San Diego City Council Approves Animal Services Contract With Humane Society
UPDATE: 6:00 p.m., April 30, 2018:
The San Diego City Council voted unanimously Monday night to approve a $12.8-million contract with the San Diego Humane Society, which will take over the city's animal services needs on July 1.
Councilman David Alvarez was absent from the meeting, but the other council members praised the San Diego Humane Society and its care of animals from horses to kittens.
"This day had to happen," said Councilman Chris Cate. "We had to move on, for the sake of people who care about animals, for the sake of us providing services to residents throughout the city and to all of you who care about animals and the volunteer hours that you put in every single week, this has to happen."
While some council members had asked during a council committee meeting for labor peace language to be added to the contract that would allow animal services employees to unionize, it was not added.
City Council President Myrtle Cole said that language could be part of a review of the contract in six months.
Gary Weitzman, the CEO of the San Diego Humane Society, told the council he was eager to take on the contract. He also reaffirmed his organization's commitment to a "Getting to Zero" policy that states no healthy or treatable animals will be euthanized.
"I will never, ever, ever allow 'Getting to Zero' to lapse, will never allow a healthy or treatable animal to be euthanized," he said.
The City Council Monday will discuss and possibly approve spending $12.8 million so the San Diego Humane Society can take over the city's animal service needs in the upcoming fiscal year.
San Diego County has provided animal services to the city since 1971, but the Board of Supervisors notified the city in May that it will explore outsourcing county Department of Animal Services duties in the fiscal year that begins July 1. As such, San Diego officials are rushing to figure out how to handle the city's animal service needs.
The city shelters about 18,000 animals per year, including impounded and surrendered animals. Animal services also include adoptions, field enforcement services, medical and veterinary services, as well as coordination of the city's dog licensing program.
The proposed San Diego Humane Society contract, which has an 18-month term, would divert $1.8 million from a shelter-related fund for start-up costs and nearly $11 million from the city's general fund for ongoing costs. Projected ongoing costs are 4.2 percent higher than the current ongoing animal service budget, but are still lower than the $11.1 million projected budget included in the city's Fiscal Year 2019-2023 Five-Year Financial Outlook.
Several changes were made to the proposed contract ahead of today's meeting as requested by Budget and Government Efficiency Committee members several weeks ago.
The county will "make its best effort" to achieve a live-release rate of 85 percent, instead of 80 percent. When possible, the Humane Society will try to transfer animals to at least two rescue partners before euthanization. The Humane Society hasn't euthanized a healthy or treatable animal since 2001. With an annual intake of 16,250 animals, it has a live- release rate of 94 percent.
The contract also recommends the Humane Society consider prioritizing the hiring of laid-off county animal service employees. Thirty-eight full-time county animal services employees were laid off last week. There are more than 200 live Humane Society job listings; former county employee applicants are expected.
There was public and committee member demand during the budget committee meeting for labor peace language to be added to the contract that would allow animal services employees to unionize. The City Attorney's office is reviewing the legality of such language and will deliver its findings to the council before it meets today, according to a city report.
Last October, the city issued a Request for Information intended to gauge local interest in providing animal services for the city. The Humane Society was the sole respondent. City officials said they also reached out to other local organizations, but none were equipped to offer every animal service needed.
The Humane Society has serviced the region since the 1880s. It currently operates shelters in San Diego, Oceanside and Escondido and has provided services to the cities of Imperial Beach, Poway, San Marcos and Vista. San Diego would become its largest municipal contract to date.