11Brenda Barnette: Is City Hall Using Los Angeles’ Animals to Mask Secret Deals and Political Favors? (Part 1)
When the Los Angeles Times published a chart for the changes that brought down officials in the City of Bell, they included an excerpt from court papers that read:
“…And this City Attorney, instead of saying, Buddy, I’m the City Attorney and you’re sure not going to do anything like that without – without doing it over my dead body, the City Attorney didn’t do that. He stood down…”
In that case, the article was discussing the fact that City Manager Robert Rizzo “…went ahead, entered into that contract without any public approval of it in the Council…”
KFI News reporter Eric Leonard said of the the City of Bell corruption what many media sources emphasized: That it was not just the amount of money involved in the scandal that brought down the Bell city officials, but the “secret formula,” which allowed laws to be circumvented and city policies to be interpreted in such a way that individuals benefitted and public notice and review were avoided.
CIRCUMVENTING CITY ORDINANCES
On a different scale—and not accusing anyone of manipulating financial documents—is an ordinance approved by the Los Angeles City Council and signed by Mayor Eric Garcetti, which went into effect on January 19, 2014, as Ordinance No. 182816 (Council File No. 11-0754-S1.).
The following is not an easy read. The tangled web of deceit is not easy to unravel. Part 2 of this series will be filled with direct quotes from e-mails and other documents obtained through Public Records requests that provide a disquieting inside perspective. Here is an overview.
The above ordinance on the definitions of dog/cat kennels and pet shops sounds so innocuous that the average person would hardly notice it on an agenda or posted for public notice, which was the intention.
But the method used to avoid public awareness or scrutiny is just as deceptive as the Bell “secret formula” and perhaps in a way even more egregious; because—under the guise of “saving” animals--innocent business and property owners can face the potential ruin of their means of livelihood and their lifetime investment; schools and other care centers for children, sick or elderly residents become the direct victims of dangerous health hazards and building-code violations And the effects on the animals, themselves, can be equally deleterious.
SUDDENLY A “DOG KENNEL” APPEARS NEXT TO YOUR BUSINESS
The City of Los Angeles created a problem with “unintended consequences” in December 2012, when it banned pet shops from selling any dog/cat/rabbit unless obtained from shelters, rescuers or humane societies.
The combined wisdom and expertise of the staffs of Councilman Paul Koretz, L.A. Animal Services GM Brenda Barnette, the Mayor’s Office and the City Attorney failed to foresee that the (mainly adult) dogs and cats that were intended to be offered in lieu of puppies and kittens require a kennel permit, which is not allowed in most commercial (C2) zoning.
Any request for such a kennel permit other than in a manufacturing (M) zone must undergo the Conditional Use Permit to assure that it does not create a health/safety hazard or nuisance to commercial and residential areas within 500 feet. Cats are included in the new ordinance, so exposure to disease, allergic reactions, odor, and waste disposal are major issues, as is the possibility of escape.
Dog-kennel permits are required in the city of Los Angeles when a person/business wishes to keep/maintain four or more adult dogs (over four months of age) on any lot or building/home. This makes sense because this is the age when the dogs begin to bark and develop other nuisance behaviors and are large enough to produce enough waste to contaminate ground areas and impact runoff in the surrounding environment.
HOW DOES A “PET SHOP” BECOME A KENNEL?
There are two parts to the irregular proceeding that changed a City ordinance without public notice. It moved on two different tracks. One was Council File 11-0754-S1, which was public but not viable on its own because it called for a change in Zoning Code (to eliminate the Conditional Use Permit requirement) and Planning review/approval (which never happened, according to the records.)
At the same time, behind the scenes and protected from public scrutiny—Chief Zoning Administrator Linn Wyatt was purportedly approached by Brenda Barnette and Deputy City Attorney Dov Lesel, who asked Wyatt to reinterpret the definition of a “dog kennel” in regard to pet shops selling shelter animals, so that the overnight housing of a large number of adult dogs would not require a Conditional Use Permit.
She did this in an interpretation, ZA 2013-3104 (ZAI) which was created internally and not required to be sent to the Planning Director, Planning Commission nor to the Council Planning and Land Use Management (P.L.U.M.) Committee, where the public would have been notified.
The Zoning Administrator’s Interpretation (which also changed the wording of the code by adding “excludes pet shops”) allowed categorical Conditional Use Permit bypass for “Pet Shops” selling rescued animals in the wording of the Citywide Zoning Code and, therefore, made CF 11-0754-S1 the new law.
However, adding wording to a Zoning Code is not the same as “interpreting” a Zoning Code.
Planning Assistant Katherine E. Peterson issued a “Notice of Exemption” on October 15, 2013, stating that “This ZAI [Zoning Administrator’s Interpretation] establishes the definition of kennels as excluding pet shops, unrelated to the development of sites, and, therefore it could not have an impact on the physical environment.”
Her Exemption also states:
“The Zoning Administrator’s Interpretation (ZAI) establishes that the definition of kennels, as set forth in Los Angeles Municipal Code (LAMC) Sec. 12.03, excludes pet shops, as first permitted I the C2 zone, that are lawfully permitted by the Department of Animal Services as provided in LAMC Sec. 53.00.”
The only way this was discovered was after CF 11-0754 was signed by Mayor Eric Garcetti on December 6, and transmitted by the City Clerk with a cover document marked that it had been approved by the Planning Director and the Planning Commission. THIS IS NOT TRUE, according to a response by the Planning Department on January 8, 2014.
Thus, Council File #11-0754-S1/Ord. 182816 was the vehicle, masked in animal-life-saving rhetoric, which allows the “new business-model pet shops” to bypass the Conditional Use Permit process in ANY C-2 zoned property (in a shopping mall or other business location.)
And ZA 2013-3104(ZAI) was the "Interpretation" that was more than an interpretation because it added words to the Zoning Code to make the new ordinance legal. Wording changes cannot be made to a Zoning Code without the approval of the Planning Director and the legal process of public notification and hearing.
It also eliminates the required 500-foot distance from residential zoning that has assured dozens of barking dogs do not disturb the quiet enjoyment of homes. It removes the requirement that dog kennels be in manufacturing (M) zones, and it totally bypasses any scrutiny as to meeting sewage, drainage provisions that assure waste products are not being washed across sidewalks and into residential/commercial streets.
This allowance that “pet shop dog kennels” (or cat kennels) can be located in central business locations and near residences also blatantly ignores County Health codes that protect against the transmission of contagious disease directly to other animals/pets or humans (zoonotic) by the spread of bacteria and viruses or airborne diseases carried by moist particles or dried animal waste products.
WHO WILL ISSUE “PET SHOP/DOG KENNEL” PERMITS?
A very scary aspect of this ordinance is that L.A. Animal Services manager Brenda Barnette has sole discretion over what the policy will be and who will be allowed to open a “pet shop,”(Since she is desperate to clear as many animals as possible from City shelters in order to appear “No Kill, it is unlikely there will be many refusals.)
Ordinance No. 182816 says, “The General Manager is hereby authorized and empowered to adopt such rules and regulation reasonably necessary to carry out the purposes of this Article…”
The wording of the ordinance endows Ms. Barnette with the expertise of a building inspector and animal-health expert—which is alarming based upon the fact that she didn’t realize a kennel permit is required for housing more than three adult dogs/cats overnight in a pet shop and considering her many questionable decisions and programs since becoming LAAS GM. (See links to articles below.)
She also has no one on her staff professionally qualified to evaluate the serious health/safety/noise situations that will arise by putting an unlimited number of adult dogs of unknown history in a storefront not structurally designed as a “kennel.”
WHO BENEFITS FROM THE C.U.P. BYPASS?
The Minutes of the Oct.23, 2012, L.A. Animal Services Commission meeting state, “General Manager Barnette reported that this is…to clean-up the pet shop ordinance.” The goal was to make it easier for pet store owners affected by the puppy/kitten sales ban to maintain adult shelter pets for sale. But, according to Ms. Barnette’s pubic statements since then, NO pet store has asked for a kennel permit or shelter animals.
A California Public Records Act Request to the Mayor’s Office disclosed pages of fascinating e-mails between Deputy Jim Bickhart, several Council offices and Aimee Gilbreath of Found Animals Foundation, beginning September 26, 2012, seeking a way to avoid the potential $10,000 cost and uncertain outcome of the Conditional Use Permit.
Found Animals Foundation is a multi-million-dollar organization, headed by Gary Michelson, who was credited in the Los Angeles Times on January 13, 2014, for his generous gift to USC. “$50-million Gift Helps Fund USC Bioscience Building.”
So, it seems a $10,000 CUP process would not be unduly burdensome to the Found Animals organization.
The only other organization which has spoken in support of the changed zoning is Best Friends Animal Society, which in 2011 had an income of around $50 million, leases the $19 million Northeast Valley Animal Care Center for $1 per year and is the employer of Brenda Barnette’s daughter, Mary Alice Davis.
SHOULD YOU CARE ABOUT THIS IF YOU DON’T LIVE/WORK IN L.A.?
If unconscionable corruption happened in Bell because of a lack of transparency, and if Los Angeles can destroy business/property rights and values like a thief in the night under the guise of “saving animals’ lives,” far worse things can happen to unsuspecting business/property owners anywhere -- and it may be happening now, wherever you are!
This is not really an issue of pet shops and shelter animals, it is the act of the city being able to abuse its discretionary power (change the zoning code without public notice/hearing) to create a “categorical exemption” for any special-interest group.
It is especially troubling that no Councilmember questioned Committee Chair Paul Koretz about this citywide issue at either the committee or Council meeting. The only comment made before a unanimous “aye” vote at the Personnel and Animal Welfare Committee meeting on November 19, was by Councilman Mitch O’Farrell who said, “It is good for the cause!”
11124 Dogs Transported to Arizona Now in Jeopardy; Are 'Unsafe' LA Animal Services' Pit Bulls Among Them?
On Dec. 28, a Mohave Valley Daily News article began: “HELP NEEDED.” It shows Dr. Sites of Mohave Valley Animal Clinic performing an exam on one of rescued animals that arrived last Thursday at a Golden Valley, Ariz., rescue sanctuary run by Rescue Unwanted Furry Friends Foundation (RUFFF).
