Society

LA Animal Services: Would You Buy a 'Feral Cat Program' From Brenda Barnette? (Part 2 of 3)

| by Phyllis M Daugherty

An embarrassing thing happened to L.A. Animal Services General Manager Brenda Barnette just as she was rehired by Mayor Eric Garcetti to reduce the city’s pet overpopulation for a hefty $208,000 per year, and right after she was prominent in Councilman Paul Koretz’ campaign to ban purebred puppy sales in pet shops.

A Los Angeles animal activist noticed that Brenda Barnette and her daughter Mary Alice Davis (who works for Best Friends Animal Society at the Northeast Valley city shelter) were listed on the Breed Show roster for Portuguese Water Dogs on May 23, 2013, at the Southern California Portuguese Water Dog Club, under the following listing:

PORTUGUESE WATER DOGS, Puppy Bitches, 9 months and under 12 months

(8) CUTWATER IT HAD TO BE YOU, WS43376901. 05/29/2012. Breeder: Frances

Popular Video

This judge looked an inmate square in the eyes and did something that left the entire courtroom in tears:

Archambault & Jane Harding. By Ch. Cutwater Wine And Dine Me – Ch. Cutwater The Best is Yet to Come. Owner: Mary Alice Davis/Brenda Barnette.

Daniel Guss, a Los Angeles writer and animal advocate, said he unexpectedly came across this very interesting dog show roster dated May 23, 2013. In order to save the LAAS Commission, City Council and Mayor from being deceived by Barnette, Guss announced the posted information at the Council meeting on Oct. 4 and the Commission meeting on Oct. 8, and produced links.

Not being familiar myself with dog shows and breeding, it is not obvious to me exactly what the activity implies in terms of whether this dog is being bred, is spayed, or is being shown with the intention of future breeding. However, the same dog with the same listing is also shown in the Catalog of the Channel City Kennel Club.

Daniel Guss pointed out that, when she was confirmed as General Manager with the support of Mayor Villaraigosa and Councilman Paul Koretz, Barnette was quoted as follows by the Los Angeles Times on July 14, 2010:

Barnette told council members that she had once bred a litter and had not shown dogs for several years ... “I’m not breeding. I’m not planning on breeding,” she said. “My dogs are spayed — except one who's neutered.”

We all know old habits are hard to break, but this new development, along with the major string of widely publicized faux pas in mismanaging the Department of Animal Services for the past three years, doesn’t really establish an atmosphere of confidence in Brenda Barnette.

Barnette is now asking the council and mayor to allow her to divert millions of dollars from the City’s Pet Sterilization Trust Fund for dogs and cats belonging to L.A.’s low-income residents so that she can funnel it into spaying/neutering feral cats for which accurate auditing is problematic. This would be accomplished by changing the wording in the L.A. Administrative Code from “pet sterilization” to “animal sterilization.”

Should city officials or any of us buy into a “Cat Program” that will usurp the property rights of Los Angeles residents/businesses, endanger cats and wildlife, and divert unending millions of tax and dog-licensing dollars to nonprofit organizations to perform spaying/neutering of stray cats, based upon Brenda Barnette’s demonstrated record of lack of transparency and management skills?

IS THE CITY AVOIDING THE APPEARANCE OF CONFLICT OF INTEREST?

In Part 1, we discussed, among other issues, the further erosion of private property rights in the City of Los Angeles by enactment of a proposed feral cat Trap-Neuter-Release “Cat Program” (TNR) developed by Brenda Barnette and Antonio Villaraigosa’s Mayoral Aide Jim Bickhart.

Since then, there is a new reason for concern. City Councilman Paul Koretz, Chair of the Personnel and Animal Welfare Committee (responsible for objective review of the City’s Engineering Department’s “Cat Program” study) and Mayor Eric Garcetti (who will be the final signatory on the proposed code amendments if this program passes) have been announced as the guests of honor at a fundraiser for one of the leading Los Angeles TNR proponents and beneficiaries, Stray Cat Alliance, within days of the “Cat Program” coming before them for approval.

City officials so far have exhibited an alarming lack of understanding or concern about the daily (and nightly) impact of feral cat “colonies,” consisting of dozens or hundreds of cats in a single area adjacent to residential/commercial properties all over Los Angeles. Lest we forget, any known recurring nuisance, health or sanitation situation must also be reported to prospective buyers upon attempting to sell property.

