Local News

Wednesday, Aug 21 2013 01:35 PM

City booting Kern County Animal Control Department out of shelter

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    By Henry A. Barrios / The Californian

    A German Shepherd that was turned in to the Kern County Animal Shelter is shown in a file photo.

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    By Henry A. Barrios / The Californian

    These puppies taken to the Kern County Animal Shelter were abandoned in a park. This is a file photo.

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BY JAMES BURGER Californian staff writer jburger@bakersfield.com

The city of Bakersfield is kicking the Kern County Animal Control Department out of the shelter it operates on South Mt. Vernon Avenue.

In a letter delivered Wednesday the city gave the county until Sept. 30 -- when the current city-county agreement ends -- to move out of the shelter.

The county can continue using the shelter until Dec. 1, City Attorney Ginny Gennaro wrote, if it agrees to care for all stray and unwanted animals collected by the city or brought in by city residents during the extra two months, without compensation from the city, a stipulation termed "patently unfair," by County Administrative Officer John Nilon.

Steve Teglia, Bakersfield's assistant to the city manager, said the action was taken because the county showed no sense of urgency in pursuing an agreement with the city.

But county leaders say the county and city had built a deal and that the city went back on its word.

On July 31, "Supervisor (Mike) Maggard and I met with City Manager Alan Tandy and his staff and we jointly came up with a tentative two-year plan to move forward on the development of a new Animal Control Shelter," Supervisor Zack Scrivner stated in a county press release.

In an Aug. 7 email to Tandy, Nilon wrote that he had been directed to "work with you on the proposed two-year agreement for Animal Control Shelter services."

Tandy responded with a quick, "Thank you!"

As a result, Nilon said, the search for a new home for county animals stopped.

"The outcome of that (city-county meeting) was so positive we put any other plans on hold because we thought we had a two-year deal," he said. "We have no active plans for the sheltering of animals."

Teglia said the meeting with Maggard and Scrivner was "positive" but followed by more county silence.

"At some point in time you have to draw the line," Teglia said.

Scrivner said he feels members of the Bakersfield City Council, angry over a city-county dispute over property taxes, adopted the "strategy...to hold innocent animals hostage in negotiations regarding the appropriate sharing of tax dollars."

HISTORY

Kern County Animal Control has leased land on South Mt. Vernon Avenue from the city since 1978 and built an animal shelter there at that time.

In 2003 the city asked the county to start sheltering city animals at that shelter.

That relationship soured in recent years after the county claimed the city was paying the county only a quarter of the cost of tending city animals.

The city disputed the charge and the two sides fell to bickering.

Ultimately, the city and county came up with a plan to build side-by-side shelter facilities on South Mt. Vernon that would allow them to operate independently.

In May, city officials drafted a proposal to the county for a two-year interim agreement during which time the two governments would devise a plan for an amicable split.

The county failed to respond until late July.

That's what led to the July 31 meeting among Maggard, Scrivner, Tandy and Teglia.

Maggard said the quartet verbally crafted a deal to keep the city and county working together for another two years while developing a plan to split operations.

"All four of us left the meeting encouraged. I know I did," Maggard said. "I thought we had a deal."

That's what made Wednesday's announcement so abrupt.

"Today, without any public input in any public setting, let alone a proper City Council meeting, and without a single phone call to any of us, including county supervisors or county staff, the city gave the county a 40-day eviction notice," Scrivner stated in a press release. "I'm shocked and disappointed in the behavior of the city council."

CITY PLAN

The city of Bakersfield already has a plan for how it will run the South Mt. Vernon Avenue shelter. The Bakersfield Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals could contract with the city to do the work.

"They have approached us," said Julie Johnson, the SPCA's executive director. "They're in the process of developing a plan. At this point we have no contract. The conversations that we have had have been really positive."

Teglia said the city is also considering contracting with the Bakersfield Homeless Center to have homeless individuals work in the shelter.

Johnson said a transition period -- such as that proposed by the city -- would be critical to helping the county move into a new facility without creating a negative impact on the health and safety of hundreds of animals.

If a deal with the city is developed, she said, the SPCA would continue to operate its shelter on Gibson Street.

But Maggard said the county has no such plan and would have to "scramble" to find a new shelter.

Nilon said the county would have to find space for all animals in its care at the time the split occurs including those brought in by city of Bakersfield residents and city animal control officers.

"I still hold out hope that we can work something out with them," Scrivner said. "I can't believe they are telling us that 'you' and 700 animals are out on the street."

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