Animal-Rescue 'Pet Shops' May Soon Open Near Homes Under Flawed LA Plan

ANIMAL WATCH-LA Animal Services and Mayor Eric Garcetti announced on January 25, that L.A had reached its "no-kill" goal for dogs in 2017 and is close to a similar declaration for cats. Barnette has explained publicly that pet cats are being adopted and the only problem left for LA. shelters is Pit Bulls and feral cats. 

So why would the Planning Department issue a Report on removing zoning requirements for "pet stores" and allowing them in commercial and residential-adjacent zones -- in other words, close to your home? This eliminates environmental and human/pet safety protections, creates discriminatory elimination of the need for Conditional Use Permits for one favored class only -- "animal rescue retail pet shops." It also removes any provision for complaint/remedy available to adjacent residents and business owners in the City. 

At the December 9 unadvertised public hearing by the Planning Department, Councilman Bob Blumenfield's Planning Deputy testified that his boss wants this "sooner rather than later." 

This matter (CF 11-0754-S2, CF 17-0079) will be before the Planning Committee of the City Council in City Hall on Thursday, April 12, with sponsor Bob Blumenfield as one of its members. 

BACKGROUND 

A Writ of Mandate petition (BS147232) was filed in Los Angeles Superior Court on February 10, 2014, contending that the Zoning Administrator had exceeded her authority in granting special privileges to favored operators that would exclude them from the requirements of the zoning code. Judge Joanne O’Donnell agreed that the LA Zoning Administrator had exceeded her authority. 

Under the Planning Department report, that is exactly what is being proposed. A "Pet Shop" could obtain a Zoning Administrator's decision and not go through the CUP process. The only difference is that this time the changes are being done through legislation. If it passes, there will be no opportunity or method by which neighbors can complain to Planning about the hazards or negative impacts on their communities, and there will be no required public hearing prior to approval to "Retail Rescue Pet Shops," which can house up to 40 animals right across the street or possibly adjacent to your home. 

BOB BLUMENFIELD TO THE RESCUE OF AGWC ROCKIN' RESCUE 

A Daily NewsArticle on January 1, 2017, "This Woodland Hills Animal Rescue Could be Shut Down; Here's What's Being Done to Save it,”discusses that the large animal rescue center (housing around 80 animals) in Councilman Bob Blumenfield's district was facing possible closure due to code violations in Blumenfield's district. The Ady Gil World Conservation (AGWC) Rockin’ Rescue, had allegedly been operating without required City approvals for about three years, and his request to operate in a commercial zone and have limited parking at its two-story, 11,000-square-foot building on Ventura Boulevard at Oakdale Avenue had been denied by a Zoning Administrator. 

In a typical LA Council manic knee-jerk reaction, Blumenfield, (who, according to media reports, was advocating for keeping this facility open in his district), announced to the Daily Newsthat he "planned to submit a motion to the City Council that would allow animal rescues to operate in commercial zones with ‘appropriate protections' for issues such as noise." 

The matter was scheduled to be heard by the South Valley planning commission and Blumenfield promised, “my hope is that they will see I’m doing legislation more globally on this issue and will at least put off closing this down to see what will happen” with it. 

The Newsreporter commented that she was shown one Pit Bull Terrier who had been at the facility for about three years. 

Owner Ady Gil told the Daily Newshe was prepared to go the California Supreme Court to keep his facility open. "I’m not running a strip club,” he said, “I’m not doing it for profit. I’m doing it to save animals, and people love the idea.” 

And, it appears Gil could afford to do that and actually needed no special attention from Blumenfield. According to GuideStar.org, Ady Gil World Conservation in Woodland Hills reported its latest gross receipts at $1,411,455 and its assets at $1,045,979. 

But GuideStar.org is not the only indicator of Ady Gil's net worth, of which he is obviously proud. On Aug 20, 2009 -- well before the "Me Too" movement -- on a  20/20broadcast,  “New Dating Web Sites Bring Sugar Daddies, Babies Together at Last,” award-winning reporter John Stossel interviewed Gil about his choice of involvement with a site that brings together wealthy men and willing young women: 

Ady Gil, a 50-year-old entrepreneur, claims he's worth between $10 million and $50 million. He owns two large production companies in Los Angeles. He believes the arrangement site is a great way to meet women. 

