Council Transfers Zoo Management to Non-Profit

Last Wednesday, the Dallas City Council unanimously approved turning over management of the zoo to a non-profit organization, a spin-off of the philanthropic Dallas Zoological Society.  I supported this decision and think in the longrun it’ll improve our zoo.

However, I didn’t like the fact that this was rushed through, and several councilmembers also voiced their concern that this proposal was moving too fast.  The council had only been briefed about the matter the week before.  The mayor and others argued that this idea has been floating around for a decade, I suppose implying that we had gotten plenty of notice.  But an idea floating around in the ether is far different from a concrete proposal, and a week is too little time to really digest such a significant change to one of our largest assets.

The proposal suggested that the city retain ownership of the zoo property but that the zoological society manage day-to-day zoo operations and assume ownership of the animals.  The city would pay an annual flat fee (adjusted for inflation) to the zoological society for managing the zoo, and the society would pick up expenses beyond that.

As I reviewed the proposal, I kept thinking of possible problems (that’s what I do when I review city proposals — I look at them very critically and try to find holes or problems or unintended consequences that need to be fixed; blame it on the lawyer in me).  I was pleased that almost every concern was addressed. Continue reading

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Dogs on Patios – Redux

The City Council will vote on revised standards for restaurants to allow dogs on patios. Rick Wamre over at the Lakewood Advocate Blog argues that the city council should stay out of this matter and let the market decide: restaurants that want to allow dogs will allow them, and customers that want to frequent dog-friendly restaurants will do so. Those who don’t like dining with Fido will dine elsewhere.

In general, I agree with Rick — there should be freedom of choice on this issue. However, a point that gets lost in this issue is that it is ILLEGAL for restaurants to have pets on patios, anywhere in the State of Texas. The point of the city ordinance that I’ve championed is to give residents the very choice that Rick mentions, by giving “restaurant owners the power to make their own decisions (and reap the economic rewards or losses).” Because of state health regulations, in order for any restaurant in Dallas to “break” the state law, the City of Dallas must develop specific health standards to maintain cleanliness and food safety. So to provide freedom of choice, the city MUST create a local regulating ordinance.

This issue came up after some restaurants in my district (in West Village) alerted me that they’d received tickets from the city for allowed dogs on patios. Although my husband and I don’t own a dog, we frequent many restaurants in East Dallas and Uptown that are “pet-friendly,” and never had a problem. I consulted with our city attorney and environmental health department, and they in turn worked with the Texas Health Department to come up with a possible solution to give restaurants choice. Councilmember Elba Garcia and I subsequently met with restaurant owners to discuss the rules, and now we’re refining those requirements.

Some of my constituents (rightly) note that there are more important issues facing our city. While I agree, I would point out that neither I, nor city staff, is spending all our waking hours on this ordinance. But this is the type of issue that gets media coverage, as opposed to the more “mundane” issues we’re working on like addressing neighborhood crime, reducing the neighborhood impact of the St. Patrick’s Day party, creating a trail link from the Katy Trail to the Arts District, developing a Downtown streetcar system, working with Cedar Springs businesses to reduce the impact of street closures, working with neighborhoods and developers on multiple zoning cases, etc.

At the same time, as the representative of one of the most urban areas of the city, I’ve got to be responsive to my constituents on issues that directly affect them, like the dogs-on-patios issue. While I’m proud of this ordinance, I don’t want to give anyone the idea that this is top on my priority list or the only thing I’m working on.

Dogs on Restaurant Outdoor Patios – New Ordinance Approved

Great news! After working on this issue for months, I am pleased to report that today the city council approved a new ordinance for restaurants to allow dogs on outdoor patios. Currently, dogs are prohibited from outdoor restaurant patios under any circumstances. Despite this rule, dog owners regularly take their pets with them when they dine outside. The new rule will let restaurants and cafes seek a variance so they may allow dogs outside. Business owners may apply for the variance immediately.

I am proud to have led the effort on this. Over seven months ago, I got a call about concerns that restaurants in West Village were getting notices of violation for allowing their patrons to bring dogs to their outdoor patios. This prohibition against dogs on outdoor patios made no sense to me. I see so many residents accompanied by their dogs at cafes along Greenville, in Uptown, and Oak Lawn. We’re trying to improve the quality of life for Dallas residents, and if the city enforced its current law, many, many restaurants and cafes would be fined for allowing dogs outside. This prohibition seems particularly antiquated when we consider our increasingly dense urban core and the addition of many residents who love to walk to a nearby cafe and enjoy their meal or coffee in the company of their pooch.

So I worked with the city attorney and city staff to find a way that we could balance allowing dogs on patios with ensuring health and safety of diners. City staff worked closely with the Texas State Health Department to devise an ordinance that addresses those concerns. Keep in mind that not all restaurants will be affected; it’s an “opt-in” program, so only those restaurants and cafes that apply with the city and are approved may allow dogs on their patios.

VOTE:
8 YES: Hunt, Natinsky, Salazar, Garcia, Koop, Medrano, Griffith, Oakley
5 NO: Miller, Rasansky, Chaney, Thornton-Reese, Blaydes

Below are the requirements that a restaurant/cafe must comply with in order to be approved for a variance:

  • Outside, separate entrance required for direct access of dogs to outdoor patio
  • Conspicuous entry signage required stating “Dog Friendly Restaurant -Dog Access Only Through Outdoor Patio”
  • Air curtains required to separate outdoor patio from interior offood establishment
  • Dogs prohibited inside, on playground areas, and on patio chairs, tables, and counters
  • Food preparation (including mixing drinks and serving ice) prohibited in patio area
  • Patio must be cleaned at least every 30 minutes with separate cleaning equipment from that used inside
  • On-duty food establishment employees may not have contact with dogs
  • Dogs must be kept on leash, remain in control of customer and wear current rabies vaccination tags
  • Dogs may not have contact with dishes or utensils for food preparation or service
  • Allowing Pets on Restaurant Patios

    A few months ago, a friend of mine called me, concerned because some of the restaurants and cafes in the West Village were receiving notices of violating the city’s health code because they were allowing dogs on outdoor patios. I couldn’t believe it: a ticket for pets on patios?

    My husband and I ride our bikes on the Katy Trail most weekends, and often have lunch or dinner in Uptown or Middle Greenville, where we regularly see people dining outside with their pooches at their feet. It makes the atmosphere seem laid back, and is yet another amenity for customers. How could bonding with your dog over a bagel be illegal?

    I did a little research and found out from our City Attorney that the prohibition is a state law, and if the City of Dallas wanted to allow pets on patios, we’d have to change state law or get an exemption for Dallas.

    Our council district is the most urban in the city, with the most dense mixed-use areas in Dallas. Combined with eclectic Old East Dallas, changing the ban on pets on patios is particulalrly important for our council district.

    I asked our City Attorney to help figure out a process for Dallas to allow dogs on patios. He’s now working with the State Health Department to create an ordinance for Dallas, and will be briefing the city council on the proposed law. Food establishments wishing to allow dogs on outdoor patios would have to get a special permit from the city, and comply with whatever health regulations may be required.

    I’ve discussed the new ordinance with the Greater Dallas Restaurant Association, and they are very excited about the change. If you’ve got a pooch who loves to join you for brunch at the neighborhood restaurant, I’d love to hear your thoughts — shoot me an email at angela@angelahunt.com.