The City Council voted to approve a new animal control ordinance on June 4, only to reject it the following week, following public outrage. Dozens of cat owners had protested controversial requirements for licensing and rabies shots for cats.
"We were totally taken by surprise by amount of push-back," said longtime council member Mike Kasperzak. "I cannot remember the last time council went back on a second reading and did a 180 like that — not in my history."
Once the public's attention was drawn to the ordinance, it turned out that dog owners would be affected too, as the ordinance says no dogs would be allowed on public property.
The ordinance was shelved for further review.
Anatomy of an oversight
Five days before the June 4 vote, the city had put notices of the ordinance change in three places to meet legal requirements: on the city's website, on a wall in City Hall and in the San Jose Post Record newspaper. Largely read by lawyers, the newspaper with a $145-a-year subscription cost covers court stories and legal issues. None of the measure worked very well, apparently, as council members complained that no one protested before the ordinance sailed through its first vote of approval.
In a phone interview, Kasperzak said the Voice should have covered the ordinance change ahead of time, and he and others also blamed the city for not making an outreach effort to residents. There were complaints that the most consequential changes in the ordinance were not mentioned in any detail in the police department's report, released five days beforehand on the city's website. Others said more residents should be subscribing to the city's email notifications for City Council agendas.
City charter mandates newspaper ads
For 19 years the city has used the Post Record to publicize meeting notices, project contracts and ordinance changes. It is a practice that has been questioned over the years by City Council members, but continues nonetheless.
City staff have defended the use of the San Jose Post Record because it consistently is the low bidder among newspapers for advertising, and has the ability to print things on a day's notice, compared to the weekly deadline for the Voice.
"You guys are mandated to award the contract to the lowest responsible bidder," City Manager Dan Rich told the council Tuesday before a vote to extend the contract.
The move made little sense to resident Christina Peck, whose involvement with two local cat rescue groups drew her attention to the situation.
"We did not hear of the council meeting by reading the San Jose Post Record, we learned of the meetings by reading the Mountain View Voice," Peck said of the animal control ordinance at Tuesday's meeting. "Not all residents are computer savvy, have internet access or the time or interest to track issues via the city's website. I urge you to award the contract for legal advertising to the Mountain View Voice. I'll bet its readership far exceeds the number of people who subscribe to the city's emails. The city's charter requires notices in a 'general circulation newspaper' — I don't believe the San Jose Post Record fits that bill."
Marina Marinovich, who has led efforts to save the city's historic "Immigrant House" told the council to advertise their meeting agendas in the Voice on Fridays so people would know "what you guys were going to be talking about the next week, that would be very helpful for everybody."
According to a city staff report, advertising notices in the Voice would cost $3,590 a year, $790 more a year than the $2,800 the Post Record charges for the service. In comparison, the San Francisco Chronicle would charge the city $11,976 a year.
Cost issues aside, Rich said using the Voice "would be very problematic logistically." The City Council agenda is "not finalized until Thursday. The paper (The Voice) comes out that day — that just wouldn't work."
A solution suggested by Rich is for the Voice to "post the agenda online as a community service on Friday. We'd be happy to discuss that with them."
The city does use the print version of the Voice for running the occasional notice for major projects.
Council member and lawyer Mike Kasperzak pushed the council to extend the contract with the Post Record.
"The charter requires us to, it's not a decision," Kasperzak said. "We have to use the lowest responsible bidder. If we want to change the charter, we have to have the voters vote on it."
City Clerk Laurie Brewer told the Voice that staff members prefer the deadline flexibility of the Post Record, which publishes five days a week.
To Peck, the additional cost and inconvenience to city staff of using a more widely read paper for such notices is "a very small price to pay for having an informed public — it's trivial."