A total of 124 dogs were reportedly transported from Washington state nearly 1,000 miles in the back of a semi-trailer driven by Steve Markwell, Founder and Director of Olympic Animal Sanctuary in Forks, Wash., which is “currently being investigated by the police department for alleged abuse and neglect,” according to the report.
The trans-national nature of dog transporting becomes even more complex because “Guardians of Rescue, a non-profit organization in New York, reached out to RUFFF earlier this week for assistance in housing the animals while permanent homes were being located.”
Now they say they need kennels, dog houses, dog food, volunteers and, of course, donated funds to save the animals.
L.A. ANIMAL SERVICES GM BRENDA BARNETTE PRAISES STEVE MARKWELL
Brenda Barnette has not kept it secret that Los Angeles City shelter animals are regularly being transported directly to Washington — with an admitted 245 last year. And, of course, we are assured that they will all find wonderful homes.
However, Ms. Barnette lavished praise and even helped with a fundraiser for Mr. Markwell at Olympic Animal Sanctuary (OAS) when she was Director of Seattle Humane Society, just before coming to Los Angeles to head Animal Services. We have to wonder how really discerning she is in distributing unwanted, unsafe, unadoptable animals from city shelters, which she is desperate to empty in order to appear “No Kill.”
Here is something that was written in the Seattle Humane newsletter when Barnette worked there:
Seattle Humane has already partnered with Olympic on several occasions, according to CEO Brenda Barnette. “The staff at Seattle Humane Society enjoys working with Steve. We are grateful that he has given sanctuary to some of our shelter dogs who had behavioral challenges making them unsafe for us to place out in our community.”
Shortly afterwards, OAS posted the following thanks to BB and Seattle Humane for helping with Olympic’s fundraiser:
The presentation at Seattle Humane on November 10 was a success, and we want to thank Seattle Humane CEO Brenda Barnette ... and all the staff and volunteers from Seattle Humane.
So, with this great mutual admiration, will we ever know if — or how many — Pit Bulls and other behaviorally challenged dogs from Los Angeles have become victims of the recent allegations by animal protectionists against OAS?
Here’s a further explanation of Steve Markwell’s work, as noted in the Seattlepi.com blog:
Olympic Animal Sanctuary is a nonprofit animal welfare organization that specializes in the care and rehabilitation of dogs who are considered too dangerous to be adoptable.
And here is the lead story for the post “Come Meet the Man Who Saved Snaps”:
You know the stories of some of these animals — stories of dogs like Snaps, the Pit Bull goaded by a 15-year-old girl into attacking two women in SeaTac last June. Snaps is now living at Steve’s sanctuary, along with 30-40 other dangerous dogs.
And there was Abbey: “One of Markwell's first clients was a pregnant ex-fighting pit bull named Abby that terrorized the California town of Grapevine, in Kern County, for two weeks — despite having been shot — before Markwell was able to coax her into his truck.
DID L.A. ANIMAL SERVICES’ DOGS GO TO OLYMPIC ANIMAL SANCTUARY?
Is it overly dramatic for caring Los Angeles pet owners and rescuers to wonder what is really happening to behaviorally challenged dogs that come into our Animal Services shelters and leave in the back of a truck for Washington and — until recently — for Canada?
Apparently Ms. Barnette’s judgment has not improved substantially, since just a few months ago she planned to institute a policy of allowing pregnant shelter dogs to have litters of puppies which she could sell to the pet shops in Los Angeles that are banned from selling commercially bred dogs due to an ordinance she promoted.
This ban was implemented at the same time Barnette’s daughter was apparently preparing to breed her Portuguese Water Dog. (Barnette’s daughter, Mary Alice Davis, works for Best Friends Animal Society, which called her a “responsible breeder.”)
WHY DID STEVE MARKWELL BRING 124 DOGS TO ARIZONA?
On Dec. 29, Cat Smith of the Daily News wrote: “More than 100 dogs, and one python … arrived to their temporary home in Golden Valley. … The animals are the subject of a reported abuse and neglect case in Washington, where the owner of Olympia Animal Sanctuary is accused of housing them in deplorable conditions.”
Following are excerpts from that Daily News article:
In the past months, several Forks residents have picketed the facility in hopes the local police department would investigate multiple complaints about the organization.
An investigation was conducted by the Forks Police Department, but no charges have been filed against the owner, Steve Markwell.
The caged dogs were reportedly housed in traveling kennels, as well as in urine- and feces-infested bedding inside a warehouse-style building.
Robert Misseri, president of Guardians of Rescue, has been a prominent figure since the allegations against Markwell were first reported by several news outlets in Washington.
“Our organization immediately began an open line with Markwell from the start and we told him our main concern was getting the dogs to a new home while he dealt with his legal matters,”said Misseri. “He trusted us.”
That was when Markwell loaded up the dogs and left OAS with the 124 dogs... Misseri says he convinced him to turn over custody of the dogs to the organization, and with no time to spare in finding a place for Markwell to unload the dogs, Misseri contacted Hillarie Allison, owner and operator of RUFFF.
“Hillarie (Allison) had first contacted us and told us that she’d be more than happy to house them while in transition, but that she did have some financial issues with keeping the sanctuary up, etc.,” said Misseri. Markwell arrived at RUFFF late Tuesday afternoon with all 124 dogs.
“[I]n the end we can officially say Markwell has signed over custody of the dogs …” said Misseri.
Two days later, on Saturday, a handful of volunteers from in and around the Tri-state, as well as several GOR volunteers, began unloading the dogs one-by-one.
“Most of the kennels/dog runs we have purchased lately are unreliable. We even contacted a fencing company, but they told us that it would be nearly three weeks for them to do the job due to prior job commitments. They are weak and the latches fall off or aren’t working properly and we have an urgent need for these because we want to have all the dogs out of the truck by mid-week,” [Misseri] said, adding that none of the dogs are in danger due to the bed of the truck being climate-controlled.
On Dec. 28, this alarming post appeared on the RUFFF Facebook page:
*UPDATE* We are only one third away from our goal. Please consider donating so we can continue saving lives.
CRISIS — EXTREME EMERGENCY! 300 animals stand to lose their home! Our lien holder has backed out of our agreement and our property will be put up for sale any day if we don't raise $15000.00 right away!... Most of our dogs and cats are elderly, many with chronic conditions, that no one wants to adopt. I have contacted all the Big Guys in rescue (i.e. Best Friends, HSUS, etc.) and they don't want to help either…We need everyone's help if these precious lives are to be saved … Please share far and wide — someone, somewhere must be able to help! (3 photos)
With a truckload of dogs — some of which will have been inside the same kennel for a week by the completed unload, dog runs and kennels with locks that fall off or don’t work, and inadequate fencing to contain the type of dogs Mr. Markwell indicates he saves, we must all hope that this ends without more tragedy — and that Golden Valley and the surrounding communities do not find themselves the center of an even greater dog crisis.
A California Public Records Act request on file with the City regarding Brenda Barnette’s proposed “Cat Program” has caused the head of a local feral cat feeders (TNR) group to question why someone would exercise the right to review pertinent government documents. Mark Legassie of L.A. Feeders also issued a warning against “trying to raise trouble and stop this new program.”
A very surprising e-mail on 11/6/2013 from Mark Legassie, the Founder & Chairman of L.A. Feeders, Inc., questioned my reason for utilizing the California Public Information Act to obtain information regarding the proposed Los Angeles “Cat Program,” which I discussed in a recent three-part series on Opposing Views. (www.opposingviews.com)
Here is what Mr. Legassie wrote. I will let readers decide whether they believe this is intended to be threatening or merely a simple inquiry. I am protecting Mr. Legassie’s e-mail address, although it is easily verifiable on the Internet. I have also removed the physical mailing address used on my formal inquiries to public officials, which he chose to place in the email, and the addition of which may have made him believe I would be intimidated:From: [email protected] To: [email protected] Sent: 11/6/2013 5:04:58 P.M. Pacific Standard Time Subj: Council File 12-1508 To: P. Daugherty, xxx x xxxxxx xxxx x , LA 900xx I've seen your request for public records re: the CEQA study for the proposed cat program. Why are you requesting them? If you are trying to raise trouble and stop this new program, you'll be in for a big fight from many animal welfare organizations, including mine. I promise that we'll dig relentlessly and fight tirelessly to discredit your out-of-date views and opinions. We won't stop until your short-lived influence will no longer be a threat to the welfare of animals in this city. You can either make friends with the animal welfare organizations in this City, or start a fight with us. If you chose the latter, you will lose. Take your pick -- we hope it's the former.
Founder & Chairman
LA Feeders, Inc.
The request for documents to which he refers were regarding former Mayoral Aide Jim Bickhart and GM Brenda Barnette and the manipulative handling of money for a CEQA report donated by four major donors—Best Friends, Found Animals, ASPCA and a local donor (who also provides spay/neuter services but wished to remain anonymous.)
The $52,000 for the CEQA review was donated by organizations that could realize benefit from a positive report allowing unlimited Trap/Neuter/Release (TNR) of feral cats throughout L.A. And the money was placed, without a City Attorney’s written opinion, in the codified Animal Welfare Trust Fund, which strictly prohibits the use of that account for new programs and/or animal/pet sterilization.
The “Cat Program” also proposes to divert millions of dollars from the City Council-established Pet Sterilization Trust Fund restricted for only owned pets (mainly in low-income families) to allow this taxpayer money to be used to spay/neuter feral cats.
TRAP/NEUTER/RELEASE (TNR) IS ALIVE AND WELL IN L.A. WITHOUT GOVERNMENT FUNDING
As indicated below by Mr. Legassie, Trap/Neuter/Release programs are rampant throughout Los Angeles without City funding and seem to prosper well from direct private donations. According to www.LAFeeders.org, L.A. Feeders is a 50l(c)3 organization. On the website, it claims:
“As one of the largest community cat feeding organizations in the world, LA Feeders has a simple goal -- to ensure every neighborhood (stray) cat in Southern California is fed…As of Nov 2011 we have 350 members feeding over 8000 community cats in the Southern California area.”
