Mountain View decided to break off its 18-year relationship with Palo Alto Animal Services on Tuesday night, with City Council members instead favoring a contract with a cheaper and more attractive Santa Clara-based agency.
The council's unanimous vote on Tuesday left Palo Alto on the hook for an estimated $7 million cost to renovate its Bayshore Road animal shelter. Palo Alto officials say they consider the shelter to be at the end of its lifespan and in need of seismic retrofitting. While Palo Alto had promised the city would not have to pay that cost, council members were skeptical and city staff estimated that it could cost Mountain View as much as $2 million. The city also pays Palo Alto over $400,000 a year for the services the animal shelter provides, but the move to Santa Clara would save $50,000 a year on average after a $300,000 investment in new equipment and facilities is paid off in five years.
"We want to do everything we possibly can to keep you as a partner," said Palo Alto police Capt. Bob Beacom. "It seems like breaking this relationship would fly in the face of regionalism and working together."
Mountain View is a "big part of animal services. We don't want to lose you," he said.
After visiting the Santa Clara facility at 3370 Thomas Road, council members sounded pretty sure they were making a good move in trusting the Santa Clara police and the Silicon Valley Animal Control Authority (SVACA) to pick up stray animals, shelter them, neuter them and adopt them out at a fairly high rate.
"I was very impressed with the services," said council member Ronit Bryant. "Clearly the emphasis is on doing the right thing."
Members noted details about SVACA that had won them over, such as a website feature that allows people to go online if they've lost an animal and see pictures of what animals are picked up and where they were found, mentioned by Mayor Jac Siegel. "They have artificial grass for the dogs that is so much more attractive than what we have in our dog park," Bryant said.
Several members noted a "positive" atmosphere at the facility and said that it seemed like the staff cared about the animals. Mountain View resident Don Ball said he happened to stop by and was impressed by the courteousness of the staff, and noted that people can drop off stray animals at the facility at any hour of the day. No one spoke against the move to Santa Clara.
The only drawbacks noted about SVACA were the costs for some services, such as a $150 adoption fee, which is higher than Palo Alto's $100 fee. Being three miles further away from Castro Street was not an issue, said Bryant, who was surprised at how quickly she could reach the facility via Central Expressway.
Staying with Palo Alto would have had the benefit of some increased shelter and field service hours. But city staff said Palo Alto's benefits were clearly outweighed by the Silicon Valley shelter's offerings. Having a seat on SVACA's governing board was appealing to council members, because it appeared Mountain View would have more control over animal services than it's previously had. SVACA would also take on criminal cases related to animals, freeing up Mountain View police officers for more important work.
SVACA was looking to be much cheaper in the long run as costs for the cities that use it, including Campbell and Monte Sereno, have been going down since 2006, while Palo Alto's costs were steadily going up.
"It doesn't look like it's actually in Palo Alto," Bryant said of the Palo Alto shelter. "And if it is going to cost $7 million to rebuild, I can't believe we aren't going to be asked to pay for that."