When the city of Bakersfield suddenly served a 40-day eviction notice on Kern County Animal Control last week, it removed any pretense that the Bakersfield City Council ever intended to pursue a new animal shelter deal with the county. The news came as a complete surprise.
The reason we were surprised is because Supervisor Zack Scrivner and I had just negotiated a two-year agreement with City Manager Alan Tandy on July 31 to continue operating the shelter. We believed real progress was being made.
But that progress — and any chance for the public to participate in a decision with such a large impact on the community — was erased in a secret City Council vote in closed session on Aug. 14 to order the county off of the city-owned property.
What a change from May 2012, when city officials pleaded with the Board of Supervisors not to pull the county out of the facility to start our own shelter, even though the city was paying only about a third of the cost to care for its stray animals. Separate animal control operations would be wasteful, the City Council argued then.
So the county abandoned plans for its own shelter and started talking with the city about a new joint shelter. Animal Control Director Jen Woodard has met often with city staff on how a new joint facility would work. At no time has the city offered to help with spay and neuter clinics to help relieve pressure on the crowded shelter. The county has been in contact with the city over the course of many months through staff discussions, Metro Bakersfield Animal Control Committee meetings, and informal high level talks. Yet "lack of communication" and a newfound concern over county animal care were, curiously, the two chief factors the city cited in its announcement to evict.
The meeting in Mr. Tandy's office three weeks ago yielded a verbal agreement that the county was in the process of putting in writing when the eviction order came. The eviction makes very clear that the City Council never intended to reach an agreement nor does it care what happens to the animals currently at the shelter.
The county is working feverishly to find and equip a suitable place to house the shelter's animal population before the city-imposed deadline. We are also reaching out to rescue groups throughout California to take in as many of these animals as possible, because the alternative is deplorable and unthinkable.
The City Council’s offer to allow the animals to remain until Dec. 1 is a hollow choice since the city refuses to pay anything for the animals' care after October 1, even though half of them come from within city limits.
Moreover, the county is required to accept all animals coming into the shelter until eviction day. Then we must vacate the premises and leave an empty shelter for the city. Readying for eviction also means that spay and neuter clinics may be canceled while Animal Control focuses on adopting and relocating shelter animals. This is regrettable because the clinics were just starting to make inroads on Bakersfield's huge overbreeding problem.
Separate facilities will also cause unnecessary confusion and inconvenience to the public in locating lost pets and obtaining service calls to round up stray animals.
One local radio host has suggested that the City Council's action was simply a poker "bluff" aimed at pressuring the county in negotiations over the shelter. Other reports indicate it may have been a retaliatory blow in the city-county property tax dispute. I sincerely hope neither is correct. Gamesmanship cheapens and disserves the trust that voters have invested in their elected representatives.
The county will build upon the positive animal control strategies we have initiated. We can examine different options including exploring working with private entities and implementing best practices. We will meet this challenge, act responsibly and do what is in the best interest of our animals and taxpayers.
It was my belief the city manager and county had agreed on a positive path forward. It is unfortunate the City Council did not join us in this journey to work together in partnership to build the optimal animal sheltering model that would better serve our community and avoid duplicative services.
Mike Maggard is Kern County’s third District supervisor.
This update reflects a correction in the author's identity.