In a January 31, 2011 post, Mr. Legassie writes that Brenda Barnette was a special guest speaker at a recent LA Feeders' membership meeting.
MR. LEGASSIE IS A FORMER NEIGHBORHOOD COUNCIL OFFICER
It seems strange that Mr. Legassie would object to public inquiry when, as the former Treasurer of the Arroyo Seco Neighborhood Council, he defended himself and wrote about the importance of transparency in government and accounting. In a post on the Highland Park Patch on 12/20/11, entitled, “Letter to the Editor: ASNC Audit Charges are 'Trumped Up;'” Mr. Legassie writes:
“Here are important details to help understand the series of events for the most recent round of items brought up by the Department of Neighborhood Empowerment (DONE) via Arroyo Seco Neighborhood Council (ASNC) President Martha Benedict and Treasurer Judy Knapton...I handled more than $100,000 in public funds, giving more "say so" to the actual ASNC stakeholders than ever before and pretty much flawlessly accounting for it until the last few weeks…“ http://highlandpark-ca.patch.com/groups/politics-and-elections/p/letter-to-the-editor-asnc-audit-charges-are-trumped-up
Mr. Legassie later addressed concerns raised by his posting the following invitation for feeders to vote the Arroyo Seco Neighborhood Council election:
Message 1 of 1, Oct 7, 2012
To: All LA Feeders members
I need your help this Saturday, 10/13 to protect homeless pets and animal welfare funding in the Arroyo Seco Neighborhood Council (ASNC). Have your say in Los Angeles government -- homeless pets need your vote this weekend more than ever before. PLEASE RSVP BY EMAILING DEPOT@... IF YOU CAN MAKE IT TO A POLLING PLACE NEAR MY HOME IN HERMON BETWEEN 10AM-2PM THIS SAT 10/13. Don't worry-- as LA Feeders members you are eligible to vote, and we'll tell you the names ahead of time and exactly how to vote (step-by-step) and where to go.
BONUS: Help LA Feeders this Saturday by voting in our Neighborhood Council elections and you'll automatically be put on the RSVP list for the next food depot on Sat, Oct 13th at 2pm, right after the elections close, and be guaranteed at least 45 pounds of Meow Mix cat kibble (for a $15 suggested donation) and possibly up to 80 lbs. No need to bring bags since it's pre-bagged this time by the company! Don't think your eligible? If you filled out the LA Feeders questionnaire available online and sent it in, then you're eligible.
He, again, responded in the Highland Park Patch:
Founder of local non-profit organization accused of bribing constituents for votes
Posted by Mark Legassie, October 14, 2012 at 11:03 PM
“Yesterday my 501(c)3 public charity organization LA Feeders (formerly FAST- Friendly Arroyo Seco Trappers), held it's regular weekly food depot at Ramona Hall. The pet food is distributed at our cost (usually 25 cents on a dollar) to the poor and others that are caring for stray cats, dogs and even guinea pigs… “Last night a friend contacted me and said she heard an accusation at the Ramona polling booth that I was giving out pet food in exchange for votes!..I'd like to state for the record, we were *not* exchanging food for votes.” http://highlandpark-ca.patch.com/groups/mark-legassies-blog/p/bp--pet-food-for-votes
WHY WOULD MR. LEGASSIE OBJECT TO PUBLIC INFORMATION INQUIRIES?
Why would a former Neighborhood Council official and charity director take issue with someone making an inquiry regarding a funding aspect of a governmental program that proposes to divert City taxpayer/donor pet sterilization money to stray/feral cats and may create the possibility that non-profit entities paying for a CEQA report could potentially benefit?
LOS ANGELES HAS ALREADY BEEN “BULLIED”
Los Angeles Animal Service employees, City officials and many animal activists have endured a long string of bullies, the latest of which was the siege of terrorism by the ADL-LA (Animal Defense League—LA), which included threats, vandalism and harassment and ended with City officials being threatened if they did not confirm the Mayor hiring Brenda Barnette as L.A. Animal Services General Manager.
From his experience as a Neighborhood Council officer, Mr. Legassie should be aware that the City Council must not be influenced by threats and must base its decisions only on what is best for Los Angeles. And, activists—including myself—must not be deterred from making inquiries and expressing opinions.
Let’s hope Mr. Legassie’s e-mail is just poorly stated and easily misunderstood and that his motive in writing was merely to inform me his support of TNR and not really to be a Bully for Brenda Barnette's Cat Program.
The City of Los Angeles is on the verge of making a major, intrusive decision regarding the lives of all residents and property owners as the City Council votes on how thousands of stray/feral cats will be “managed” within the city limits. The public and Council should not be deceived that this is just about cats. The proposed “Cat Program” will affect every animal, child and adult in the city. It will affect those who own/rent property, maintain a business location, and especially those who suffers from allergies, asthma, or anyone with an immunosuppressive disorder; such as, AIDS.
This Trap-Neuter-Release (TNR) program should be of imminent concern to any woman who is—or intends to become—pregnant. It will affect schools and employees in any building on public land where feral cat colonies may be established. It will impact landlords who have tenants with health conditions affected by cats, and it will affect other animals exposed to highly concentrated numbers of fleas and other external and internal parasites transmissible through contact with cats or cat feces, or which can become airborne.
While Trap-Neuter-“Return” was formerly used for feeding existing cats, ONLY with the permission of the landowner or administrator at the location, under the Los Angeles Animal Services’ proposed plan, the program is Trap-Neuter-“Release” (meaning new cats can be brought to any area) and it will become an entitlement to establish a feeding station for stray/feral cats on any street, sidewalk, alley or public easement in any community (with the exception of small “environmentally sensitive areas.”) In addressing the issues of “community cats”, the health and safety of humans has been ignored.
Be aware that the proposed “Cat Program” eliminates the rights of property owners to remove the cats or interfere with the encroachment of the cats on private property. It grants a legal status with special privileges to volunteer cat feeders (called “cat colony operators”) to maintain and feed feral cats at your property line and exempts them from responsibility for the roaming of the cats and any nuisance/destructive acts by the cats.
The proposed Trap/Neuter/Release Program planned for Los Angeles will not solve the problem of stray cats because it lacks elements of addressing the lack of responsibility by cat owners who fail to keep pet cats indoors and who abandon them and, instead, makes feral cats an immeasurable, expensive burden on Los Angeles taxpayers.
VOICE YOUR OPINION
It is not too late for you to voice your opinion and have an impact on whether Los Angeles should become a stray/feral cat sanctuary city. If you live in Los Angeles, immediately contact your Council office and Mayor Eric Garcetti at www.lacity.org. If you have a business or plan to open a business in Los Angeles, this may be your only opportunity to address this issue before your find feral cats impacting your clients/customers, with no legal options.
The Bureau of Engineering states that November 4 is the last date to comment to their feral-cat expert, Catalina.Hernandez@lacity.org However, it is unlikely that facts or public opinion will get much consideration there. The Bureau of Engineering has received a $52,000 payment from special-interest groups through a City fund. The”Cat Program” written by Brenda Barnette and Jim Bickhart of former-Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa’s office was submitted as a “guideline” for the development a Mitigated Negative Decision allowing the release of thousands of stray/feral cats, and denying property owners the right to have them removed or to stop them from encroaching on yards, porches, business locations was part of that Program.
WHAT OTHERS IN TNR-PROGRAM AREAS ARE SAYING:
TORONTO - “Harding Boulevard…just hasn’t been the same since the ‘neighbors from hell’ moved in, residents say.,The feline group dwelling on Harding Blvd. is one of over 300 registered Trap/Neuter/Return (TNR) cat colonies in the city, some of which exist on residential streets.
“The devastation and damage they’ve caused is incredible,” says long-time Harding Blvd. resident Jane Flanders. “I have to clean out half a recycling bag full of feces from my front lawn all the time. … They’re killing all the songbirds in my backyard.”
“On September 16, 2013, the State of New Mexico, Department of Game & Fish, sent a letter to Mayor Berry of Albuquerque encouraging the City and the Animal Welfare Department to “discontinue support” of the Trap-Neuter-Return policy which releases feral cats into the city’s streets.
“The letter, signed by Cal Baca, Chief, Wildlife Management Division, states:
“In 2012, Best Friends Animal Society partnered with Albuquerque (City) Animal Welfare Department to begin a three-year Trap-Neuter-Return (TNR) program, funded by a grant from PetSmart Charities. In addition, the City has worked with New Mexico Animal Friends to cover the cost of sterilizing street cats. The Department of Game and Fish (Department) encourages the City and the Animal Welfare Department to discontinue support of these programs.
“The Edmonds City Council has voted 6-1 to add cats in the "Running-at-large” ordinance already on the books. The law is aimed at preventing animals from freely roaming in the city, according to King5 News. (Sept. 05, 2013)
“This decision to include felines followed testimony from numerous residents in regard to the nuisance and dangers posed by outdoor cats--ranging from the diseases they can carry and transmit, to the birds and other wildlife they kill, and the fur, fleas and other parasites they leave after lounging uninvited on outdoor furniture in neighbors’ yards.
“Dr. Rick Gerhold at the Center for Wildlife Health at the University of Tennessee, states in a 2011 article entitled, Cats as Carriers of Disease, that toxoplasmosis has been associated with increased risk of schizophrenia, autism disorders, other neuro-inflammatory diseases and can occasionally cause eye damage.
“The parasite thrives and reproduces in the intestines of cats and can cause neurological impairment that lead to abortions and birth defects in humans and is a major cause of systemic infection and death for immune-suppressed patients,” he writes.”
LOS ANGELES ‘CAT PROGRAM’ IS NOT ABOUT LOVING OR HATING CATS
This is not an issue of whether you love or hate cats. Nothing is more tragic than seeing homeless cats huddled under greasy cars and trying to dash across busy streets. However, Brenda Barnette’s plan will not address those issues. The cats will still be outside with no human protection, and the proposed “Cat Program” will further alienate them in the community by legalizing their intrusion into private property, where they can create an imminent to children, adults and pets.
