A Redwood City-based nonprofit could take over management of the Palo Alto Animal Shelter as soon as next January, city staff and a spokesman for the group Pets In Need confirmed this week.
The City of Palo Alto plans to bring a "letter of intent" to the City Council on Aug. 21, the next step in transferring the shelter's operations from the municipality to the nonprofit, a plan that's been in the works since last fall.
The letter of intent will outline the scope of operations, the city's and the nonprofit's roles, and a fundraising plan for a possible new facility.
Under the agreement, Pets In Need will continue all current shelter services for the next three to five years. Two other groups — the Friends of the Palo Alto Animal Shelter and Palo Alto Humane Society — could potentially be involved with fundraising and educational programs, city staff and the nonprofit group said.
Assistant City Manager Ed Shikada said exact details of the letter are still being finalized, particularly related to financing any renovations of the 45-year-old building at 3281 E. Bayshore Road or conducting a feasibility study for a new building.
Not included as a Pets in Need responsibility will be animal-control services, which will continue to be handled by the police department. Animal control officers, their vehicles and equipment will be paid for by the city, Shikada said.
The letter of intent is not a binding agreement, but it offers a timeline for developing a management agreement between the nonprofit and city, which the nonprofit hopes will be completed and approved by the council in the next few months, Pets In Need spokeswoman Alexandra Baggs said.
Palo Alto's shelter takes in approximately 500 domesticated animals annually (dogs, cats, rabbits, guinea pigs and others) from Palo Alto, Los Altos and Los Altos Hills, plus about 1,000 injured and sick wild animals. Staff transfers wildlife to the San Mateo County-based Peninsula Humane Society facility in Burlingame; Pets In Need would continue that contract, Baggs said.
The shelter's future has been under discussion since 2012. The City of Mountain View, which contracted with Palo Alto Animal Services for 18 years, dropped its contract in November 2011 in part because of the facility's aging amenities and a cheaper contract with the Santa Clara-based Silicon Valley Animal Control Authority.
The facility needs seismic retrofitting, and Palo Alto staff estimated at that time that a new shelter would cost about $7 million. The City of Mountain View did not want to be responsible for that expense, officials said in 2011.
The departure cost the City of Palo Alto dearly, as Mountain View had been contributing $450,000 annually to the shelter operation. According to a 2015 auditor's report, Palo Alto Animal Services was experiencing a net loss of $900,000 annually. The audit also found the shelter's challenges are "unlikely to be resolved if it continues operating as solely a city-managed function without a significant increase in general fund subsidy, donations, and/or revenue-generating contracts."
Palo Alto could save $200,000 in the first fiscal year by outsourcing to Pets In Need, with greater savings expected in the following years, said Khashayar "Cash" Alaee, city senior management analyst and the project's lead executive.
"It's fair to say that the amount of specific savings is an open question," Shikada said. "We may decide the personnel savings would be put into the new building."
The future of current employees of the animal shelter is up in the air. While the City is consulting with the employees' union, Service Employees International Union, Local 521, Shikada said, some might be offered employment elsewhere in the city and others could conceivably be hired by Pets In Need. Still others may retire, he said.
Pets In Need was chosen by the city as an operator following two requests for proposals from potential operators. The two entities signed a mutual cooperation and support agreement on March 29, which directed Pets In Need to assess program and facility needs, develop a site analysis and conceptual designs for a new building, and create an initial plan for raising private contributions for a new shelter.
Shikada and Baggs said a new facility might be built on another city parcel. The former Los Altos Water Treatment Plant at 237 San Antonio Road near the Baylands is a possibility, Shikada said. The property was included in a May 2012 study of potential sites for the shelter. Palo Alto acquired the property after the City of Los Altos ended its own water-treatment operations and partnered with Palo Alto through the Regional Water Quality Control Plant.
Baggs said Pets In Need has developed three possible concepts for a new facility. The smallest is 12,000 square feet — more than double the existing square-footage. It would have classrooms for educational programs, a conference room, an expanded medical facility, and modern and spacious kennels for the animals.
Scottie Zimmerman, president of the Friends of the Palo Alto Animal Shelter, said her organization plans to "fully support" the letter of intent. Pets In Need has a good track record for placing shelter animals and its programs include low-cost services for seniors with pets and a mobile spay-and-neuter surgical van, she said.
The Friends group would work with Pets In Need on raising funds for a new shelter, she added.
"Our hope is to raise funds quickly. We've got a lot of people in Palo Alto who love the animal shelter. It will take $10 million or more, and it won't be huge, but it will be modern and progressive," she said.
The letter of intent also discusses potentially having an office and classrooms available for the Palo Alto Humane Society and its educational curriculum. The 109-year-old organization is currently located on Haven Avenue in Menlo Park.
The Palo Alto Humane Society, which does not run an animal shelter, focuses on animal-population control through spay and neuter vouchers, programs to help people manage veterinary costs, education on the humane treatment of animals, animal-related disaster preparedness, and animal-welfare public-policy advocacy, according to its website.
Carole Hyde, executive director of the Palo Alto Humane Society, said her organization intends to support the letter of intent.
"If we can be part of the center, I think that will strengthen the programs," she said.
The organization has explored ways it could help the Palo Alto shelter for several years, she added. Fundraising could be an important contribution.
"Our name is so established that we could be an asset," she said.
Shikada indicated there's a place for both the Friends group and the Palo Alto Humane Society in the shelter's future.
"Both can and will have roles with educational programming. Our interest is not to have duplicate programs" with Pets In Need, he said.