There is absolutely no consideration in this Mitigated Negative Declaration by cat experts in the Bureau of Engineering about the serious health risks posed to anyone who is allergic to cats or fleas/parasites, those who suffer from immunodeficiency disorders, or women who are pregnant.

This “program” defies the city’s own policy about wildlife protection by allowing absolute legal immunity to “feeders” to dump cat food in outside areas to attract other wildlife, birds and predators (including coyotes) to the location. It also places the cats in jeopardy of being injured or poisoned by people who dislike or fear them, and leaves property owners/renters with no legal alternative to remove them from their property and prohibit feeding in their community.

SHOULD LOS ANGELES GO INTO THE ‘FERAL CAT BUSINESS’?

There is no need for the City of Los Angeles to go into the “feral cat business” as promoted by L.A. Animal Services GM Brenda Barnette. According to L.A. Animal Services’ own reports, there has been no sudden crisis — no explosion in the number of feral cats coming into city shelters or reported by the public.

There are a few more reasons why the sudden push to divert and spend City Trust Funds on stray cats is suspicious. Firstly, the status quo does not interfere with TNR. There is no current prohibition on feral cat trap-neuter-return/release by private individuals, as long as it does not create a nuisance on private property or a danger to the community. There is no restriction on how much donated money a nonprofit can collect and expend on spay/neuter of feral cats in Los Angeles. (Plus, millions of dollars in grants are offered to nonprofits from such businesses as PetSmart for TNR programs.)

The only restriction that currently exists is that the City of Los Angeles cannot be in the feral cat “business.” In other words, the City cannot use tax money or money donated for shelter or owned animals in the Animal Sterilization Trust Fund to pay for surgeries on feral/stray cats by nonprofit or private partners (which would quickly exhaust available funding for low-income residents’ owned pets).

Diverting and depleting this fund would only add to the problem. The more logical solution to the feral cat problem is to increase the number of owned cats that are spayed/neutered and therefore more likely to be kept indoors (especially in lower-economic areas). An unaltered cat can exhibit very obnoxious indoor behavior. For that reason, they are likely to be put outside and be abandoned and become feral.

Animal Sterilization Trust Fund

The City’s Animal Sterilization Trust Fund (reported balance $2,852, 668.81 on Aug. 31, 2013) is and has always been prudently restricted by the L.A. Administrative Code to provide spay/neuter assistance/vouchers for owned pets. Funds are allocated by City Council from taxes, donations from the public, and a percentage of dog licensing fees.

Animal Welfare Trust Fund (AWTF)

The Animal Welfare Trust Fund (reported balance of $1,555,394.34 on Aug. 31, 2013) is prohibited from being used for any aspect of spay/neuter and can only be applied to existing Department of Animal Services programs. It cannot by law be “gambled” on unproven plans — no matter how well intentioned. These restrictions were established by the City Council to maintain the sanctity that assures donors their money is safe from corrupted interests.

The funding for the CEQA report for the Los Angeles “Cat Program” by Barnette has already violated both of these provisions of the Animal Welfare Trust Fund by creating a “special” account within it to funnel $52,000 in targeted money to pay for a California Environmental Review Act analysis by the city’s Bureau of Engineering (new program) and by spending it on a program designed for spay/neuter (feral cats).

No City Attorney’s opinion was issued stating approval of this misuse of the fund or developing separate accounts within it for expenditures not otherwise allowed.

WHY DIDN’T THE PRIVATE DONORS JUST ORDER A CEQA REPORT?

Barnette and Villaraigosa Deputy Jim Bickhart established a special account in the fund to “park” money donated by four nonprofit organizations to pay for the CEQA report by the City’s Bureau of Engineering. Primarily the money came from two major groups, Best Friends and Found Animals, both of which operate spay/neuter clinics that would stand to derive benefit from changing these funds to allow spay/neuter of feral cats.

Best Friends and Found Animals each contributed $17,500 toward the total $52,000 charge by the BOE. Another organization or individual donated $8,5000 to spay/neuter services but kept their identity private by channeling it through the California Community Foundation. The balance was reportedly donated by the ASPCA, which has just announced its ASPCA Spay/Neuter Clinic will be opening in Los Angeles.

There was at least one special reason why funding for the CEQA report needed to come through a City account. (Remember, the City Attorney never issued an opinion on this.)

