A website petition claiming that Palo Alto plans to close its animal shelter prompted city officials to issue a press release this week denying the accusation.
The petition, which was posted by Karen Ewart on the website www.change.org, claimed that the city wants to close the shelter to make way for retail businesses along the prime frontage to U.S. Highway 101. So far 3,988 people have signed the petition, according to the website.
"We are about to lose our 121-year-old animal shelter for yet another sacrifice to the almighty dollar which will benefit few and harm many. The Palo Alto Animal Shelter is an invaluable community asset. ... We have amazing animal services, and we should not lose the shelter to more expansion of business and retail," Ewart wrote. "The time to fight back is now. Palo Alto City Manager James Keene is hell bent on destroying the shelter and replacing it with (a car dealership). He is counting on the people of Palo Alto not taking notice while he completes this ignoble action.
"... The Palo Alto Animal Shelter is a community treasure, and in the second wealthiest city in the country, surely there is a way to keep it where it is and viable for a good many years to come."
Some residents have expressed concern that the city has been eroding the animal services site by slowly ceding its use to business interests. The city began leasing part of the shelter's land to Anderson Honda in January to park stored vehicles.
City officials and animal group supporters have denied Ewart's assertions.
"This is blatantly untrue, threatens to undermine the progress made to date to find a new service provider, and is a disservice to the community who has received this incorrect information about the future of the Animal Shelter," city officials said in a press release.
For the past year, the city has been working collaboratively with the Friends of Palo Alto Animal Shelter, the Palo Alto Humane Society and other local stakeholders to identify a new service model for the operation of the city's animal shelter, city officials said.
"It is really unfortunate that the community has been given this misinformation about the closure of the shelter. We look forward to continuing our collaborative partnership with the city, and finding a future service provider that can help to fulfill the mission of our community shelter," Scottie Zimmerman, president of the Friends of Palo Alto Animal Shelter, said in the joint statement with the city.
Ewart said she posted the petition after a city whistleblower expressed concern to her that the long-term effect of the city's plan will result in failure. The nonprofit animal groups, although well meaning, don't have the physical capability to take over the shelter's operations, which will ultimately doom the transfer to failure, she said.
She posted the petition based on her source's concerns and to protect that person's identity. Ewart said she is surprised by the response, which has included several phone calls to her home.
"I never said that the shelter was going to close tomorrow," she said in a phone interview on Saturday.
She said she only intended to gather the signatures and present them before the City Council to emphasize the community's desire to keep the shelter open and at its present location.
The city's response, saying the petition threatens to undermine the progress, is "over the top," Ewart added.
The city has issued a Request for Proposal (RFP) for animal services, which solicits nonprofits or private animal service providers to operate the shelter. The city would retain animal control services and keep the current shelter location in Palo Alto. The city is seeking a provider for shelter operations and clinic services at the site.
Friends of the Palo Alto Animal Shelter, Palo Alto Humane Society, and persons with a strong interest in animal care helped develop the RFP, the city noted. The collaboration would potentially increase animal adoptions and fundraise to build a brand new shelter.
The RFP was developed after a series of community meetings on the future of the city's animal services and an audit that made recommendations. On June 8, the Palo Alto City Council directed staff to conduct a review of alternatives for animal services.
Carole Hyde, president of the Palo Alto Humane Society, also said she supported the city's efforts, in the joint statement.
"We are eager to review the results of the RFP and work with the City of Palo Alto to find the best service model that will support our continuing community education outreach efforts, after-school activities and targeted veterinary funding needs."