The rights of the cats and the “colony operator” to feed will become a statute and will defy universal warnings against feeding pets outside because it attracts wildlife (raccoons, coyotes, skunks, etc.,) which will further endanger the cats themselves (and humans and pets.) There is also no remedy in this program for the numerous rodents and insects that are attracted to outdoor food and water sources. Although the promoters of TNR would like to have us believe that everything is picked up neatly to the feeder after the cats have eaten, in fact in many areas, bags of dry food are merely dumped on the ground because not all feral cats eat at the same time.
The L.A. “Cat Program,” will have a devastating effect on residential/commercial property rights all over the city. It includes what are called by the Bureau of Engineering “minor changes” to the Los Angeles Municipal Code which will affect value of property in the city by increasing the number of (sterilized or unsterilized) owned cats allowed per property; and exempts stray/feral cats from any limitation on numbers or location (other than a few “environmentally sensitive habitats.”)
Two prior Opposing Views articles (links below) have discussed the impact on private property rights and the political and financial maneuvers that transpired via Jim Bickhart and Animal Services General Manager Brenda Barnette to produce the proposed “Cat Program” and assure it received a Negative Mitigated Declaration under California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) review.
The four non-profit groups that donated the $52,000 for this review/decision are all involved in providing spay/neuter services in their own facilities and will benefit from the multi-millions of dollars that is available through grants and donations and augmented by City funds diverted from the Pet Sterilization Trust Fund for owned animals to feral cats through passage of this Program.
WILL TRAP/NEUTER/RELEASE REDUCE L.A.’s FERAL CAT POPULATION?
Estimates of how many stray/feral cats exist in Los Angeles (or any large city) is purely speculative. The Feral Cat Caretakers’ Coalition website states that, “The Department of Animal Services estimates there are 3 million feral cats and kittens in the Los Angeles area alone.”There is no indication of how this was computed or that the feral cat population in Los Angeles is growing or that there is any crisis that requires the City to give away millions of dollars to subsidize the proposed program.
In fact, the “Cat Program”is counterproductive in that it proposes reducing the money allotted to sterilizing OWNED cats (and thus reduce the real source of the problem) BEFORE they are allowed outside by owners.
The only formula that has been offered in regard to whether TNR can be effective is the theory applied to disease control which states that 70% of a species population must be vaccinated against any specific disease before it is an effective deterrent. Thus, it is has been speculated that 70% of a stationary cat population (in smaller towns where there is little migration) could result in a status quo—in other words, attrition would be approximately the same as the number of kittens produced by the remaining 30% of unaltered cats. This is not applicable to large cities with transient animal/human demographics.
BUREAU OF ENGINEERING DIVERTS DOG-LICENSE/PET STERILIZATION FUNDS
Oddly, the Bureau of Engineering approved, in its CEQA decision, a change in the Animal (Pet) Sterilization Trust Fund which would allow dog-license money to be diverted from its city-designated use of providing spay/neuters for ONLY owned pets (mainly low-income residents) to allow payment for sterilization of (unlimited numbers of) feral cats.
It would have seemed they should have omitted any comment on this issue. Under what authority can the Public Works Department change how State and City designated animal-related funds can legally be spent?
HOW WAS THE GENERAL PUBLIC NOTIFIED OF THE ‘CAT PROGRAM’?
Copies of the “Notice of Intent to Adopt a Mitigated Negative Declaration” by the Bureau of Engineering (a de facto defendant in the lawsuit by the Urban Wildlands Group which caused this “cat study” to be performed) were mailed to a limited number of interested parties by the Bureau of Engineering, according to a notice on October 3, 2013. This complex document appears to be available in English only, which means many L.A. residents may not properly understand it or the consequences, even if they find out about it and try to locate it.
It stated that “circulation” of the Initial Study for a 30-day Public Review Period from October 3 to November 4, 2013, “…is intended to give interested parties an opportunity to comment on the proposed project.” Most city residents have little interest in a “cat program’ and won’t know they will be affected.
Since we had not seen any public/media notice about a “Cat Program” that would allow feral cat colonies to be set up all over the city under TNR, we decided to see how the average city resident could obtain this “Notice.” First, we went to the City website, www.lacity.org. From there, we searched separately for “cats,” “TNR,” “Cat Program,” “feral cats,” and “CEQA”—all ended up being redirected to unrelated linksor showed “no results.” Then we reviewed the “Notice” and realized that you needed to enter http://eng.lacity.org/techdocs/emg/citywide_cat.htm Why didn’t we think of that?!!!
(Unfortunately, an attempt to view the site on November 3 discovered that “the address can’t be found…”)
WHY DIDN’T THE PUBLIC KNOW ABOUT THIS PROPOSAL?
The proposed ‘Cat Program’ was devised by LAAS GM Brenda Barnette and former aide to Mayor Villaraigosa Jim Bickhart (not an attorney.) It was brought to the Animal Services Commission as a completed document and Commissioners were asked (and lobbied by Bickhart at the meeting) to approve funding by special-interest donations. There was NO public hearing at any time before that to discuss the elements of the program.
Only Commissioner Kathleen Riordan opposed the use of the codified donation trust fund in this manner without a formal City Attorney opinion. She also wrote that she was concerned about some of the LA Municipal Code changes to land use in the “Cat Program” that were not set for public hearing. Commissioner Riordan questioned the lack of public input under the Brown Act open-meetings law.
A California Public Records Act response reveals that Bickhart provided her with legal advice regarding public input on the program and stated that she would not get a City Attorney’s opinion. He also told her that no item in the proposed Cat Program could be voted on by the Commission prior to a CEQA review, in an e-mail from his personal e-mail account, dated August 13, 2013, the night before the Commission meeting.
IS THE PROPOSED ‘CAT PROGRAM’ GOOD FOR CATS?
Anyone who has trapped a feral cat knows that re-trapping the same cat is almost impossible. That means that a cat who becomes injured but is still mobile or one who becomes ill in a colony is almost impossible to isolate for care.
Although they are supposedly vaccinated before they are released into the colony, by being outdoors they are subject to constant exposure to diseases. And, under a T-N-Release program, new cats with unknown health histories can be introduced from shelters or other areas inside/outside the city and infect the colony.
Sadly, it is not unusual for feral cat colonies to be abandoned by a “feeder” for various personal, financial or health reasons. This results in a large group of unfed, desperate, covetous cats who had become dependent now competing for the small amount of available food from other sources in an area, including garbage bins, outside pet food, and small prey (birds and rodents.)
Many wildlife experts criticize making any feral or wild animal dependent upon a human and causing it to lose its fear of natural predators (including humans) thus suppressing its natural survival instincts and hunting/foraging skills by providing an artificial food supply.
‘CAT PROGRAM’ WILL NEGATIVELY AFFECT LOW-INCOME COMMUNITIES
The Bureau of Engineering is insuring us that this proposed program will have a “less than significant potential impact.” On WHOM? The impact on the city will be greatly significant and greatest in low-income areas where residents can least afford to have their communities’ health/safety and privacy rights endangered and where they have the least time and money to address the resultant problems!
BRIEF BACKGROUND ON TNR AND REQUIRED CEQA REVIEW
The Urban Wildlands Group, includingthe Los Angeles Audubon Society and several additional bird conservancy groups, won a law suit in late 2009 against the City of Los Angeles. The judge found that the City had been illegally implementing a TNR program using City funds for the spay/neuter of feral/stray cats in violation of the provisions of the Animal (Pet) Sterilization Trust Fund, which restricted these funds/vouchers to owned cats and dogs. A permanent injunction was entered in early 2010. The injunction remains in place unless and until the City reviews its TNR program under CEQA
However, the injunction does not affect individuals or groups who wish to Trap/Neuter/Return feral cats using donated or private funds to accomplish this. This is also true if this Cat Program is not approved. TNR has proceeded in the City, but it is being done by private donations and funding. The feeders, however, are subject to trespassing, litter, and nuisance laws, and the City's ban on feeding non-domesticated mammalian predators (e.g., skunks, raccoons, and coyotes).
IS IT REALLY TRAP-NEUTER-“ABANDON”? – CA PENAL CODE VIOLATION
Feral cats are not “wild” animals. They are former pets, or the offspring of domesticated pets which have been abandoned/dumped outside by owners or have been born to a cat that is left outside without human protection/socialization.
The proposed program includes the “release” of feral cats and indicates it is a life-saving option for thousands of feral cats impounded in the City’s animal shelters. California Penal Code prohibits willful abandonment of any animal; and “Releasing” into the streets any domesticated animal over which a human has had control is “abandonment.”
CA Penal Code 597s.
(a) Every person who willfully abandons any animal is guilty of a misdemeanor.
(b) This section shall not apply to the release or rehabilitation and release of native
California wildlife pursuant to statute or regulations of the California Department of Fish and Game.
FERAL CAT FEEDERS (STRANGERS IN THE NIGHT)
While large feral cat/TNR organizations conduct major fundraisers and solicit funds, the feral cat feeder (for the most part) is on her/his own and provides for the cats from personal funds, other than for the spay/neuter and vaccinations when the cat is first trapped.
You may have a hard time even identifying who is doing the feeding, because cat-colony operators do not have to be identified to attain an official status. They are not listed, monitored, licensed, permitted, or sworn by the City. They do not even have to live in your neighborhood. They are nameless individuals who deny ownership of unlimited number of cats they either spay/neuter and return to a location or bring from other areas.
The “feeders” are well meaning and dedicated; however, the October incident in which a 19-year Los Angeles Fire Department engineer and his mother became engaged in a physical confrontation with a stray-cat feeder in midcity L.A. demonstrates how emotional this issue can become. Los Angeles Fireman and His Mother Charged with Beating Woman Feeding Feral Cats
Here are a few liability matters that were conveniently overlooked in the “Cat Program.” Feral cat feeders (“cat colony operators”) do not claim ownership of cats, so who does the property owner notify if there is a serious incident involving any/all of the cats adjacent or encroaching on his/her property?
How will barking-dog issues be handled? This is already a problem, which will be exacerbated by increased stray/feral cats walking on block walls, fighting, yowling and roaming through yards. Do the dog owners then have to remove their dogs?
Feral cat feeders (“cat colony operators”) do not have a legal status under city law but are being given special privileges and entitlements to use of public property that others do not have (for instance, you cannot even feed pigeons in a large area of Los Angeles – LAMC 53.43, because of the health hazard their excrement creates.). Who is liable if the feeding of stray cats results in an injury caused by negligence or by the cats that have been placed at that location. Does the City pay the claim or will the homeowner be sued since it is on his/her sidewalk?
