speakers called a particular phrase in the amendment both confusing and troubling.
“It’s that little thing that says ‘at all other times’ that people think might be used in the future to drive us from the beaches or further restrict us,” Mr. Dickerson said.
If the board feels the need to change the law, said Bob Hoguet, he asked that it remove “the ambiguity, at least, in the language, which implies the opportunity to extend the regulations year-round.”
If that is indeed the board’s intent, said Norbert Weissberg, “I’m really dismayed, because if this legislation’s purpose is to protect picnickers and other people who use the beach, I can testify from many years of experience that there are none” in the off-season. He urged the board to make its intentions clear.
Mayor Paul F. Rickenbach Jr. asked Linda Riley, the village attorney, to respond. “Frankly, I think it’s a fair comment, that ‘at all other times’ is probably open to interpretation,” she said, adding that it would be easy to modify the wording.
The change would not require a new hearing, as it would not add restrictions to the proposed law.
Speakers attacked the proposed amendment from other angles. Randy Slifka, who addressed the board twice, said that he has had four back surgeries and three knee surgeries. “It’s very difficult for me to walk 200 feet, let alone 500 feet,” he said. The beach, said Mr. Slifka, is one of the only opportunities for his service dog to be off-leash. “For her to be pulling me 200 feet is potentially painful, can add to my disability, etc. Has there been any consideration for those individuals who have disabilities, or who have service dogs?”
The board is cognitive of the Americans with Disabilities Act, said the mayor. “If there’s applicability based on the comments you’ve raised, we would certainly take them into consideration.”
Several speakers expressed a fear of — and obvious disdain for — what they flatly called government overreach. Jarvis Slade said he has been a resident, taxpayer, and voter in East Hampton for 60 years, and has both walked dogs and ridden horses on the beach. “And the idea of 500 feet, maybe I could learn to understand that, but my dog wouldn’t. He likes to follow other dogs, and run with the dogs, and they have a wonderful time.”
“Let’s not feel that you have to regulate everything, just like the federal government,” he said. “With all due respect, if the trustees feel we need more and more regulations, and change the whole nature of this village from what it used to be . . . we should let them retire gracefully and have people who really respect the old bucolic, wonderful ways of East Hampton.”
“You people, to be perfectly candid, scare us,” said Mr. Weissberg, “because we know the power that you have. We’ve regarded that power in years past, and we are particularly attentive in seeing to it that we prevent you from tampering with our privileges.”
Ultimately, speakers attacked the very assertion that there is popular support for increased restrictions. “We have this expression, ‘there have been complaints made,’ ” said Rick Nersesian. “Is it 1,000 complaints? Five hundred complaints? Is it two homeowners? Is there a groundswell of complaints to change the situation?”
Kevin Reynolds, a former New York City police officer, admitted to “cynic’s license,” but suggested that the board was bending to the will of a handful of wealthy summer residents. “I have not heard any names” of those favoring increased restrictions, Mr. Reynolds told the mayor. Later, he continued his interrogation. “Mr. Mayor, how many people do you have that are against dogs on the beach?”
“I can’t give you a specific number,” the mayor replied.
“Can you give me a guesstimate?” Mr. Reynolds asked. “Over 10? Under 20?”
“I would say over 20,” the mayor said. “I don’t want to get involved in this type of back and forth. We’re having a public hearing, and we’re listening intently to you folks today, okay?”
The number is important, Mr. Reynolds said. “If you’re going to restrict us based on 10 or 20 people, I think the press wants to know that, and the people of East Hampton want to know that that’s how our government is operating. . . . The fact that you’re willing not to address it speaks volumes.”
Dan Rattiner, who said he had been a dog owner and resident for more than 50 years, drew attention to the significantly greater restrictions he said the village of Southampton imposes on dogs with regard to beaches. “They also have revetments on the ocean, all kind of things that we don’t,” he said. “What they don’t have . . . is Bonackers, the local people. There’s a very high percentage of local people here compared to the summer people. . . . I wish you would consider that when you decide what you want to do.”
Following public comment, which included multiple calls for greater enforcement of existing code and stiffer fines for noncompliance, Richard Lawler of the board agreed that the language in the proposed amendment is vague. “I’m not certain that the board meant to make this restriction year-round,” he said. “Possibly, further discussion on that is needed.” He also suggested that Ms. Riley determine the parameters within which the village is limited by the state’s penal code to increase fines.
In the end, the proposed amendment’s wording was deemed sufficiently ambiguous to warrant modification, postponing action. “We want everyone to feel comfortable when they leave that they were able to speak their mind,” said the mayor. “That is indeed good government, and that’s why we’re here listening this morning. . . . I hope you give this board a little bit of credit for listening.”
After the meeting, the mayor said it was unlikely that any new restrictions would be in effect by July 4.