Palo Alto looks to rethink animal services

Council committee approves $250,000 in 'transition funding' for animal services

With Palo Alto's animal services limping toward an uncertain future, a City Council committee on Tuesday agreed to spend $250,000 to evaluate the next steps for the much maligned but popular operation.

The funding allocation, which was requested by city staff, was one of several big-ticket items that generated a robust debate at the Finance Committee's final budget-review session. While the committee voted unanimously to recommend approval of City Manager James Keene's budget for fiscal year 2016, it did so only after rejecting Keene's requests for sustainability consultants and for a third code-enforcement officer. Another position, a recreation superintendent, only remained in the budget after a 3-1 vote, with committee Chair Greg Schmid and Councilmen Eric Filseth and Greg Scharff supporting it and Councilwoman Liz Kniss dissenting.

The expenditure for animal services ultimately won support from all four council members, despite the fact that neither the committee nor staff know at this time how the money will be spent. Everyone agreed, however, that major changes are in store for a service that now costs the city about $900,000 annually and that was recently described by the city auditor as "outdated and inadequate to meet modern animal-care standards."

Now, staff is considering several options for the shelter's future. One would be to partner with a regional animal-services nonprofit such as the Palo Alto Humane Society, which would then raise funds and operate the shelter. Another plan would involve a partnership between the city and a local nonprofit, which would then lead the fundraising effort for shelter improvements.

Khashayar Alaee, a senior management analyst, told the committee that staff has been discussing possible partnerships with local and regional groups in recent months and plans to continue to do so in the next fiscal year.

"We want to have very serious conversations with those organizations to say, 'Are you available and ready and willing to enter into an agreement such as the Junior Museum & Zoo has done or Avenidas has done?'" Alaee said. "If these organizations say 'yes' and they give us a business plan and a proposal, the $250,000 will be used very differently than if those organizations say 'no.'"

The committee wasn't entirely satisfied with the open-ended proposal, though committee members agreed that it's important to give staff the flexibility it needs to come up with a new plan for the animal shelter, which in 2012 faced the prospect of imminent closure. The animal shelter's dire financial situation was exacerbated by Mountain View's decision to pull out of the shelter agreement.

While Schmid characterized the action as the council "enthusiastically investing $250,000 in a successful, responsive animal services," Filseth was more skeptical about the allocation sum, observing that "you can get a lot of consulting for $250,000."

Scharff called the allocation a "good first step," but said he was concerned about the prospect of the funds being used to backfill employee salaries. In the end, he agreed to set the money aside even despite the unknowns. He also agreed with Kniss' suggestion that staff provide the council with monthly reports about progress and expenditures.

Kniss observed that the community "is very frustrated at this point with what's going to happen."

"The question has been there for quite a long time," she said "We have moved awfully slowly on this."

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17 people like this
Posted by Lynne
a resident of Crescent Park
on May 27, 2015 at 10:48 am

I support the City Council's decision to spend funds to evaluate the future of the Palo Alto Animal Shelter. I am a lover of animals and see the need for improving this outdated facility to better care for animals.

I think there is enough community concern to establish fund raising activities through volunteers. I would love to help with time and funds for this cause.

30 people like this
Posted by Priorities
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on May 27, 2015 at 11:03 am

The city manager, Jim Keene, thinks that new lettering and paint for the city hall parking garage is a higher priority than our pets. He thinks that an expensive interactive foyer at city hall (to the tune of $4.5M) is more important than our pets, too. I don't think much of his priorities. Time for a new city manager.

4 people like this
Posted by Scottie Zimmerman
a resident of Midtown
on May 27, 2015 at 11:31 am

Lynne, I'm a member of Friends of the Palo Alto Animal Shelter (FoPAAS), and we appreciate your comments about the importance of the shelter.

We would LOVE to have you volunteer to help with fund raising! To get in touch with us, go to our website and click Contact Us under the About Us tab. We'll get back to you promptly!

Also, if you visit the Downtown Farmer's Market on Saturdays, we have a booth across the street (on the sidewalk) from 9 to 11. We'd be delighted to see you there!