SHOW US THE MITIGATION
The Los Angeles City Bureau of Land Management’s Mitigated Negative Declaration does not tell us how the dangers to wildlife all over the city will be “mitigated.” It merely restricts cats from being fed near a few environmentally sensitive habitat areas and removes all limitations on stray/feral cats being fed anywhere else.
The “mitigation” establishes entitlements and diverts funds designated for owned pets to be used for stray/feral cats; it increases the number of altered or unaltered cats per property and does not require microchipping; and it removes all limits from the number of unowned (feral) cats that can be on any city property.
The so-called “mitigation” proposed in the report by the Bureau of Engineering is merely to allow TNR in ALL areas of the city, except those few locations designated as environmentally sensitive. The sole mitigation there is to not allow feeding within one mile. Feeding is allowed by The Los Angeles River (including in the downtown Los Angeles area) and the Pacoima Wash, both areas where the cats will be in tremendous danger from predators.
But we are not to worry, if someone feeds cat closer than a mile from the habitats, the Department of Animal Services with less than 60 full-time officers responding to hundreds of calls a day for extremely demanding, dangerous, and often life-threatening situations will also become feral-cat-colony cops?
WHAT SHOULD CITY DO WITH THE PROPOSED “CAT PROGRAM”?
The proposed ‘Cat Program’ raises alarming problems for property owners and all residents/businesses in the City of Los Angeles. It needs to be rejected in its present form by the City Council. At a minimum, public hearings at all Neighborhood Councils need to be held, advising stakeholders of the full implications of this proposal. Public meetings should also be scheduled in non-governmental venues and with interpreters available.
Any ‘Cat Program’ must be sent to the Planning and Land Use Management Committee and Planning Department for thorough consideration and evaluation before the Council votes.
Before Brenda Barnette became the head of Los Angeles city animal shelters, she was the executive director of the very small Seattle Humane Society, and she was also the Seattle Kennel Club's Legislative Representative for the AKC. That’s right--Brenda Barnette was a dog breeder, although she claimed she had left that world behind before she was hired as LA Animal Services in June 2010.
The colorful photo above appeared after Barnette was hired as LA’s “top dog.” It shows Brenda Barnette holding a trophy at the Seattle Kennel Club Dog Show in March 2010--during the period of the headhunter search which resulted in her being hired by the city of Los Angeles.
Brenda Barnette has a daughter--Mary Alice Davis--who was hired by Best Friends Animal Society in Los Angeles after Barnette, as LAAS General Manager, arranged a $1-per-year giveaway of the new $19 million Northeast Valley Animal Shelter to Best Friends. (In addition, the City provides $200,000 a year in maintenance while Best Friends occupies the shelter.)
Mary Alice Davis is the foster-care coordinator at the pet adoption center in Mission Hills, according to Marc Peralta, Executive Director, Best Friends Animal Society - Los Angeles.
LIKE MOTHER, LIKE DAUGHTER?
Brenda Barnette sponsored Mary Alice Davis’ application for membership in the Seattle Kennel Club at a General Membership meeting on November 18, 2009. Mary Alice was welcomed as a new member on January 27, 2010. Her name still shows on alerts for the Seattle Kennel Club in 2011.
Daniel Guss, Los Angeles animal advocate, recently pointed out to City Council members that, when she was confirmed as General Manager, 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.” (Los Angeles Times on July 14, 2010)
Although she has tried to distance herself by verbal denials, it appears that Barnette did not leave the world of dog breeding behind when she came to Los Angeles. She is currently listed on dog-show and kennel rosters as a co-owner of a Portuguese Waterdog along with Mary Alice Davis.
MARY ALICE DAVIS & BRENDA BARNETTE CO-OWN “PUPPY BITCH”
On October 4, Daniel Guss told the City Council during Public Comment that he had come across a dog show roster dated May 23, 2013, in which Brenda Barnette and her daughter Mary Alice Davis were listed in the competitions at the Southern California Portuguese Water Dog Club, under the listing for “Puppy Bitches:”
PORTUGUESE WATER DOGS, Puppy Bitches, 9 months and under 12 months
(8) CUTWATER IT HAD TO BE YOU, WS43376901. 05/29/2012. Breeder: Frances
Archambault & Jane Harding. By Ch. Cutwater Wine And Dine Me – Ch. Cutwater The Best is Yet to Come.
Owner: Mary Alice Davis/Brenda Barnette.
The same dog is also listed in the Catalog of the Channel City Kennel Club and the Santa Maria Kennel Club. She was shown again on September 9, 2013, at the Portuguese Water Dog Club of America – Sweeps/Vet Sweeps
Not surprisingly. there was no reaction or show of interest by the City Council. Although Daniel Guss held up the paper from which he was reading the details of the “puppy bitch,” co-owned by Brenda Barnette, no Council deputy was sent to ask for a copy of it.
DANIEL GUSS CONTACTS BRENDA BARNETTE ABOUT “BREEDING”
Later on October 4, Daniel Guss addressed the issue directly to Brenda Barnette by e-mail and states:
“You are a resident of the City of Los Angeles, and an employee.
”You own a dog who is being bred, and you are LISTED AS THE OWNER.
Moreover, the dog is shown during the week when you are paid to prevent dog population growth!
“Breeding dogs is incongruous for a shelter GM, and your failure to have a breeder's permit (when you are a listed owner) is a violation of city law.”
BRENDA BARNETTE RESPONDS
Amidst Daniel Guss’ insistence that, without a breeding permit, Brenda Barnette “MUST RESIGN IMMEDIATELY,” she responded:
On Fri, Oct 4, 2013 at 4:23 PM, Brenda Barnette
" I own three altered dogs. Being a Co-owner of record is more like
being a G= uardian [sic] of anything happens to my daughter. The dog does
not live with me, = is not suported [sic]by me nor controlled by me.”
BEST FRIENDS COMES TO THE DEFENSE OF MARY ALICE DAVIS
Apparently Best Friends thought they could provide an explanation to make things all right. Here are just the most pertinent parts of an October 8 e-mail from Marc Peralta, Executive Director of Best Friends Animal Society – Los Angeles:
-------- Forwarded message ----------
From: Marc Peralta <[email protected]>
Date: Tue, Oct 8, 2013 at 1:23 PM
Subject: Response to your email to Francis
“Mary Alice Davis is not an adoption coordinator, rather she is the foster care coordinator at our pet adoption center in Mission Hills….While Best Friends always advocates adoptions from shelters or rescues for those looking for a pet, we do acknowledge that there are responsible and caring breeders (with definitions attached). Mary Alice falls into the category of responsible breeders.
“See this link for more info on the subject: http://bestfriends.org/Resources/No-Kill-Resources/Puppy-mill-initiatives/The-Basics/Best-Friends-Position-on-Breeding/
Executive Director, Best Friends Animal Society - Los Angeles”
BRENDA BARNETTE JUST REHIRED BY MAYOR GARCETTI
This makes us wonder what is in store for Los Angeles with an Animal Services General Manager involved in activities related to dog breeding and the City’s largest animal organization feeling comfortable with that image and reality. We decided to ask Daniel Guss for his final word.
WHAT’S YOUR OPINION, DANIEL GUSS?
1. Why did you feel it was important to tell the City Council about Brenda Barnette's apparent involvement with dog showing and breeding on October 4?
Daniel Guss: “Brenda Barnette's disdain for the city's mandatory spay/neuter, licensing and cruelty laws is already well established. By providing the city with documentation that she is also actively involved in dog breeding events, City Hall can no longer claim that it didn't know.
2. Why does it matter whether Brenda Barnette breeds dogs or is connected in any manner with dog breeding?
Daniel Guss: "It demonstrates that she is interested in creating more animals than fewer, and that attitude is in conflict with her job. Recently, she failed in her attempt to turn the city's shelters into a virtual puppy mill by allowing pregnant dogs to have puppies which she suggested could bring in revenue if LA Animal Services sold them to pet shops. Her heart is not in the right place."
3. Do you think Mary Alice Davis is violating any ethical or legal provisions in working for Best Friends?
Daniel Guss: "Mary Alice Davis has a vested in interest in Best Friends "cherry picking" highly adoptable, healthy (i.e. low vet expense) animals because doing so disingenuously inflates her mother's, Best Friends' and her own adoption stats. I don't know if that's an ethical or legal problem, but it's unfair to the animals they leave behind in the city's shelters, which are overwhelming Pits, Chihuahuas or in need of veterinary care.
4. What do you think the Council and/or Mayor should do about the disclosure of Best Friends endorsing dog breeding by one of its employees?
Daniel Guss: “Marc Peralta stopped short of ‘endorsing" breeding, but he clearly is at peace with it. But this is an opportunity for Mayor Garcetti and City Council to determine if Best Friends really understands what is expected of them in both deeds and words and whether we are really getting a true story of their contribution to the City in exchange for our $20M asset? Is Best Friends here to provide sustainable benefit to Los Angeles or to further their own marketing programs?"
5. Do you believe Brenda Barnettte is qualified for the job of General Manager of LAAS?
Daniel Guss: "No, Brenda has been recorded saying that she doesn't believe in our mandatory spay/neuter law because "it discriminates against breeders." Yet this is one of the primary functions of her job-- to control the pet population. If she doesn't get and embrace that, she disqualifies herself for the job.
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
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.
Subj: some notes on use of correspondence in the public sector
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.
11L.A. Animal Services, Mayor and Council Set To Give Feral Cats Property Rights in Los Angeles (Part 1)
A “Cat Program” developed by L.A. Animal Services GM Brenda Barnette is awaiting the green light to spread over the city of Los Angeles, ravage private-property rights, ignore health and safety issues for people and animals, and establish Los Angeles as a Sanctuary City for Feral Cats.
While a property owner or renter may, under local and State trespass/nuisance laws, remove (or have removed) a human or other animal who enters, urinates, defecates or otherwise damages his/her property, that will no longer be true of cats. Under the proposed L.A. City Feral Cat Program, felines will gain an inherent right to be on your residential or commercial property and conduct themselves, well, like cats.
