Mountain View officially switches animal services

Despite protest from Palo Alto, city enters into agreement with Silicon Valley Animal Control Authority

A group hoping to save Palo Alto's animal shelter swayed only one member of the Mountain View City Council Tuesday, May 8, 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 a joint powers board agreement with Silicon Valley Animal Control Authority (SVACA) on Thomas Road in Santa Clara, with Council member Laura Macias opposed. The move will save the city $40,000 a year, police Capt. Max Bosel said.

Macias cited concerns raised by the Palo Alto group "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.

"The surrender fee and spay and neuter availability are coming up as pretty serious issues," Macias said. "If you don't have $150 you aren't going to bring your pet in. People are going though really trying times in their lives and that's not when they have $150 around."

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 building an auto dealership on the site. Up to 13 employees could be out of work.

The move was supposed to save Mountain View more than $150,000 a year after five years, according to a staff report. But city staff members weren't making that claim Tuesday.

"It turns out its going to be pretty close to (a) wash," said council member Jac Siegel about the city 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," he said.

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, which would no longer waste time "chasing strays" and holding vicious dog hearings.

But it turned out the influence in SVACA 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 has 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, its an upgrade to being completely at Palo Alto's whim with the PAAS contract, Council member Margaret Abe-Koga said.

Council members weighed numerous pros and cons of the two shelters and found 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 the Palo Alto shelter. And a trip to SVACA may take a few minutes longer than to Palo Alto, according to Google maps.

To keep Mountain View, city staff members reported in November that Palo Alto Animal Services (PAAS) offered to extend its shelter hours from 30 to 43 hours a week, 7.5 hours more than SVACA's posted shelter hours. Recently proposed budget cuts to PAAS could also save Mountain View an untold amount. PAAS also offered to waive any costs for renovating its aging shelter facility, Mountain View's share of which was an estimated $2 million.

Mountain View's contract with PAAS ends Jan. 1, 2013. PAAS has not granted an early termination of the contract requested by Mountain View for July.


Posted by Old Town Paly Resident, a resident of Old Palo Alto
on May 9, 2012 at 11:27 am

Very disappointed in the lack of community collaboration from Mountain View! Palo Alto City Council will address the "Save our Shelter" at their meeting Thursday, 5/10 at City Hall. I believe the time is either 6pm or 7pm...PLEASE if any animal owners of our local Palo Alto neighborhood can attend, PLEASE DO, it is important to show the City Council how much this shelter means to the community...strength in numbers people!

Posted by Rossa0825, a resident of Mountain View
on May 9, 2012 at 11:27 am

Rossa0825 is a registered user.

Too bad PAAS and MV couldn't negotiate something to work this out. They should have been giving Mountain View some say in how things are run as part of a $450,000 contract. I am sorry to see Mountain View possibly delivering the death nail to PAAS, a facility that has served the community so well for so long. Especially when Mountain View was initially led to believe they would be saving as much as 30% over time, but before it even begins, the savings have disappeared. It will probably end up costing more in the long run.

Posted by Gethin, a resident of Midtown
on May 9, 2012 at 12:05 pm

MV has made a very logical business decision that will benefit its residents by reducing costs by transferring a non essential service to another service provider. I hope PA chooses wisely and does the same.

Posted by businessdecision, a resident of another community
on May 9, 2012 at 1:01 pm

Welcome to the era of austerity: watch what it turns people into. As animals rove the streets and reproduce and we kill them, we won't go on being who we are today. Or were yesterday. Well, the process has already been under way for a long enough time, and people are so far just delighted with the chance to lay into one another, so sit back and watch it get more fun. Animals and animal lovers will have to find someplace else. It obviously did not help them to be in Silicon Valley, oozing with monied "citizens" who are so full of rectitude about balanced budgets and so full of the desire in their hopelessly out of touch way to be "philanthropists."

Posted by daniel, a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on May 9, 2012 at 2:46 pm

The MV residents who are pet owners will regret this move once they realize that surrendering an animal is almost impossible and very expensive, that having an officer show up to remove a dead pet is not just a matter of a quick phone call, when the population of stray animals explodes, etc. The same regret will befall the residents of Palo Alto if this essential service is outsourced. Outsourcing has produced misery and decline everywhere, and now we will witness it first hand.