5 people like this
Posted by Jeremy
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on May 27, 2015 at 11:31 am

Lynne, please contact Friends of the Palo Alto Animal Shelter. Check out their website for contact info. They are commencing fundraising to ensure a new animal shelter be built, and one we can all be proud of.
An animal shelter need not be a financial drain on community funds. Rather it can be a thriving, exciting place for people to gather, as our new libraries have become. Shelters elsewhere offer events, classes, education and income producing opportunities, while providing a healthy and beautiful environment for homeless animals. Palo Alto deserves no less.

6 people like this
Posted by resident
a resident of Midtown
on May 27, 2015 at 11:44 am

The city manager has been pushing for several years now to shut down animal services; one of the reasons is he wants to be able to rent out the land to the auto dealers.

15 people like this
Posted by Carol Gilbert
a resident of University South
on May 27, 2015 at 11:45 am

Societies will be judged by how they care for the weakest among us. Think hard on this CPA. If this community can't create and run a decent animal shelter then shame on you. Why must we always pay to have some outside organization "think" for us? Council, consider where you are putting our money--like much of the city hall improvements. That money could be spent much more wisely.Create a decent shelter and run it. The losses would be better spent than other things we spend money away on.

31 people like this
Posted by New Idea
a resident of Crescent Park
on May 27, 2015 at 12:03 pm

How about a little outside the box idea? The shelter has an amazing location. What about adding a coffee or snack bar to meet the needs of bay trail users? Something like the cafe in Shoreline Park. With the added bonus of trail users greeting the animals while enjoying a cuppa. All proceeds to support the animals.


13 people like this
Posted by Jeremy
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on May 27, 2015 at 4:21 pm

New Idea ...this has been our focus since we started creating a plan for the new shelter. Picture this: a rooftop cafe, umbrellas, potted trees, great coffee and sandwiches....right next to a comfortable Cat Habitat where you can sit play with cats and kittens all waiting for adoption. We have a vision of our shelter being a place people come to meet their friends, as appealing and friendly as our beautiful new libraries.

We can make this happen if we all pull together and do our share to make this a reality.

Like this comment
Posted by Scottie Zimmerman
a resident of Midtown
on May 27, 2015 at 5:21 pm

Some feedback on a section of the article by Gennady Sheyner, "Now, staff is considering several options for the shelter's future. One would be to partner with a regional animal-services nonprofit such as the Palo Alto Humane Society, which would then raise funds and operate the shelter."

While Palo Alto Humane Society (PAHS) is an interested party when it comes to the future of Palo Alto Animal Services, they do not qualify as a "regional animal-services nonprofit." The nonprofit animal services in our region are Humane Society Silicon Valley (HSSV) in Milpitas and Silicon Valley Animal Control Authority (SVACA) in Santa Clara. San Jose Animal Care & Services is city-operated, as is Palo Alto Animal services. In Burlingame, Peninsula Humane Society (PHS) is another successful nonprofit shelter. All of these places operate facilities where cats, dogs, rabbits, birds etc. are housed, fed, and given medical care while they wait for adoption.

Palo Alto Humane Society pays for vouchers to help people afford spay/neuter surgery at local spay/neuter clinics. They offer educational programs for children, teaching kindness to animals and proper care & handling of family pets. They occasionally provide financial aid for animals who require medical or dental treatments that their owners cannot afford. PAHS has been a respected and generous advocate of animal welfare for a long time, but they do not operate an animal shelter.

Full disclosure: I am a member of Friends of the Palo Alto Animal Shelter (FoPAAS). Our nonprofit organization and PAHS are cooperating in a joint effort to maintain and improve the shelter in Palo Alto.

1 person likes this
Posted by the_punnisher
a resident of Mountain View
on May 27, 2015 at 5:30 pm

the_punnisher is a registered user.

Check out the Dumb Friends League web pages for some other ideas. They have been around since 1910 and may have some fresh ideas when it comes to fundraising.
It couldn't hurt.

2 people like this
Posted by Marrol
a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on May 27, 2015 at 10:49 pm

It's time to outsource our animal services to an outside agency. The vocal minority that shouted down this logical move made a commitment to help the fund the city run shelter. It has been clear for quite some time that this service is not sustainable, nor is there private funding to keep it afloat. Contract our animal services to the Santa Clara Valley run program which will offer more than adequate service at an affordable rate. Most of the county cities have already done so, and it's time that Palo Alto does the same.