TAKING FERAL CATS TO SHELTERS BECAUSE THEY ARE A NUISANCE WILL BE PROHIBITED
This is not a scare tactic — it is a reality. And it will apparently be voted into law soon, unless constituents demand that their city council representatives back off the emotional hype and pressure from feral/stray/community/“feral freedom” cat groups who want us to believe merely sterilizing and re-abandoning stray cats into the street (which is a violation of state law) is a humane solution to homelessness for unowned felines.
I, like thousands of Angelenos, am willingly ruled by the whims and demands of a very vocal, irresistible rescued kitty whose former owner put her outside and left to enter drug rehab. I live in a mid-city Los Angeles area where life is filled with daily reminders of the brutal realities of the streets, where outdoor cats — fed, sterilized, or not — do not do well.
Abandoned and feral cats sit under greasy cars and peer out, terrified of the unnatural enemies who stalk, chase and throw objects at them, accelerate vehicles to try to hit them, or place toxic substances in food to sicken or kill them. Somehow I can’t wrap my head or my heart around what part of this proposal is “humane.”
THE TRAP-NEUTER-RELEASE TAKEOVER
On Oct. 3, 2013, the L.A. City Bureau of Engineering released a “Notice of Intent to Adopt a Mitigated Negative Declaration” on a project identified as, Citywide Cat Program (W.O. E1907610). This was the result of a required California Environmental Quality Act analysis which they conducted specifically to enable Trap-Neuter-Release (TNR).
The goal is to rid the city of a pesky injunction that resulted from a lawsuit by the Urban Wildlands Group regarding the negative effects of feral cats on the environment, including the impact on birds and wildlife, in an earlier TNR program. The injunction also stopped the misuse of city spay/neuter money designated for owned animals but being used to perform sterilization of stray cats and then dump them back into the streets.
Much of the concern by the Urban Wildlands Group was the fact that Los Angeles has never been interested in nor attempted to enact a program that addresses owner responsibility to not allow cats to roam and to require microchips so they cannot be abandoned without penalty. No such mitigating measure exists under the currently proposed “Cat Program” either. Merely trapping some of the abandoned animals and then abandoning them again after they are altered is proposed as a satisfactory solution.
In simplistic terms, the Bureau of Engineering, a city department and de facto defendant to that lawsuit, was paid through a city charitable fund (which we will discuss in Part 2) to develop a Mitigated Negative Declaration saying that it is now OK to do what the judge said the city cannot do.
The mitigation measure offered by the report is merely to exclude the formation of cat colonies on “environmentally sensitive areas or parks.” The rest of the city, including right next to your private yard, is open to feral cat colonies and their caretakers or feeders. There is no mitigation of the impact on the property owner or residents.
PROPOSED ‘FERAL CAT PROGRAM’ ELIMINATES CAT LIMITS FOR OUTDOOR CATS
The Project Description includes the establishment of a “Cat Program involving the citywide coordination of actions and activities that will accomplish increased spay/neuter of cats.” The proposed program also includes “increasing the number of cats that may be kept [per property] without a kennel permit to five cats; allowing the feeding of free-roaming cats in colonies, and exempting cat colony operators from cat kennel permit requirements.” (Thus feral cats and cat-colony operators do not need permission.)
If the “Cat Program” proposed by Los Angeles Animal Services GM Brenda Barnette is approved by city council and the mayor, feral cats can be established in a cat colony of dozens or even hundreds on any public property adjacent to your home or business, and you will have no right to remove them when they invade your nearby property. There will be a feral cat feeder who comes regularly to dump food at the “feeding” location to assure that the colony remains your close neighbor.
CATS BECOME VICTIMS OF COYOTES AND OTHER PREDATORS, INCLUDING HUMANS
Another sad consequence of feeding cats outdoors is that the food attracts other predators to whom the cats themselves become victims. These predators may include raccoons, birds of prey and — especially — coyotes. Anyone who has ever called the city’s Wildlife Specialist to complain about neighborhood pets being attacked and/or consumed by coyotes is told the number one deterrent is to not leave food outside. The “Cat Program,” therefore, violates the City’s own prohibition.
IS IT KIND TO TEACH FERAL CATS TO TRUST HUMANS?
Cats can increasingly become victims of those who do not want them in the community. By making stray animals dependent upon humans for food, we also remove their fear of humans who may harm them. Few communities would say that stray cats are “welcomed,” and because there are still carryovers of taboos about cats, unfortunately there are still those who wish to hurt them — just because they are cats. Thus, retaining their innate fear of other species (especially humans) is a self-preservation tool that is absolutely essential to homeless outdoor cats.
HOW HAS TRAP-NEUTER-RELEASE WORKED IN OTHER AREAS?
The feline group dwelling on Harding Blvd. is one of over 300 registered TNR cat colonies in the city, some of which exist on residential streets.
“The devastation and damage [the cats have] caused is incredible,” says long-time Harding Blvd. resident Jane Flanders. “I have to clean out half a recycling bag full of feces from my front lawn all the time. … They’re killing all the songbirds in my backyard.”
“About 13 feral cats that have been trapped and spayed or neutered were reportedly released to occupy the quaint boulevard near Kingston and Birchmount Roads. They use backyards as living rooms and front porches as urinals, residents report.”
Increasingly desperate to appear “No Kill” and be rehired by new Mayor Eric Garcetti, last week Brenda Barnette announced another irresponsible scheme to empty city shelters—a “Senior-Pet Free Giveaway,” which means that the most vulnerable group of shelter animals (those over five years of age) would be given away with no adoption fee to city or non-city residents who could merely show up at a shelter and demand their “free” pet.
Luckily, someone in city government finally noticed that this is illegal---but only after irate protests by numerous vocal animal activists.
Los Angeles well-paid city officials have shamefully allowed a series of inept managers to play Russian roulette with the welfare of animals and taxpayers’ money. Barnette’s tenure has been a continuous “experiment” in violating or ignoring laws and sound shelter practices. It is time to time say “NO” to Ms. Barnette and to mean it!
Barnette, in the past few months alone, has added with seeming impunity to a long string of embarrassing, well-publicized faux pas starting shortly after she was hired. The two latest decisions where she figuratively thumbed her nose at the Personnel and Animal Welfare Committee stating that she did not need Council approval, should have been enough for her to be immediately fired.
In case anyone who cares about the unwanted animals entrusted to the City of Los Angeles could possibly have forgotten, in March, Barnette arranged to remove vital animal care employees from city shelters at night. In June. she pushed for a policy to allow pregnant impounded dogs to have puppies that could be sold by LAAS to pet stores---after prohibiting such stores from obtaining any commercially bred puppies.
Barnette has not been alone in these exercises of poor judgment. The LA Animal Services Board of Commissioners under President Lisa McCurdy and including two attorneys, made no effort to deter Ms. Barnette’s reckless and inhumane plans. The exception was Kathleen Riordan, daughter of former Mayor Richard Riordan, who was removed by Villaraigosa Deputy Jim Bickhart for her propensity to question Barnette closely and oppose many of her proposals. (Note: Recently appointed Commissioner David Zaft was not on the Commission during that time.)
City Council and members of the Mayor’s staff could not have totally missed Ms. Barnette’s announcement of the ‘Free Giveaway of Senior Pets’ (which is a violation of city ordinance and laws regarding gifts of public property.) It was sent to all those on her mailing list and permeated the media. NBC joined in advertising the event, posting it on September 18:
“Los Angeles Animal Services is hosting its first Senior Saturday on Saturday, September 28, 2013
“All cats and dogs 5 years and older are free of charge to adopt. The adoption includes spaying?/neutering, if required, all vaccinations and a microchip. Los Angeles residents do have to pay a dog license fee of $20, which is not included.” (NBC)
Interestingly, the proposed “Free Senior Pet” plan devised by the $208,000-a-year manager of Los Angeles Animal Services actually penalizes city residents in that they are required to pay $20 for a license, while non-city residents can just walk out the door with their new pet and a “promise” to register it with their local agency.
Animal advocates immediately denounced a plan that is little better than a Craigslist “free” ad, considering that a municipal shelter has no right to refuse any adopter who has not been listed as convicted of animal cruelty on a “do not adopt” list. (These lists are of minimal protection to animals because there is no required posting of such offenders on an area-wide or national basis.)
Barnette was so confident that she could sell her idea that she posted a Facebook comment on the NBC announcement:
“People often say that older pets come home and seem as if they have always been there. The early training has been done and the pet companion seems grateful to be in a home again. Visit the LA City shelters on September 28 and see if you meet your new family member! Brenda Barnette · General Manager at Los Angeles City Animal Services - September 19 at 7:40am”
Quickly shifting to “damage control” later that day, Barnette sent out a tepid excuse in an e-blast to show those with years of experience in the rescue and adoption in Los Angeles that Best Friends says it is OK to giveaway free pets: She wrote:
“We have had a few inquiries about the free adoption for seniors Saturday. This was put in the budget and approved.
“With many years of tracking low cost and free adoption promotions, I have a different experience than what the concerns predict. I'm attaching a report that may be of interest to you that gives a more national perspective. We will ask that our staff and volunteers take extra care in talking with potential adopters.”
Lest we forget, Brenda Barnette was the head of the very small Seattle Humane Society and had NO public sheltering experience prior to coming to Los Angeles in June of 2010, where the only qualification she had to meet for the job was a valid California driver’s license (which she did not have at that time.)
The person who took the most time to refute the claims by Barnette and her reliance on a one-time “study” in 2006 of (only) cats given away free at a small Maine humane society is Anne B. Diamond (possibly a pseudonym). There is no use to try to improve on this detailed explanation of why animals should not be given away free:
“Barnette received what she called "inquiries" about the upcoming "Senior Saturday" with LAAS handing out free senior animals (five years and above). She responded by sending Best Friends' discussion on reduced adoption fees. It relies primarily on a 2006 ASPCA survey…The study compared attachment levels of cat adopters who paid a fee for their cat and those who did not pay a fee. The study is cited to show that we should not worry about shelters giving away free animals.
