The Palo Alto Humane Society (PAHS) has backed away from its earlier proposal to build a new state-of-the-art animal-services center for the city and is now offering to help expand the existing shelter to accommodate a host of new animal programs.
In the new proposal, which was outlined in a Nov. 14 memo, the nonprofit offers to form a partnership for expanded animal services, including an educational community center, to the existing facility on East Bayshore Road. The council's Finance Committee is scheduled to consider the new offer tonight.
The proposal is a down-scaled version of the one that the Humane Society offered in October 2013, when it envisioned a new state-of-the-art facility that would include dog training and recreation, an education center, housing for special-needs animals and wellness clinics. The project had an estimated cost of $10 million to $12 million, which the Humane Society offered to raise for the city.
"PAHS wants to create an exciting place in Palo Alto that parallels centers in other communities and shines as a civic centerpiece for the City," the October 2013 memo stated. "The residents have shown their passion for animal welfare and would welcome a new an exciting vision for their shelter."
Since then, the Human Society held several community meetings to gather input about what types of services should be added to the shelter. The new proposal reflects the input it received, said Carole Hyde, the Humane Society's executive director.
Hyde told the Weekly that the expansion is estimated to cost between $2 million and $3 million. If the city agrees to the proposal, the organization would help raise funds for the project, she said.
Even so, the new focus would have the Humane Society contribute primarily through new programs, rather than through an ambitious capital project.
The programs it proposes include Critters Club (a school-based club that focuses on animal needs), Mow Wow Animals (a web-based curriculum that targets elementary school students), and PAWS 2 PAHS (a program in which dogs visit classrooms).
"This partnership is suitable to PAHS's organizational strengths, staffing, financial depth, and current and recent programs," the new proposal states. "We believe the future of Animal Services is best served if the shelter is operated by the City and made vibrant with a community program provided by Palo Alto Humane Society."
The expanded programs would require a larger facility, under this proposal. Hyde said that if the city agrees to partner with the Humane Society on an expanded shelter, it would "effectively turn the shelter into a community center." She called the new proposal "practical and focused."
"I think the Palo Alto Humane Society is clearly prepared to make a major contribution," Hyde said "It's a discussion about partnering and whether funding can be done through partnering."
Interest in the city's animal shelter began to mount in 2012, when the city proposed outsourcing its animal services in the wake of Mountain View's decision to withdraw from a long-standing partnership in the facility. The decision left the city with a financial hole that has been growing every year since.
According to a new staff report, the net cost (expenses minus revenues) went from $420,055 in 2013 to $893,403 in 2014. The 2015 budget estimates that the net cost this year will be $910,941.
The city is also conducting an audit on existing animal services to "evaluate and compare best practices and the efficiency and effectiveness of the services provided, including whether Animal Services receives all revenues to which it is entitled and, whether improvements can be made in operations to allow the program to break even with the cost of services provided."
Staff is proposing to defer any decisions about a future partnership with PAHS until after April 2015, when the audit is scheduled to be completed.