ANIMAL WATCH-Los Angeles Animal Services General Manager Brenda Barnette is determined that she will not open the West Valley Animal Shelter for the intake of strays and lost pets -- this shelter has one of the highest intake rates in the City.
Instead, Barnette is insisting that the City Council allow this vital animal facility to be turned over the private "rescuers" so they can adopt out animals from other areas of the City.
The following (and there have been prior and will be more articles on this) is primarily a profile of the question of whether Brenda Barnette and her "management team" should be in charge of a $42,922.34 budget for 2020-21 and whether they are competent to have responsibility for six vital Animal Services shelters to serve the needs of taxpayers and their animals in this city, and particularly in the Valley.
First let's look at the total 2019 LAAS management salaries (including benefits. According to TransparentCalfiornia. com, Barnette was paid a total of $324,066.52 and her Assistant General Manager Tammy Watson (who is a career City employee) made $252,860.15.
And, while whining that she cannot afford to keep shelters fully staffed, last month Barnette added an additional Interim Assistant GM, Annette Ramirez, (salary would be comparable to existing AGM) and two additional District Directors.
That sets the stage for evaluating the following basic problems with Barnette's flawed arguments that she cannot afford to keep the West Valley Animal Shelter open but will rent out spaces to private non-profit "rescue" groups, which also poses some problems for legal experts interviewed.
Barnette states in her January 29 proposal to the City Council, ". . .our staffing levels and the budget does not permit the safe staffing of six shelters with 24-hour operations. To manage services within our reduced budget, we have recommended a plan to create a hybrid public/private model to operate the West Valley Services Center when it is safe to reopen. (The following is copied with Barnette’s words and punctuation. Is this the level of published communication we expect (and deserve) from an LA City manager?)
WHAT THE H*** IS BRENDA BARNETTE SAYING?
Please read the following italicized remarks as they appear under "Recommended Proposal." (Would this pass a fifth-grade writing exam?)
The challenge was to design a balanced solution to provide services from all six Animal Services Centers for the anticipated need for life-saving space when evictions begin. Life-saving space will be needed so we must reopen the two temporarily closed shelters, as soon as the COVID cases are reduced, perhaps our staff will be vaccinated, so we can safely return to regular eight hour shifts.
There are temporary holding cages in Receiving and ACO Receiving that are not counted in the chart because they are temporary holding and not for overnight. These cages will be used to temporarily hold sick and injured animals.
Lost pets will not be impounded at the West Valley Animal Services Center. As a result of the fiscal challenges and budget cuts, this is part of our reduction in services as a cost savings. PERHAPS MOST IMPORTANT, it is well documented that dogs and cats who get out of the house or yard will get home much more quickly (usually 24-30 hours) if neighbors help neighbors. When a well-intentioned person picks up a pet and drives it to a shelter, it delays the owner locating the pet and, on occasion, we adopt the pet out before the owner even finds the pet in one of our shelters."
Our proposal is an effort to distribute resources equitably amongst our constituents. We are trying to get the services closest to the communities where transportation challenges prohibit access to services. We have tried to focus the services in disadvantaged and underserved areas where there is a greater need for assistance.
(AUTHOR'S QUESTION -- When do "evictions begin?" And what does that have to do with running a City facility with equity for ALL animals and taxpayers?)
She is talking about "rescuers" bringing animals from City shelters outside the West Valley to be adopted. How does this impact the overall "live-saving space" LA shelters have? Are there still the same number of kennels and cages available for City animals?
And for economic and efficiency purposes, why shouldn't West Valley animals just remain in the area where they are surrendered or impounded and be adopted from there?
What possible benefit is there in adding the expense and disease exposure by moving animals -- OVER WHICH THE CITY WILL LEGALLY HAVE NO CONTROL -- from another area shelter, EXCEPT that the "rescuers" can sell the animals at a higher price and profit?
She also states that there will be "City employed Animal Control officers" at the West Valley Shelter. She does not state, that two ACO's will be stationed at the West Valley shelter to pick up animals to be transported to the East Valley shelter.)
WHY CAN'T ALL SHELTERS BE OPEN?
ANIMAL SERVICES BUDGET FOR 2020-21 IS $42,922,034. This reportedly represents a 3.9% decrease. However, the number of animals taken in this year is almost exactly 50% of last year. Why does each shelter need the same total personnel to run all the shelters?
The possible anticipated layoffs and furloughs have all been avoided and certain employees will merely have two unpaid workdays for the year. This certainly does not warrant the closing of an entire shelter.
Measure F bonds (paid for by the taxpayers of the City), and their property should not be given to a rescue organization. The San Fernando Valley constitutes approximately 40% of the total geographic area of the City of Los Angeles and has a population of approximately 1.77 million. The funding provided to the three shelters, according to best-practice standards, were given as the reason the public should approve Measure F.
Now there is an attempt by Barnette, Councilman Paul Koretz and Mayor Eric Garcetti to reduce the number of shelters to one. One animal shelter is not sufficient for such a large geographic area and population, according to the standards set.
ADDITIONAL RECENT MANAGEMENT STAFFING BY BARNETTE:
LA Animal Services is a Department with 400+ employees, most of whom are involved in maintaining the animals in shelters. However, because of Barnette's recent promotions (during her bemoaning of the budget cuts that precluded staffing shelters) she has increased the number of District Supervisors to five (5) with duties listed below. How are these related to "District Management?"
1. Facilities Maintenance & Construction Related Projects
2. Shelter Operations
3. Field Operations
4. Lifesaving Operations
5. Grant Writing
OTHER SERIOUS LEGAL QUESTIONS
Attorneys have already mentioned such legal violations as "Unfair Business Practice" -- competing with private landlords from whom these groups would lease space and pay rent at current market rate as opposed to the discounted or "free" space they would get in a government-owned building. The latter would be paid for by tax dollars, not subject to taxes and other costs which affect rental properties.
It appears that the plan Barnette proposes does not meet the criteria contained in the LA City NON-PROFIT LEASE SUBSIDY AND REAL PROPERTY SALE POLICY. Several attorneys opined, that, among other things, any nonprofit lessee must pay its own utilities and be fully insured for liability so that no potential burden for these costs (or litigation) is subsidized by City taxpayers.
There is also no provision in the City Code for the City of Los Angeles to "semi-manage" the conduct of such nonprofit business endeavors (animal rescues are a sales operation in which the product --"an animal" is taken from the City at a reduced fee or free and then sold to the public.) There is no limit on how much may be charged for a sale called an "adoption fee." However, the City is compelled to sell the animal to an "adopter" at a rate that only covers the costs to taxpayers for the care of the animal while in the City's possession.
However, if the fee by the "rescue" is higher than that charged by the City for "adopting" an animal, then the City is merely providing reduced-cost space that allows an organization using taxpayers’ money to make a profit, say the legal experts.
There is also the issue of the City setting rules (as Barnette proposes) for how the "rescue" tenant will operate its own business on the City premises and "overseeing" its activities (set rules for care of animals, etc.). This is not allowed under City policy because the City is then assuming liability for all the actions and decisions of a non-City entity.
Several legal experts also agreed that this could be a direct violation of Prop. F bond funding, for which taxpayers are still paying.
WHAT DO YOU THINK?
Eleven Neighborhood Councils have provided objections, as well as numerous letters and statements of opposition by the public and a petition of opposition can be found on Friends of West Los Angeles Animal Shelter - Home | Facebook.
(Phyllis M. Daugherty is a former City of Los Angeles employee and a contributor to CityWatch.) Edited for CityWatch by Linda Abrams.