Despite protests, council switches animal services
A group hoping to save Palo Alto's animal shelter swayed only one member of the City Council on Tuesday in an effort to keep Mountain View from switching to a Santa Clara-based animal services provider.
The council voted 6-1 to enter into an joint powers authority agreement with Silicon Valley Animal Control Authority on Thomas Road in Santa Clara, with council member Laura Macias opposed. The move will save the city $40,000 a year, said police Capt. Max Bosel. The council had voted to end its contract with Palo Alto in November.
"We did take this decision seriously," said council member Ronit Bryant. "We took a lot of time visiting both Palo Alto and SVACA. We found more comprehensive services at SVACA."
The move means Palo Alto will lose $450,000 a year to run its shelter on Bayshore Road, spurring Palo Alto to examine outsourcing animal services and possibly allow a car dealership on the site. Up to 13 employees could be out of work.
The move was supposed to save Mountain View over $150,000 a year after five years, according to a staff report for a study session on the issue last year. But city staff members weren't making that claim Tuesday.
"It turns out it's going to be pretty close to a wash," said council member Jac Siegel about saving money with SVACA.
Siegel called it a "tough decision. I found the most caring people at both facilities I've ever seen in my life."
Council members weighed numerous pros and cons of the two shelters. Both have had similar euthanasia rates over recent years. Members praised Santa Clara's relatively new facilities, while Palo Alto's is in need of a rebuild. Fees are higher at SVACA for adopting a dog, for example, which costs $150 at SVACA versus $100 at PAAS, but spaying and neutering pets is cheaper on average at SVACA. And a trip to SVACA may take a few minutes longer than to PAAS, according to Google maps, but council members said they found the trip using Central Expressway to be quick and convenient.
In opposing the switch, Macias cited concerns raised by a Palo Alto group called "Save Our Shelter" over a $150 fee for surrendering animals at SVACA (Palo Alto takes them for free) and concerns over the limited availability of spaying and neutering services at the SVACA shelter, though the service is offered there at a lower average cost. SOS members said the switch would result in more stray animals.
"The report did not study usage of the Palo Alto spay and neuter clinic by Mountain View and whether SVACA is able to provide similar service," said Mountain View resident Christina Peck.
"The whole idea of having to pay for surrendering an animal, that really is heartbreaking to me," said Mountain View resident Gloria Jackson. "I've known people who really could not take care of their animals and had to move."
Bryant noted that SVACA director Dan Soszynski promised to be flexible with those who could not afford a $150 fee to surrender their pets, which has become more common during the recession as people move away or downsize into an apartment that doesn't allow pets.
"We do our best to work with everyone," Soszynski said. "We're not going to leave an animal at risk for a surrender fee."
"It does comfort me if there is hardship they can receive some help," Bryant said.
To keep Mountain View, city staff members reported in November that PAAS offered to extend its shelter hours from 30 to 43 hours a week, 7.5 hours more than SVACA's posted shelter hours. PAAS also offered to waive any costs for renovating its aging shelter facility, Mountain View's share of which was an estimated $2 million. And recently proposed budget cuts to PAAS could also save Mountain View an untold amount.
"If it's not broken, don't fix it," Jackson told the council. "If you don't like the price, I suggest you negotiate with" Palo Alto.
Council members cited having an influence over how SVACA is run as a major selling point, along with fewer animal control duties put upon local police and the city attorney's office, who would no longer waste time "chasing strays" and holding vicious dog hearings.
But it turned out that the city's influence on SVACA's joint powers board may be less than hoped. As a member of the multi-city board, Mountain View has only two votes, while Santa Clara has five, Campbell as two and Monte Sereno has one vote. Bosel said there was "spirited discussion" about having a number of votes more proportionate to the population of the cities on the board, but no luck. Nevertheless, it's an upgrade to being at Palo Alto's whim with the PAAS contract, said council member Margaret Abe-Koga.
"I'm not not completely happy with the way the weighted voting has been set up but at least we have a vote," Abe-Koga said. "With Palo Alto we didn't have much say at all, quite frankly."
Mountain View's contract with Palo Alto Alto Animal Control Services ends January 1, 2013. PAAS has not granted an early termination of the contract requested by Mountain View for July.