You can make a deal with the girl. You don't have to worry about whether it's going to be 'yes' or 'no,'" he said. "You don't have to take them to dinner and hope that maybe something will happen. The cards are on the table.” 

Stossel added, "Men pay $45 for membership on the Web site, but some, like Gil, pay an extra $1,000 to have the site verify his wealth and put his profile in a prominent spot." 

IS OBTAINING A CUP TOO EXPENSIVE FOR ANIMAL RESCUES? 

Many small and large businesses apply for Conditional Use Permits in Los Angeles for incompatible business uses. However, there is not an identifiable list on the Planning Dept. site or in code sections that shows any categorically exempted group. That will change soon, if Blumenfield's proposal is passed. Are "animal rescues" so impoverished that they cannot afford the legal means? 

Here are the latest Guidestar.org income/asset reports on several animal organizations prominent in Los Angeles. You may easily check any others on the site: 

Found Animals Foundation, Inc.  Los Angeles, CA 

GROSS RECEIPTS - $12,783,344

ASSETS - $9,254,091 

Best Friends Animal Society

GROSS RECEIPTS - $102,931,545

ASSETS - $100,285,253 

Stray Cat Alliance  Los Angeles, CA -- feral cat, trap/neuter, return, homeless cats, free roaming cats, ... Stray Cat Alliance that provides the public with low-cost and free resources for spay/neuter and medical care for community cats.

GROSS RECEIPTS - $1,445,727

ASSETS - $214,504 

Lucky Puppy Rescue-Retail  RACHEL KENNEDY and Sandra Vasquez convicted and sentenced for animal abuse and neglect in 2017. The charges resulted from the May 6, 2016 raid of Lucky Puppy, alleged to be the first upscale Rescue-Retail shop in a highly visible commercial location under a 2012 ordinance related to Councilman Paul Koretz' LA "puppy-mill" pet shop ban.  

LAAS officers found 68 dogs and three cats being maintained inside Kennedy's residence in Studio City under conditions that "were deplorable,” according to the media release. 

Both Kennedy and Vasquez were convicted and sentenced for animal abuse and neglect. According to GuideStar.org, Lucky Puppy Animal Rescue, North Hollywood, CA, started in 2011, and the 2015 record showed latest:

GROSS RECEIPTS - $598,088

ASSETS - $56,990 

BUILD THEM AND THEY WILL COME 

The homeless-animal situation is akin to the homeless-people problem in LA. Nature abhors a vacuum, and any empty spaces provided in a shelter will be quickly filled. The problem must be resolved from the source, not the symptom. 

Also, like the homeless-persons' problem, homeless animals are always a successful cause for soliciting donated money. The Planning Department is making LA Animal Services responsible for animals being imported from other states/countries -- 400 dogs were recently imported from Puerto Rico and two recent reports of highly contagious Canine Influenza were attributed to dogs imported from Korea for adoption in Los Angeles by "rescues." (This has also increased the costs of additional vaccines in all LA animal shelters.) 

PLANNING DEPARTMENT REPORT IS FAULTY 

Brenda Barnette and Mayor Garcetti have already stated that Los Angeles has resolved the purported "overcrowding" problem in regard to city shelters, by achieving "No kill" for dogs. The planned "retail rescues" are not "pet shops," as defined in any other area of the country. "Pet shops offer puppies and kittens under four months of age." These are large/huge retail animal stores -- many of the animals they offer may not be taken from local shelters (which is not required -- the only requirement is that they have an "agreement" with a local shelter or humane society.) 

These stores will compete with small local rescuers, who are the ones most likely to take animals from City shelters. It will have the opposite effect of declaring that "the shelter environment is awful" and adopters need to go to the "retail rescue pet shops" to avoid the experience. This illusion can cause even more pet owners to feel they can just "try out" a pet and return it without any negative consequence, because it will be "saved" by one of these elaborate "rescue pet shops." 

The summary is also inaccurate in that it states, "Protections for businesses and residences located hear these establishments have been incorporated into the ordinance; such as, regulations on noise, odor, the number of pets, dog walking and hours or operation."  

In fact, the Planning Department and the City of Los Angeles are merely abdicating their responsibility to the residents and business owners of this city to maintain the limitations of "kennels" and require any large quasi-shelter operation to remain in the suitable and traditional commercial and residential zoning. 