3 people like this
Posted by Anneke
a resident of Professorville
on May 28, 2015 at 11:05 am

When my husband turned eighty years old we had a lovely celebration at a local restaurant. Our guests included all people dear to us. Instead of bringing gifts, we asked them to make a small contribution to the Palo Alto Animal Shelter. Many of them did and felt great about it.

Like this comment
Posted by Scottie Zimmerman
a resident of Midtown
on May 28, 2015 at 12:52 pm

Punnisher, Thanks for the tip. Dumb Friends League is an impressive nonprofit organization, and I enjoyed their list of "events." We might be able to adapt some of those for PAAS and FoPAAS.

Marrol, Long time no chat, eh? You omit the fact that outsourcing also costs a lot of money. Mtn. View had to fork over $$ to finance another truck for Animal Control. Also money to pay for construction of added space at SVACA for the Mtn. View animals. Also an annual fee somewhere close to $500,000. So Palo Alto would lose its close-to-home shelter and still have to pay for outsourcing. Is that a bargain?

Anneke, what a wonderful birthday gift! A lot of my friends whose children are grown also prefer donations to good causes rather than gifts that take up space in already crowded homes. Thank you on behalf of Palo Alto Animal Services for your generous suggestion to your friends.

1 person likes this
Posted by Shut it down
a resident of Charleston Gardens
on May 28, 2015 at 1:28 pm

Yes. Let's spend $250000 to study whether pampered palo alto should keep a service that siphons much needed money from its coffers. There are better uses for this money. Let's outsource this.
[Portion removed.]

4 people like this
Posted by Cat Mom Leonorilda
a resident of Midtown
on May 28, 2015 at 3:42 pm

Writing independently, a HUGE THANK YOU to Carol Gilbert. The City of Palo Alto has more than ample money to revamp the animal shelter and continue to run it as a modern entity with proper housing for shelter animals and additional space for community and educational activities. Why push this task on an outside entity? NOT continuing to run the shelter and provide city funding to do so speaks very loudly for a lack of interest in the least protected in our society—the animals—and for a "bottom line" of that "being humane really isn't where it's at." The City of Palo Alto just disbursed more than $6 million to redo the lobby of City Hall. Why? Why does having an "interactive" lobby, which just fuels even less public contact... after all, machines are good enough, aren't they?... supersede helping our local animals and providing funding for their care?

5 people like this
Posted by mauricio
a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on May 28, 2015 at 4:22 pm

mauricio is a registered user.

Any city and town in the country would love to have the kind of revenues Palo Alto is on the receiving end of: Astronomic property tax income from real estate values that keep going up into the stratosphere, a very wealthy community. Palo Alto can easily turn the animal shelter into a modern facility. The city leaders prefer to spend money on other, splashy, and often unnecessary things, while also spending fortunes on unnecessary consultants, and they should be called on it.

Outsourcing doesn't make any sense, and it's also very wrong. Try calling the county to come pick up a dead pet or a stray animal and you might have to wait days. If we outsource this vital service, especially when there's no need for it in the midst of perhaps unprecedented revenues, we will have lost another piece of Palo Alto's soul, and we have already lost too many pieces of it as it is.

1 person likes this
Posted by Lynne
a resident of Crescent Park
on May 28, 2015 at 5:56 pm

to Shut It Down,
Hey take a look at the city budget for the year and tell me that far larger amounts have not been spent on far lesser renovations, etc. This is a drop in the bucket. Palo Alto is one of the richest cities in the Universe. Can't they fund an animal shelter?

1 person likes this
Posted by mauricio
a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on May 29, 2015 at 6:09 am

mauricio is a registered user.

I totally concur with the above comment. Palo Alto is a phenomenally wealthy city with a stream of nearly unimaginable revenues due to our ever increasing real estate values and the very strong valley economy. There is no animal shelter "crisis", there is a sad and depressing issue of priorities, where shallow, ostentatious and splashy unnecessary projects get funded at the expense of projects like upgrading the animal shelter.

Sorry, but further commenting on this topic has been closed.

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