Effort to turn animal services over to nonprofit moves ahead

BY ALLISON LEVITSKY
Daily Post Staff Writer

Palo Alto’s Animal Services Department and Redwood City-based nonprofit Pets In Need aren’t married yet, but after City Council voted to sign a letter of intent to form a public-private partnership last night, let’s say they’re engaged.

Since the city of Mountain View ended its contract with the department in 2012, the city has been searching for ways to recover costs. This year, the city honed in on Pets in Need, intending to build a new, seismically sound facility with the organization’s help.

How that facility will be financed is another question. Last night, the council authorized up to $60,000 for a study to identify public and private revenue sources, including a possible tax measure.

The funds will come out of the $250,000 the city set aside for work on this transition, $50,000 of which was spent exploring the idea of building a new animal shelter.

But an agreement between the city and Pets in Need won’t be hammered out until January at the earliest, according to City Manager Jim Keene. By July, Pets in Need would begin operating the existing shelter at 3281 E. Bayshore Road.

“This moves us down the road. This doesn’t get us the final kind of answers that we need,” Keene said.

Cutting costs

Vice Mayor Liz Kniss pointed out that the city subsidizes between $700,000 and $800,000 of the current shelter’s $1.2 million budget. Pets in Need would cost the city $200,000 less, according to Keene.

Councilman Cory Wolbach, who cast the one dissenting vote (Mayor Greg Scharff was absent), unsuccessfully proposed an amendment that would ensure animal intake levels didn’t drop under the new agreement and that spay and neuter services would be made available for free or minimal cost. The motion to approve the letter of intent passed 7 to 1.

Wolbach also worried that the intended educational aspects of the shelter would be too costly if the city funds them. Considering the expense of the planned Junior Museum and Zoo rebuild, Wolbach said, “We don’t need another community center, unless we saw it as being a revenue source.”

Plus, with other looming funding priorities like Caltrain rail-grade separations, transportation improvements and a possible business tax, Wolbach said voters would snub an animal shelter tax on the ballot, and Councilman Tom DuBois agreed.

Fundraising campaign

“I think we should look for other ways to help fund this,” DuBois said, suggesting that the city contribute to the capital campaign through a matching challenge.

Two or three council members will be appointed to serve on an ad hoc committee overseeing fundraising on the new shelter, which Councilwoman Lydia Kou worried would bog down the already difficult process of raising millions of dollars for the new shelter.

But, the council hopes, the city’s animal lovers will be raring to donate when the time comes.

“I know this community is enormously enthused and absolutely will come to the floor when we put this together,” Kniss said.