GEARHART — When Gearhart Police Chief Jeff Bowman answers a nuisance complaint about a noisy dog, he’s not always sure what he can do.

It could be said that the city ordinance’s bark is worse than its bite.

The ordinance Bowman has to follow is only two lines: “Barking and howling prohibited. No person shall own a barking dog.”

While the fine, upon conviction, can go up to $500, getting that conviction is the tough part.

“It’s very challenging, not only for the complainant but for the dog owner,” Bowman told the Gearhart City Council Wednesday night.

After researching ordinances from other cities, Bowman suggested an amendment that would have more teeth.

It would prohibit “a dog which persistently barks or howls for 30 seconds or more, four times within a 20-minute period and thereby unreasonably deprives a person of peace and quiet.”

Bowman said he asks those complaining about dogs that constantly bark to keep a log for three days, noting when the dog barks and for how long. Such a log can be submitted to a municipal court judge, Bowman said.

But the logs – and the penalty – are for dogs that are outside.

“We don’t do anything with dogs inside a house,” Bowman said.

The City Council, however, only sniffed at the proposed ordinance and asked for more. Members said it was too vague and needed meatier language. They asked Bowman to add more details to the ordinance.

“I’m in absolute agreement that there needs to be some embellishment on the current ordinance,” said Councilor Joy Sigler. “If I was a dog, the hair would go up in the back of my neck.”

Bowman’s proposal, she said, wouldn’t give owners enough time to quell the problem, especially if they had gone out for the evening and weren’t aware that their dog, left in the backyard, was barking at a deer or a raccoon.

The result for the dog’s owners, Sigler said, would be “dinner, movie and a fine.”

Councilor Dianne Widdop also worried that owners would have only 30 seconds to hush their dogs and that they needed more time. She also wanted the ordinance to specify that it pertained to dogs left outside.

“I think something needs to be done where it is an everyday occurrence,” Widdop added.

Audience member Shannon Smith, who expressed interest in the ordinance, said she had gone online to find ordinances from cities across the country. Several ordinances prohibited dogs from barking five or 10 minutes persistently in 20-minute segments.

The council also discussed whether the ordinance should contain a provision that the dog owner would receive a warning after the first complaint but be subject to a fine if a second complaint occurred.

Speed reduction

In other business, the council gave Bowman the go ahead to research the effects that a speed reduction on U.S. Highway 101 from Gearhart Storage, at 3923 N. Highway 101 to Bud’s Campground, at 4412 N. Highway 101 would have on traffic.

The current speed is 45 mph; Bowman wants to propose to the Oregon Department of Transportation that the speed be reduced to 40 mph. A reduction would make it safer for vehicles turning left into businesses on the west side of the highway, Bowman said.

A speed reduction between Pacific Way and Gearhart Storage went into effect in early 2009. However, accidents weren’t reduced. From 2004 to 2008, there were 16 reported accidents on that stretch of highway, and in the year between 2010 and 2011, at least 29 reported accidents occurred. Injuries, however, weren’t as severe, Bowman said.

When asked if the increased number of accidents could be attributed to more vehicles on the road, Bowman said he didn’t know.

The council also heard a presentation from Clatsop County Sheriff Tom Bergin on the proposed levy for the new county jail and recent legislation that will allow the Oregon Department of Transportation to remove trees along Oregon highways and freeways that pose a danger of falling during windstorms.

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