If the $52,000 was paid directly by the nonprofit organizations for a Bureau of Engineering CEQA report, it would have been required to be put up for bid to allow outside qualified companies to compete with for the opportunity to offer their services.

However, the outcome of the study by private professionals would have been uncertain. Mayoral Deputy Jim Bickhart stated in an e-mail obtained through a public information request:

The Commission should authorize an expenditure from the Animal Welfare Trust Fund to purchase services to create environmental documentation in support of a contemplated Department of Animal Services program.

Thus it appears Bickhart was quite confident of the outcome of the “environmental document” because it was being done within a city agency.

It would seem the BOE was also a de facto defendant in the lawsuit which created the injunction against TNR, by virtue of being a Los Angeles City department. If that is true, there certainly was added benefit for the City being able to mitigate its own environmental impact.

JIM BICKHART ADVISES ON HOW TO AVOID CPRA (California Public Records Act) REQUESTS

The following may explain my inability to obtain responses from Los Angeles Animal Services through California Public Records Act requests regarding agreements/arranging the financing of the CEQA report: Mayoral Aide Jim Bickhart recommended that Commissoners and Brenda Barnette use their personal email accounts to avoid having to disclose information to the public.

In an e-mail on Jan. 14, 2012, from his personal account [email protected] and addressed to all commissioners and CC’d to Barnette at her personal mail account, [email protected], Bickhart wrote:

Subj: some notes on use of correspondence in the public sector

Dear Commissioners,

During my tenure in the Mayor’s office I’ve been subjected to no fewer than a half dozen Public Records Act requests for my City e-mails and other documents. I can attest that it’s a royal pain to be forced to comb through hundreds of e-mails at the behest of someone who's on a “fishing expedition” for one reason or another…A key rule we in the Mayor’s office are told early on is, “Don’t put anything in an e-mail you wouldn’t want to see in the newspaper later on.” It’s good advice that I should have told you a long time ago…

So I would suggest that you take this precaution: If you don’t want what you say to be subject to possible public disclosure, don’t put something in writing to a public official’s work e-mail account.

NO CITY ATTORNEY’S OPINION ON FUNDING

In response to a California Public Records Act (CPRA) request “for information of a formal or informal opinion re use of $52,000 from the Animal Welfare Trust Fund for a Cat Program,” an Oct. 17, 2012, response from then-City Attorney Carmen A. Trutanich, signed by Assistant City Attorney Dov Lesel (assigned to oversee L.A. Animal Services), states: “…we are only aware of an attorney work product document that would meet the requested criteria, and it is exempt from disclosure under Government Code 6254(k).”

In other words, no opinion was issued.

A response on Dec. 4, 2012 from Ross Pool of L.A. Animal Services to a CPRA request for a copy of a City Attorney’s opinion, dated Oct. 4, 2012, states: “I have checked with management and they don’t have a formal letter. All approvals were verbal.”

However, that response transmits an e-mail from Villaraigosa’s mayoral aide Jim Bickhart, advising a deputy city attorney who filled in at the Commission meeting where a vote was taken:

... I strongly believe that, if and when the question arises during today’s Commission discussion, the commission is well within its purview to authorize an expenditure from the Animal Welfare Trust Fund to purchase services to create environmental documentation in support of a contemplated Department of Animal Services program. Jim Bickhart, Office of the Mayor

On Oct. 2, 2012, prior to the Personnel & Animal Welfare Committee (PAW) of the City Council also unanimously affirming expenditure of $52,000 from the AWTF, Managing City Attorney Valerie Flores wrote: “I agree that we should postpone the issue for City Attorney analysis. Unfortunately, we are unable to staff the Personnel committee today.”

So, why wasn’t the item postponed? The Personnel and Animal Welfare Committee received a letter and testimony advising them that there was no formal or informal City Attorney’s opinion on this matter at the Oct. 2, 2012, meeting.

Councilman Dennis Zine asked Barnette if there was a City Attorney opinion and she said “Yes.”

The Committee took Barnette’s word and did not ask to see such opinion. Neither did the City Council. Based upon Barnette’s word, both bodies approved placing the funds in the Animal Welfare Trust Fund and spending that money on a program specifically prohibited under the Administrative Code provisions governing that Trust Fund.

See Part 1: L.A. Animal Services, Mayor and Council Set To Give Feral Cats Property Rights in Los Angeles (Part 1)