“The study results are based entirely on a survey of 322 adopters who paid no fee for a cat, and 228 adopters who paid a fee for a cat. (The study is only about cats.) Of those, less than one-third (29.5%) of those paying no fee responded. And just barely over 1/3 of those paying a fee (34%) responded, for a total response rate of only 31.4% (173 responding out of 550 surveys sent). This extremely low response rate means the conclusions have a high risk of sample size bias, and low statistical conclusion validity. That is, with less than 1/3 responding, the survey results are less than reliable. Even the study admits this. (In typical form, Brenda does not disclose this crucial fact.)
“We have no idea what the other 70.5% of no-fee adopters would have said about their attachment to their cats, or whether a bad outcome for their cat is the reason they did not respond. We do know that the views of those 70.5% no-fee adopters who did not respond are not factored into the survey conclusions It is therefore illogical to presume that the views of those who responded are the same as the views of those who for some reason failed to respond, or that the outcomes for their cats are the same . The survey simply ignores the very large and important category of no-fee adopters who did not respond to the survey.”
“What's worse, measuring “attachment” does not necessarily say whether a home is good or bad. Many hoarders will say they are attached to their animals and yet neglect and abuse them. Attachment also does not reflect levels of commitment. We see animals dumped daily in the shelter by adopters who are crying and, if asked, would say they are attached.
“Barnette tries to placate us. Don't worry! She "will ask that our staff and volunteers take extra care in talking with potential adopters." Who is Barnette kidding?
“The Emily Weiss study, shaky as its conclusions are, is based on free cat adoptions at an Animal Refuge League in Westbrook, Maine. Of course that sounds comparable to Los Angeles and LAAS, right?
“Let’s also keep in mind an important fact. Private non-profit adoption agencies (like the one in the Emily Weiss/ASPCA study), have applications, screening, and the ability to deny applications when a home seems wrong. These are all things that LAAS does not have.”
Anne B. Diamond goes on to discuss the various things that have been repeatedly experienced in giving away “free” animals. They often are taken by hoarders (especially older animals) and by dog fighters to use as “bait” animals, and by those with a criminal background which precludes them from obtaining pets legitimately from a shelter.
LOS ANGELES DAILY BREEZE NOTIFIES PUBLIC THAT PETS WON’T BE “FREE”
On September 26, the Los Angeles Daily Breeze posted the following:
“Los Angeles officials say pet adoptions this weekend can’t be free after all
“After announcing free adoptions this Saturday for dogs and cats 5 years and older, the city of Los Angeles has pulled back the offer, saying a city ordinance prohibits the practice.
“The free “Senior Saturday Adoptions,” mentioned Wednesday in the Daily Breeze, now will be discounted adoptions — $83.50 for dogs and $50.50 for cats.
“A memorandum sent to shelters on Thursday from Los Angeles Animal Services General Manager Brenda Barnette said the 2009 ordinance had been “overlooked for a number of years.”
“We plan to take community input on the issue of free adoption to decide whether to recommend to City Council that the ordinance be amended to allow us to do free adoptions in the future,” she wrote. “The free adoption program has been tested nationally and has been a successful way to save animals’ lives.” (L.A. Daily Breeze)
This ordinance was NOT “overlooked for a number of years.” It was enacted one year before Barnette arrived to stop former LAAS GM Ed Boks from giving away “free” animals. The only person who “overlooked” it was Barnette.
And, does she apologize and express her intent to abide by the ordinance of the City, which is predicated upon the basic governmental requirements that impounded property may not be given away free for personal use? NO, MS. BARNETTE MERELY INTENDS TO CONDUCT A “POPULARIIY CONTEST” TO SEE IF THE PUBLIC WANTS THE LAW CHANGED SO THEY CAN HAVE FREE ANIMALS!!
It is time for Mayor Eric Garetti to take action. No official of the City of Los Angeles should be allowed to blatantly ignore or intentionally violate laws. Both Ms. Barnette and the members of the Los Angeles Animal Services Commission who have failed in due diligence after being notified of GM Barnette’s indiscretions must be replaced. The animals, the staff, the City and the taxpayers have suffered enough under this incompetent regime. Our new Mayor must take steps to protect all who depend upon him.
Los Angeles Animal Services General Manager Brenda Barnette has just released an announcement of a third position of Director of Field Operations (DFO), with a salary range of $105,381 - $130,917. The position was only posted internally for LAAS employees and not available even for other City employees.
According to the qualifications for the job, this could place a candidate with only a GED and three years as an Animal Care Technician Supervisor (top salary $59,925) or Senior Animal Control Officer (top salary $73,769) over medical operations of six City shelters and supervising a Chief Veterinarian and Assistant Chief Veterinarian with a collective 50 years of education and experience.
In addition, the new DFO position would also oversee and decide on policy for an additional four-full-time veterinarians and 24 (soon to be 28) Registered Veterinary Technicians (RVT's), some of whom were veterinarians in other countries before joining the LA Animal Services staff.
The veterinary staff is the “invisible backbone” of any sheltering system. The evidence of competence, professionalism and sound management of the LA. Animal Services veterinary unit by current Chief Veterinarian Jeremy Prupas is the fact that no major epidemics of disease and no violations of policies or laws have brought negative publicity to the city shelters during his over five-year tenure.
Veterinary examination reports are critical to the successful prosecution of animal-cruelty investigations and to alerting officers regarding neglect or abuse of animals that are brought to a shelter. Every animal that is impounded by LAAS is examined by an RVTbefore being placed in a kennel and referred to a veterinarian if further treatment appears warranted.
Alarmingly, it appears from the City budget that the new DFO position is funded in part by a reduction in Animal Control Officers (again.) At 63 positions, LAAS is back at the staffing level of the ‘80s—before any of the current state legislation (from spay/neuter to humane care of animals) and well before the City's population hit 4 million.
TOP-HEAVY CITY DEPARTMENT
Perhaps the most puzzling question is why this position would even be created with the City supposedly under heavy budget constraints. This top-heavy department, with a total of less than 400 employees already has a General Manager ($211,911); an Assistant GM ($153,739); 2 Directors of Field Operations ($130,917/ea.); a Chief Veterinarian ($144,429) and an Assistant Chief Veterinarian ($122,722). In addition, there are six Captains and four Lieutenants immediately overseeing shelter and kennel operations. Each shelter also has an ACT (kennel) supervisor, who oversees impounding and daily care of animals and manages the kennel staff.
And, yet, with all these highly paid and experienced employees at her disposal, at the Personnel and Animal Welfare Committee meeting on September 3, Barnett gave all credit for improved statistics in adoptions and reduced euthanasia to a Best Friends Animal Society program, with barely a mention of LAAS staff.
Barnette states that impounds decreased by over 2,000 from last year, which is a surprisingly small reduction, considering the money that LAAS and Best Friends is purportedly investing in spay/neuter. The County of Los Angeles—serving approximately the same number of residents--shows a reduction of 8,093 impounded dogs and cats from 2011-12 to 2012-13, without the same “ benefit” from Best Friends Animal Society.
DIRECTORS OF FIELD OPERATIONS DO WHAT?
So, what is this third Director of Field Operations (Shelters) expected to contribute according to the job announcement? The top duty description is: “Directs the work of personnel engaged in the operation of City animal care shelters, including medical personnel.” The new DFO then, “Reviews division personnel utilization and directs the assignment and reassignment of employees to meet current operating needs; inspects facilities and equipment and reviews the need for repairs and replacement; makes recommendations to higher management regarding Division personnel, facilities, supplies and equipment requirement…”
This makes us wonder what the other two well-paid Directors are doing. One is supposedly the “activities director” in charge of the animal fostering program and appears to have been at least semi-divested of involvement in the volunteer program.
The other DFO, Mark Salazar, came to the city from Texas with rather questionable credentials, having only a short experience as an animal control officer and more recently being sued by five employees for alleged discrimination and harassment as a code enforcement manager for Riverside County. His accomplishments at L.A. Animal Services appear to be minimal.
WHY HAVE CITY OFFICIALS IGNORED BARNETTE’S POOR JUDGMENT?
Now into her third year as head of Los Angeles City Animal Services (LAAS), Brenda Barnette’s reign of destructive mismanagement has gone unabated and largely unquestioned by city officials, with former Mayor Villaraigosa the prime offender in not demanding a realistic assessment of her dismal performance.
The recent (and loudly applauded) exception since Brenda Barnette began embarrassing the city on the front pages of newspapers across the country was opposition by Councilmember Paul Koretz in July, when he took a strong and unequivocal position against former-dog breeder Barnette’s plan to stop spaying pregnant dogs in the shelters and thus produce puppies to be sold to the pet shops the city legislatively forbade from obtaining through breeders or puppy mills.
Koretz was also tentative about Barnette’s fait accompli plan to shut down all city shelters at night and replace employees who care for the thousands of impounded animals with contracted unarmed security guards sitting outside the building. But it was actually then-Councilman Richard Alarcon who insisted the Council provide funding for additional kennel staffing to keep the shelters open. (This was a good thing on its face but many experienced employees within the department assert that the need for over 20 additional Animal Care Technicians was unnecessary and ignored the more pressing need for additional animal control officers.)
Koretz’ trust in Barnette (promoted by former Mayoral Deputy Jim Bickhart) appeared to severely diminish in May 2013 when she advised him publicly that she did not need to inform the Personnel and Animal Welfare Committee—which he chairs and which was created ostensibly to assure that any of Barnette’s programs were not blocked in the political maze of city hall bureaucracy—nor did she need to get permission to arrange for night closure of the shelters.
In fact, that is exactly what had been going on behind Koretz’ and the City Council’s back. According to documents provided by Los Angeles Police Department under a public records request, Ms. Barnette had been in full negotiation with LAPD to provide 6 hours of security at six city animal shelters through North American Security, Inc, since January 11, 2013, and plans were already devised by LAAS internally prior to that time.
What Councilmember Koretz and other elected officials may not know also is that this same company has provided continuous private security services to the North East Valley shelter building, which Barnette arranged to be given to Best Friends Animal Society for $1 per year. According to an LAPD email dated March 11, 2013, “In 2011, Animal Services agreed to compensate GSD for security at NE Shelter…Up-to-date, as of the end of February , we spent approx. $250,000 on security for the Northeast Animal Shelter.”