This plan places the responsibility for noise and odor regulation on the Department of Animal Services, which has no legal authority nor expertise in developing or enforcing any such standards.  Animal Control officers have very limited powers that relate only to the conditions of the animals themselves and any humans who are injured or threatened by an animal. 

It requires the Department of Animal Services to approve "walking routes" on which a volunteer or employee of the "retail-rescue pet shop" may walk up to three animals at a time (including such breeds as Pit Bulls, Rottweilers, Mastiffs) through adjacent residential or business communities, where they will urinate and defecate of private property, sidewalks and streets. 

Even if fecal matter is removed, it will leave traces of potential harmful and very contagious bacteria on a continual basis in areas where adults, children and pets will walk or play. The hours such animals may be outside the facility and engaged in community exposure are from 7:00 a.m. to 9:00 p.m. 

Which brings us to the inhumane keeping of large dogs (in particular) inside cages where they can barely move. There is no guarantee that the limitation of animals will be kept and that, as in the case of Lucky Puppy Rescue, additional animals will not be hoarded in homes. 

CEQA IS FLAWED: "NOBLE CAUSE" DOES NOT EXCUSE THE CITY FROM PERFORMING ITS DUTIES 

The Planning Department's CEQA is flawed for numerous reasons and is automatically invalid because the purpose is to have an environmental evaluation of the impact of the proposal which is objective. 

The Planning Department has, however, based its conclusions in this report on the "noble purpose" of saving animals life, which is a judgment call -- a moral value, and which they are not endowed to make on behalf of the City of Los Angeles. A CEQA involves performing a study on the potential impacts of the activity ONLY. 

In this case, the very first portion of the study acknowledges that the evaluator was aware of the stated purpose of the activity, which should have no bearing and, therefore, should remain unknown or not considered by the evaluator. 

The way the report is written gives a tone that lauds the "nobility" of the purported purpose of the activity. It is paying homage to this wonderful idea and creating a way for it to occur. The danger of this approach is that it clouds the judgment of the evaluator. This allows potential negative impacts to be idealistically counterbalanced by the potential benefits and liabilities of the activity. The evaluator's role is merely to report negative impacts, without weighing any of those against the potential benefits.

The CEQA does not take into consideration -- even though it mentions in one place -- that the standards really will not apply because no one can secure an exemption from all of them. 

The only criteria for the exemptions is the agreement of the few immediately adjacent neighbors. No one else in the community has the right to comment (the opportunity a CUP allows for any property owner within 500 feet.) The CEQA states that exceptions (variances) for the standards will be based upon its own environmental study. There is no mention anywhere in the report of any environmental study. 

The CEQA is flawed because it states that before an individual exemption from the standards would be allowed, an individual assessment will be done. There is no such requirement in the ordinance.  To the contrary, the ordinance states that it is guaranteed approval as long as the immediately adjacent neighbors do not object. There exists no option for any other objection or complaint and the lack of regulation emphasizes this. 

This proposal does not consider the disposal of tons of solid waste or the water runoff from the shelter (cleaning toxic urine deposited on walls and floors must be done several times a day to avoid infections), which is prohibited from being absorbed into the ground on or off the property, including at an official animal shelter. An animal shelter cannot have a waste water runoff leave the boundaries of the property. 

It does not address chemical usage on private property which will be washed across sidewalks, alleys and into storm channels. 

There is no indication these "pet stores" would be required to have any business permit other than from the Department of Animals Services, nor would they pay taxes. Yet, a private, for-profit training or boarding facility, maintaining the same number of animals would be subject to rigid requirements and costs to the City. 

An attorney opined, "Unfettered discrimination is essentially abdicating the legislative functions to the executive branch and that cannot be done legally." 

ANGELENOS NEED TO TAKE ACTION 

If you live, work, travel, or own a business in LA, you could be seriously affected by this proposed change by the Planning Department. You should read this report carefully and you write your opinion to be placed in the files. Address it to your Councilman. Most importantly, e-mail a copy to sharon.dickinson@lacity.org and ask for it to be added to the Clerk's file in CF l11-0754-S2 and CF 17-0079.

 

(Phyllis M. Daugherty is a former City of LA employee and a contributor to CityWatch.) Edited for CityWatch by Linda Abrams.

 

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