If Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa gets his way, the next time you are dining at some romantic bistro with an outdoor patio in Los Angeles or having dental work in a local office, the background may no longer be filled with soft, soothing music and pleasant aromas, but rather with the sounds of barking dogs and the pungent odors that pervade a next-door dog kennel.
Obviously, the self-professed “business-friendly” Mayor of a city on the brink of bankruptcy, begging voters to approve increased taxes next month, doesn’t grasp that maintaining a healthy business/investment environment means adherence to ordinances that protect public health and safety and the ability for businesses to rely on citywide laws and standards for all. This includes assuring that surrounding enterprises are compatible.
MAYOR’S PLAN IS NOT TRADITIONAL “OFFSITE PET ADOPTIONS”
This new proposal by the Mayor should not be confused with the very successful and desirable offsite dog/cat adoptions that are provided by non-profit organizations which take animals from the shelters and offer them for adoption in large pet-supply stores or other locations around the city. These are done lawfully and are a humane effort to have the animals seen outside the shelter environment. However, the animals are taken back to the rescue organization’s facilities at night—not left in a kennel at a store.
SHOULD CITY LAWS BE CIRCUMVENTED?
We are talking about dog kennels, where dogs are caged and kept overnight in business locations. City law requires that dog kennels (housing more than 3 adult animals 24-hours a day) are maintained at least 500 feet from local residences and are in certain zones which will protect local businesses and their customers from noise, odor, disease, sewage and sanitation issues. They must also allow sufficient space and appropriate air flow to keep the animals healthy and avoid the spread of transmissible and zoonotic diseases—diseases that can affect humans.
Anyone who wishes to deviate from these and other restrictions under public health and safety laws must apply for a Conditional Use Permit through the City’s Planning Department.
In the case of housing adult animals—in contrast to puppies sold by traditional pet stores—large-breed or adult animals require lots of exercise and space in order to remain physically and mentally healthy. This means walking them outside the store location and (in the case of shopping malls) interacting with customers of other businesses or local residents.
The Mayor’s plan claims that it will be only for shelter animals, although the wording does not make that restriction. But if that were true, shelter animals are often not well because of the environment in which they have been living, nor is their sociability level assessed by Los Angeles Animal Services before they are released to “rescue” organizations. Thus, the risk is increased.
WHAT’S THE MAYOR’S PROPOSAL?
Jim Bickhart, deputy for Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa is personally lobbying for a change in wording in the Los Angeles Municipal Code that would bypass the Planning Department and create a new type of “pet store” which could maintain an unlimited number of adult dogs 24-hours a day in any commercial location, regardless of its distance from residences or other businesses.
This effort was initiated directly by the Mayor’s office in Council File 11-0754-S1 and is referred to as a “minor” amendment. http://cityclerk.lacity.org/lacityclerkconnect/index.cfm?fa=ccfi.viewrecord&cfnumber=11-0754-S1
Ironically, this “minor” amendment, as referred to in the Council Report, was tacked onto the recent magnanimous and widely publicized ban of puppy-mill animals, but this aspect did not make the headlines.
NEW “PET STORES” IN L. A. COULD BE FOR-PROFIT “DOG KENNELS”
As worded, the Mayor’s report sounds like a very noble endeavor to save the lives of shelter animals; however, it would place dog kennels in the midst of other businesses by merely changing to the definitions of “Kennel” and “Pet Shop,” to eliminate the normal process of approval by the Planning Department.
Also, the proposed change in wording of the definition in LAMC Sec. 53.00 does not restrict this activity only to shelter animals or nonprofits, but would also open this opportunity to breeders, pet brokers or others who wish to offer any animal for sale. The puppy-mill ban has a sunset clause of three years. There is no definitive enforcement mechanism in the ordinance, and L.A. Animal Services is a complaint-driven, chronically understaffed department.
Here’s how it would work. The definition of a “Kennel” would have the words, “with the exception of a pet shop” added. “Pet Shop” would add that it is “irrespective of the age of the animals, provided it is not used for commercial boarding or breeding at any time.”
So if someone wishes to sell puppies or any adult dogs, they would be able to do so under this new wording, as long as they are not breeding on the premises or renting kennel space to individual dog owners.
IS IT OK TO DISCRIMINATE IF IT INVOLVES ANIMALS?
The Mayor’s new “pet store” for adult animals is ostensibly designed to favor a certain group of people-- nonprofit organizations involved in “rescue of animals” by removing the need for them to obtain a Conditional Use Permit. Even though they are called “nonprofit,” 50l(c)3 organizations benefit by exclusion from sales tax, tax-free income from adoptions and tax-free donations.
This discriminates against everyone else because the thorough and careful CUP process is required of ALL other business entities, including nonprofits or individuals who wish to deviate from existing residential/commercial building and safety codes.
The first “pet store” that was included in the Mayor’s discussion would be in a ritzy Brentwood location and a major non-profit organization is receiving the personal attention of the Mayor’s office in this endeavor.
Councilman Bill Rosendahl’s office (whose district includes the location) wrote in an e-mail on September 28, 2012, that it appears there is no legal way to circumvent the established Conditional Use Permit process in order to set up their described “pet store.”
Even effusively animal-friendly Paul Koretz’ deputy expressed reservations, “Our office will inquire if this has to be sent to the Planning Commission or it is has to be reviewed by the land use section in the City Attorney’s office.”
Yet, after both Council offices had expressed their concerns, Jim Bickhart of the Mayor’s Office wrote on October 3:
“I think it’s a stretch (and a self-fulfilling disaster) to consider what I proposed a land-use amendment…Years of experience tells me that if they’d just go ahead with the kind of solution we’re proposing, there’s a 99% likelihood it would go through Council unnoticed and that would be the end of that. It’ll only be an issue if they turn it into one.” (Emphasis added.)
DOES THE COUNCIL “NOTICE” WHAT THE MAYOR WANTS APPROVED?
On March 5, Angelenos will go to the polls to vote for a new Mayor. Yesterday all five Mayoral candidates spoke before a small group of animal activists at a forum sponsored by the League of Humane Voters. Without exception, the group of political hopefuls agreed that they would place the welfare of animals very high in consideration if elected.
Three of the candidates are either current or past Councilmembers--Eric Garcetti, Jan Perry and Wendy Greuel—all intelligent and experienced public officials.
Yet, Mayor Villaraigosa holds them in such little esteem that his deputy implies that the Council pays little attention to the content of matters on which they vote and that important items go through “unnoticed.” In this case, he apparently believes they would hesitate to examine anything that “sounds good” in regard to animals.
Let’s hope that the next Mayor of Los Angeles does not propose “unnoticed” programs that could be detrimental to residents and business owners of the city by just making them “sound good” for animals.
And, let’s hope that this proposal does not pass “unnoticed” by the Council and is directed to the Planning Department for scrutiny—for the welfare of everyone, animal and human, in Los Angeles!