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[whitespace] Cities are given one-year reprieve with new law for animal shelters

Sacramento--Gov. Gray Davis let South Bay cities off the hook last week, signing into law on July 12 a bill that delays a law that would have required animal shelters to hold animals for longer periods of time before they can be euthanized.

The Santa Clara Valley Humane Society, which provides animal control to most cities in the county on a contract basis, said that it can't comply with the new law, and announced in December that it would be getting out of the sheltering business altogether.

This thrust the responsibility of sheltering strays into the collective lap of nine cities in the county that have their strays taken to the Humane Society's shelter in Santa Clara.

Now, with another year to work out a solution, San Jose has taken the lead on the project and given the smaller cities--which can't afford to build their own shelters--a chance to piggyback on its own effort, which was the break the cities were looking for.

San Jose Deputy City Manager Kay Winer says the plan will probably involve the creation of a joint-powers administration. A draft of that JPA has already been written by Milpitas' city attorney, and will require the approval of each city attorney for the municipalities involved.

To get the ball rolling, Winer says, San Jose has already hired a consultant for the project and will start advertising this week for an architect to design the new shelter.

The consultant estimates that a shelter serving San Jose and the other eight cities would cost $13 million to $17 million, but the city could shave $2 million or $3 million if it uses land it already owns. The facility would probably require a 41,500-square-foot building on a 2.9-acre parcel.

The shelter won't necessarily be located in San Jose. According to Winer, who has been managing the project for the city, the shelter needs to be centrally located, easy to get to and preferably close to public transit lines.

Whatever does get built will also have get-acquainted rooms for animals to meet their prospective new owners and community rooms that can be used by neighbors as meeting places after the shelter closes for the day.

"New animal shelters are nothing like what dog pounds used to be like," Winer said, adding that the facility will be soundproofed and well-ventilated so it doesn't smell bad. "It's a real community asset."

But while San Jose is scrambling to put up its own shelter, five West Valley cities are quietly negotiating with the Humane Society to keep things they way they are until mid-2001.

Bill Woska, Cupertino's director of animal control services, says they want to be protected in case the new shelter isn't ready by the July 1, 2000 deadline.

"Cupertino and the other West Valley cities--Saratoga, Campbell, Los Gatos and Monte Sereno--are going to be negotiating with the Humane Society," he said. "We've already had discussions to extend our project contract from June 30, 2000, to June 30, 2001. The legislation was extended to July 1, 2000, and our concern is we're not going to have a shelter ready in a year. It's going to take us longer than that."

Humane Society spokesperson Leslie Baikie confirms that the two sides are negotiating for an extension, but says there's no formal agreement yet. "We're trying to do whatever we can to make this a smooth transition," Baikie said.

The original bill that changed sheltering laws, which was sponsored by state Sen. Tom Hayden (D-Los Angeles), passed in October. It mandated that shelters hold stray and surrendered animals for longer periods of time, which the Humane Society said would actually cause it to increase the amount of animals it euthanizes because it would have to make room for incoming animals by killing others.

Under Hayden's "no-kill bill," all strays will be held for five days, and feral cats and owner-surrendered animals will be held for four. No official guidelines existed before the bill.

Assemblywoman Elaine Alquist (D-Santa Clara) introduced the one-year extension bill last year.

Now, the Humane Society says it will focus only on adoption, spay/neuter education and community outreach programs, and will stop taking strays.

When the new San Jose shelter is built, Baike says, it will work with the Humane Society on getting animals placed in new homes.

"When one comes in to us, we'd give it a health and behavioral evaluation, and if it passes, we'd take it in," Baikie said, "but if it doesn't, we'd send it to the other shelter, where it would also have another chance at adoption. It's going to be a good thing."

During the last fiscal year, the Santa Clara facility took in about 35,000 animals, and about 60 percent of those had to be euthanized.

Until 1993, Santa Clara County provided animal-control services to the cities, but that program was put to sleep because of budget shortfalls. The Humane Society took over for the cities, while the county kept providing animal control to unincorporated areas. Palo Alto, Mountain View, Los Altos and Los Altos Hills are served by the city of Palo Alto's shelter.

The Santa Clara Valley Humane Society serves Campbell, Cupertino, Los Gatos, Milpitas, Monte Sereno, San Jose, Santa Clara, Saratoga and Sunnyvale.
Jeff Kearns

Staff writer Michelle Ku contributed to this report.

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