According to verbal reports, such security services are still being provided at the NE shelter, although Best Friends has occupied the building since January 2012. When questioned by a member of the PAW committee on Tuesday, August 27, about physical operations at what has ostensibly become the Los Angeles marketing center for Best Friends, Barnette responded that she has not been to the facility since Best Friends took over. This revelation appeared to surprise Chairman Koretz, because the contract provisions provide that the Department of Animal Services will evaluate Best Friends’ performance and level of compliance with the contract by performing on-site inspections to determine any deficiencies. Barnette also did not indicate that any such inspections have been conducted by her staff.
Compounding the evidence of poor judgment, was Barnette ordering publicized raids on her own shelters by LAPD to remove firearms essential to perform the field dispatch of critically wounded and suffering wildlife. This costly investigation found absolutely no misuse of weapons or ammunition by officers. Next was the placement of six long-time Captains on administrative leave for almost a year for “pizzagate,” in which they were falsely accused of personally benefiting from contracts for shelter vending machines. This cost the city $500,000 in administrative leave payments.
WHAT HAS BARNETTE ACCOMPLISHED WITHIN LAAS?
It should concern every person who pays taxes in the city of Los Angeles that the second largest animal control department in the country does not have an emergency response plan—no backup plan for water/food supplies for shelters which impound over 60,000 animals per year in the event of a major earthquake. The training unit has been disbanded.
The animal-cruelty taskforce has always been dysfunctional but increasingly so under Barnette. Licensing (which guarantees current rabies vaccinations) has decreased according to the latest report; spay/neuters of owned animals under the city’s voucher system are lagging, and preparation for implementation of administrative citations to control off-leash dogs and other violations of local ordinances, as well as bring in badly needed income, is seemingly non-existent.
While Barnette touts the success of her partnership with Best Friends, which includes transporting/transferring thousands of animals out of the area and payments of $150 per animal by Best Friends to rescuers to increase adoptions, this is not a sustainable plan that addresses the real supply/demand problem of the local community. "
MAYOR AND COUNCIL CANNOT RISK THE HEALTH OF ANIMALS AND HUMANS
There is absolutely no indication that a new Director of Field Operations will provide any benefit to the Department of Animal Services. It is time for Mayor Eric Garcetti and the Los Angeles City Council to intercede in this ill-advised decision to shift the responsibility for the health and safety of impounded animals to a potentially unqualified candidate.
One more in a series of poor decisions by General Manager Barnette could endanger the lives not only of animals who enter city shelters but also pets throughout the city through the spread of epidemic diseases, some of which are zoonotic and can also affect humans. It is time to finally say “no” to Brenda Barnette, until a complete audit of the operations of Los Angeles Animal Services can be performed.
Harding Boulevard—a picturesque street leading to Scarsborough Bluffs Park, which overlooks Lake Ontario--just hasn’t been the same since the ‘neighbors from hell’ moved in, residents say.
These new neighbors are not burly bikers, not a heavy-metal band and not drug traffickers. They are feral cats. The feline group dwelling on Harding Blvd. is one of over 300 registered Trap/Neuter/Return (TNR) cat colonies in the city, some of which exist on residential streets.
“The devastation and damage they’ve caused is incredible,” says long-time Harding Blvd. resident Jane Flanders. “I have to clean out half a recycling bag full of feces from my front lawn all the time. … They’re killing all the songbirds in my backyard.”
About 13 feral cats that have been trapped and spayed or neutered were reportedly released to occupy the quaint boulevard near Kingston and Birchmount Roads. They use backyards as living rooms and front porches as urinals, residents report.
“This award-winning, stupid policy that the City of Toronto now has--they’re forcing it upon us against our will,” Flanders told Metro News. “It stinks to high heaven here.”
“Trap-neuter-return” (TNR), has increasingly become the city’s way of dealing with abandoned, stray cats that become “wild” within a generation and reproduce in the streets and under people’s houses. By sterilizing them, the cat overpopulation is supposed to decrease, but that’s not much consolation to homeowner’s whose property has become the involuntary depositories of often dozens of feral cats.
A benefit to the budget of city government is that TNR is done by individuals volunteering their time and money to trap the belligerent and often terrified animals and get them “fixed;” then drop them back in the same location where they were found (although some skeptics say the “R” in TNR and also stand for “relocate,” which means dropping them off on someone else’s street or property.)
In recent years, “Trap-neuter-return” (TNR) has become Toronto’s way of dealing with a problem that is a political nightmare because of the vocal factions on both sides. TNR was scheduled to became part of the Toronto animal bylaw on Thursday, reports Metro News
Whereas a 311 complaint used to get homeless tabbies “locked up in shelters,” says Animal Services vet Esther Attard, “now the policy is we’ll trap them, sterilize them and return them back to their location of origin” — even if that’s right beside your house.
That approach is experiencing a backlash. Wildlife conservationists say the outdoor colonies are destroying songbird populations; residents say they are destroying their lives.
But the policy also has its supporters, some of which have undoubtedly been the recipients of donations from the very residents who are now seeing their property values and quality of life plummet.
The Toronto Feral Cat TNR Coalition website states, “The Ontario SPCA’s now has a sustainable supply of free cat dry and canned food at the Newmarket location. This food will be available to any feral cat colony caretaker who has completed the Training Workshop.”
RESIDENTS WHO OPPOSE TNR CALLED “PROBLEM NEIGHBORHOODS”
At least 11 “problem neighborhoods,” where locals oppose the feline settlements, were identified by the Toronto Feral Cat TNR Coalition--a team of volunteer cat-rescue groups that carries out the city’s TNR strategy, according to Metro News.
At their worst, says the Coalition’s Roxanne St. Germain, some residents have “poisoned cats and gotten very aggressive with caretakers.”
In March, the TNR Coaltion sent representatives to Harding Blvd. to deal with its colony. Neighbors made it clear they wanted the cats gone. But, instead, volunteers TNR’ed the feral felines and found a resident willing to feed the non-reproducing returnees twice a day on her porch, states Metro News.
HARDING BLVD. RESIDENTS SAY THEY WERE NOT CONSULTED
Harding residents argue that the Coalition never consulted them before establishing a cat colony in their neighborhood and they want it moved. The Coalition says moving such colonies elsewhere isn’t good for the cats because they are territorial.
Coalition leaders say the city’s feral cats--estimated at more than 100,000-- can’t be adopted into households. Because they are too wild to be domesticated, many ferals are taken to shelters and euthanized —a trend the coalition hopes to curb using TNR to stop them from reproducing.
You don’t have to like cats,” says Denise Harkins, president of Action Volunteers for Animals, part of the Coalition. “But they are entitled to live just as much as human beings are.”
ARE CATS MORE ENTITLED TO LIVE THAN BIRDS?
Phil Drinnan, who lives a block from Harding Blvd., argues birds are entitled to live just as much as cats, and ferals have been mauling the Bluejays and Orioles that used to swoop into his backyard. “We had to take our bird feeder down,” he told the Metro News.
The Toronto Wildlife Centre gets inundated with calls about animals injured by outdoor cats, says education coordinator Erin Luther. “They are the biggest threat to songbirds other than habitat loss.”
SHOULD THE PUBLIC HAVE A SAY BEFORE TNR IS ENACTED?
Dr. Liana Zanette, a University of Western Ontario professor who studies wildlife populations, says it’s unfair that the public has no say in whether TNR should become part of the city’s bylaw. “Usually, if there’s an environmental problem, then there’s an environmental impact assessment and a public decision should be made about what to do,” she says.
Zanette argues TNR doesn’t work because people dump their unwanted cats into existing colonies. But municipalities often find it cheaper to rely on rescue groups to deal with the cat overpopulation crisis, she says.
IS TNR COMING TO LOS ANGELES NEXT?
Few residents of Los Angeles are aware or understood the significance of the Personnel and Animal Welfare Committee of the Los Angeles City Council approving $52,000 donated by such benefactors as Best Friends Animal Society and the ASPCA in October 2012 to be used for a CEQA to establish a TNR (“Cat Program”) in the city of Los Angeles.
Then, at the June 25, 2013, meeting of the Los Angeles Board of Animal Services Commissioners, Item 3D was an update on the “Cat Program” (CEQA). However, the extensive report prepared by Brenda Barnette, General Manager, is NOT available on line for review by the public. The report can be requested from the Department of Animal Services at (888) 452-7381 or through any Los Angeles City Council office.
Barnette's report (dated June 20, 2013) is titled, Discussion Item: Proposed "Cat Program" Purpose and Program Description." On Page 3, it states under DRAFT CAT PROGRAM PROJECT PURPOSE AND DESCRIPTION:
"In order to proceed with a CEQA study, the Department prepared a "project description"...the Cat Program is intended to authorize TNR and the Department's measured support for it without the Department embarking on a major TNR program of its own.”"
At the July 23, 2013, meeting of the LAAS Commission, General Manager Barnette announced that the CEQA Environmental Review Document will be released soon for public review but gave no indication that its purpose would be clearly explained to the public and its availability widely advertised.
(Note: Anyone interested in this issue should also review Urban Wildlands Group vs. City of Los Angeles, et al (Case No. BS 115483).filed on June 26, 2008. The court agreed with the plaintiffs that the City had been conducting a TNR program without an environmental clearance, and a modified court injunction was issued in March 2010 and is currently in effect.)
SHOULD THE EXPERIENCE OF TORONTO BE A WARNING FOR LOS ANGELES?
It is doubtful that residents of Los Angeles--nor Neighborhood Councils, businesses or homeowners associations--will be specifically alerted to the fact that an environmental impact study available for review is for the purpose of enacting a TNR program in the city of Los Angeles and could seriously affect their private property rights. Nor will property or business owners be made aware that their property could suddenly be invaded by feral cats which they cannot remove under a new law ordaining TNR programs.
The issues that are facing Toronto residents are alarming and create serious public health and safety concerns in addition to wildlife issues. Coyotes, already a problem in urban areas of Los Angeles, are often attracted to locations where feral cats are being fed.
Perhaps the TNR woes of Harding Boulevard should be taken seriously by Angelenos. It looks like Los Angeles could be next!