Posted by Another Option, a resident of Portola Valley
on May 9, 2012 at 4:22 pm

As a 50+ year resident (and pet owner) of both Palo Alto and Portola Valley I have used and supported Palo Alto Animal Services for many years and have also had a number of encounters with other animal welfare facilities on the Peninsula.

My take is that Palo Alto Animal Services operates significantly better in every way (the details have been stated many times) than any other in the vicinity. That is why many experienced pet owners from all over the area prefer it to the others and tend to gravitate there when they have a need or problem. The age and condition of its clean and well-maintained building has little to do with its excellent quality of service. A successful, economical animal welfare operation like Palo Alto's could probably operate out of, say, an old warehouse or barn that was properly outfitted, located, staffed and managed.

Rather than fret over Mountain View's decision to bail out, which appears to be more political than practical, the City might sniff around among the juridictions that contract with other organizations in the area and see if it can recruit a few. In particular, many pet-owner users of the Peninsula Humane Society -- for all its wealth, glitz and public relations skills -- are very dissatisfied with the services they actually receive. If the jurisdictional authorities feel the same way, they might be peeled off to join with Palo Alto Animal Services. Although I realize this is easier said than done, it might be another way to preserve this very effective service that benefits the entire Peninsula community.

Posted by Nora Charles, a resident of Stanford
on May 9, 2012 at 6:30 pm

"The greatness of a nation and its moral progress can be judged by the way its animals are treated" - Ghandi

Please do the right thing, Palo Alto.

Posted by Hmmm, a resident of East Palo Alto
on May 9, 2012 at 7:02 pm

Nora Charles - who handles animal control & animal welfare issues for Stanford?

Posted by Mrs. Frost, a resident of Midtown
on May 9, 2012 at 7:59 pm

What time is the meeting tomorrow?

Posted by Mountain Viewer, a resident of Mountain View
on May 9, 2012 at 9:02 pm

In the late-1990s I went to the Palo Alto shelter to adopt a dog and I was determined unsuitable! I have had three dogs now for over 12 years and they are as happy as can be along with my two cats, all strays. You reap what you sow. The Palo Alto shelter can shove it.

Posted by Hmmm, a resident of East Palo Alto
on May 9, 2012 at 10:02 pm

Mountain Viewer, can you say what made you "unsuitable"? Some shelters can be strict, as can rescues. The down side is that it can really drive good people into buying pets, instead of adopting, when they prefer to adopt. Some scrutiny is fine, but some of it's over the top!

For years, our rented house didn't have a back fence, which would've made me unsuitable to adopt dogs. Have you ever pottied multpiple dogs w/out a fence yard? I don't suggest it, except to people I detest ;-) But hey - I find strays on a regular basis, so have never needed to go to the shelter & adopt an animal. Finding strays is how I got into rescue. In fact, we found & kept strays all through my childhood in Menlo & Palo Alto - my parents didn't adopt any animals from a shelter until us kids had grown up.

Where did you end up getting your pets?

Posted by reine, a resident of Barron Park
on May 9, 2012 at 11:06 pm

Hello friends in Los Altos and Los Altos Hills!

The Palo Alto Shelter is also YOUR shelter, come and defend it.

May be your city will be willing to help too! Mountain View found out that going to SVACA will not be a bargain after all.
Not all services will be what they expected. They will have to pay 300K first in order to save only 40K a year.
Their animals will be transported long distance if they are picked up
and some negligent owners will not want to take the freeway to go retreive them...
Please come help the Fidos in your neighborhood, help the Palo Alto shelter. Thank you.

I tried 6 times to enter this comment on the Los Altos Town crier website.

Posted by Marrol, a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on May 9, 2012 at 11:28 pm

Mountain View has made a difficult, but very sound financial decision that addresses the greater good. We must remind ourselves that the city is not abandoning its responsibility to provide animal services. Some of the reactions suggest that this is an all or nothing proposition. Mountain View, and so soon Palo Alto, are simply investing public funds in a regional service that is reputable and more than adequate to fulfill our needs. This service will continue to be provided at a substantial savings to tax payers.

Tough times call for tough decisions. Everyone must be willing to make some sacrifices in order for our city to balance the budget and gain greater financial stability. Operating our own animal services is certainly a desired commodity, but not a necessary one to provide adequate care to our pets and wildlife. Most cities participate in some form of a regional service, and I urge our city leaders and elected officials to do the same. This move will have to be just one of many sacrifices and adjustments our city will have to make in the future in order to achieve our financial goals. We must balance the budget and fund the cornerstone civic priorities of public safety and infrastructure.

Posted by daniel, a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on May 10, 2012 at 6:47 am

The Palo Alto shelter is by far the best one in the region, despite the old facility. When our stray population explodes, owners of pets who died realize that removing a dead animal is now a complicated and very expensive chore and just dump the carcase in the public domain, that surrendering a pet you can't keep anymore is nearly impossible and/or too expensive and that its easier to abandon it, we'll realize that getting rid of the shelter was not only fools gold but also very expensive and shortsighted.

Posted by Mountain Viewer, a resident of Mountain View
on May 10, 2012 at 6:49 am

Hmmm, to answer your question, one little dog I found roaming the street on the Mountain View Palo Alto border. The other two were from a litter from an irresponsible pet owner in East Palo Alto. They said I was unsuitable because I didn't live in a house with a big enough yard. They also didn't like the way I looked, I suspect, given I am not white. It was one of the few times I really felt I was being discriminated against. And from an animal shelter of all places. It turns out I saved myself a lot of money in the end. And I agree, it's much easier to save a stray as is the case with my cats.

Posted by Marrol, a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on May 10, 2012 at 8:45 am

Daniel, having to deal with the end of life of a pet is a responsibility and expense that the owner should accept. Fortunately it is also a very infrequent occurrence for most of us. Considering what we pay for vet care and food over the course of a pet's life, I truly don't think it's a significant burden for most people.

With that said, I also must take some exception with your suggestion that when we outsource PAAS our streets and sidewalks will be littered with animal carcasses. Many other cities, including those that I have lived in and continue to do business, contract their animal services to Silicon Valley and do not experience this problem. No need to create unreasonable hysteria, please.

What we do need to focus in on is how we can collectively solve this budget mess we're in, and properly fund our vital needs in public safety and infrastructure.

Posted by businessdecision, a resident of another community
on May 10, 2012 at 9:20 am

This "thread" is getting religious... fund the cornerstone civic priorities of public safety and infrastructure. Tough times call for tough decisions. Everyone must be willing to make some sacrifices in order for our city to balance the budget and gain greater financial stability.

I wonder how we know that those are the right things to do. We are no better than yesterday's people who were so spectacularly wrong about how much money they had to spend, thereby ruining the lives of later generations and the later lives of people in their own generation. Living frugally is all the rage right now. We'll see what "financial stability" does to us and what happens in the process. It might well be an experiment not worth running.

Posted by Hmmm, a resident of East Palo Alto
on May 10, 2012 at 1:17 pm

Mountain Viewer - I'm so sorry that you had such a lousy experience! I've been treated poorly as a minority here in EPA, but that's just a small taste since I'm white & it's not my overall experience w/institutions.

It sounds like you & I both wouldn't be able to adopt from most shelters, w/small yards. Hah! What matters is the dog's quality of life, which doesn't happen in a yard. It's the dog walks that matter more than yard size. Look at people in apts. who have to take their dogs down flights of stairs just to potty. And look at all of the irresponsible dog owners/backyard breeders who have space & their dogs are treated like garbage.

I'm glad that things ended up ok for you. I hate hearing about experiences such as yours.

Posted by daniel, a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on May 10, 2012 at 3:46 pm

Marrol, other cities in this area have issues with strays and unwanted animals due to the difficulties in surrendering animals and the lack of low cost neutering. I personally can afford all the costs incurred even if they rose dramatically, but many pet owners can't, even in Palo Alto, where, I've got news for you, many people are struggling financially and not everybody works for Google or Facebook. The death of a pet is much more frequent than you realize, they have much shorter lives than humans and are susceptible to many diseases than shorten their lives even further. A pet's death can become a nightmare for a family as well as a health hazard when a quick and inexpensive removal isn't available. I have little doubt that outsourcing this service will end up not saving any money while making life unnecessary difficult for many families and individuals while diminishing our values and the unique nature of this town.

Posted by marrol, a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on May 10, 2012 at 8:23 pm

The city is also struggling financially Daniel. We cannot fund critical needs in public safety and infrastructure. Sorry, but we must address these realities.

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