ANIMAL WATCH-Los Angeles Animal Services General Manager Brenda Barnette is using bully tactics and her usual doublespeak to rush approval by City officials to reallocate/give away space at the West Valley Animal Shelter,
20655 Plummer St., Chatsworth, a public, open-entry shelter which provides services and refuge to all animals in need from the Hollywood Hills and Santa Monica Mountains to Ventura County and the Angeles Forest and "reconstitute" it as a "Community Services Center."
This would leave the entire San Fernando Valley, which is 40% or 260 square miles of the City of Los Angeles and home to over 1.77 million residents and their pets -- with only ONE ANIMAL SHELTER, the smaller East Valley Animal Shelter in Van Nuys.
Although Barnette says she'll consider assigning a couple of Animal Control Officers to this shelter, if they can't impound there, they would need to drive the animals to the East Valley shelter.
This Proposal by Barnette is discriminatory, in that it unfairly removes or substantially reduces an essential service paid for by taxes equally in the West and East Valley, and the added burden will negatively impact both areas.
This reduction in service will affect both the East and West Valley and will also add to the burden of other LA Animal Services shelters which will be forced to absorb the overflow of animals from two of the heaviest intake areas in the LAAS system.
It will also extend to an influx of wandering, lost, stray and abandoned animals into surrounding Los Angeles County shelters. Where else can voiceless injured and unwanted animals go for help?
SHAME ON LOS ANGELES ANIMAL SERVICES GM BRENDA BARNETTE
Shame on LA Animal Services General Manager Brenda Barnette, who used Mayor Eric Garcetti's COVID-19 restrictions to curtail many important aspects of the essential services animals and their owners need at both the West Valley and the North Central (downtown LA/Hollywood areas) and establishing 12-hour schedules for Animal Control Officers that hampered their efficiency and ability to coordinate responses throughout the entire City and especially in the West Valley area.
Pick up of strays was discouraged and finders of pets say there were told to keep them or leave them in the street. And placing shelter animal in "fosters" merely delayed the opportunity for many of them to be permanently adopted.
Now, facing the reality that people are going back to work and many "fosters" will return the hundreds of animals Barnette claims were taken from the shelters free of charge and often unaltered. Rather than facing up to this reality, her answer is to cut the space available by splitting the West Valley shelter among non-profit rescue organizations which "pull" pets from other City shelters.
She says she also will open office spaces for dog training and rental/eviction assistance, which is a nice idea if you have plenty of space and an unlimited budget, but is not the responsibility of Los Angeles Animal Services and should be left to the many organizations that already provide these services. (Is rental advocate-Commission President Larry Gross involved?)
The West Valley shelter serves a huge expanse of urban and rural area, with many calls about livestock and wildlife. It is the only shelter with air-conditioned indoor dog runs and a barn, stable and pasture (turnout) area where livestock from cruelty and abuse cases can be safely held and provide the security needed for the chain of evidence until court hearings. So, why would Barnette give away her newest and best-equipped shelter, unless it is to prove the lack of necessity for LAAS and her job? But that won't stop the need.
CONTACT INFORMATION FOR VALLEY COUNCILMEMBERS
If you are already familiar with this issue and just want to voice your objection (before Best Friends and other large organizations send out "Action Alerts" to thousands of members, many of whom don't live in LA), here is the list of e-mail addresses for Valley Council members. All will be involved in voting on this issue.
Valley Neighborhood Council Budget Advocate Glenn Bailey should be cc'd on your comments and is also listed, as well as Deputy Lorena Espinal in Councilman John Lee's 12th District Office, which represents the Chatsworth and surrounding neighborhoods immediately affected by Barnette's Proposal and Valley Neighborhood Council Budget Advocate Glenn Bailey:
SEND AN E-MAIL WITH THE SUBJECT "STOP BRENDA BARNETTE'S GIVEAWAY OF THE WEST VALLEY SHELTER" TO ONE OR ALL OF THE BELOW (all serve areas of the Valley):
If you live in Council District 12 Chatsworth area), or just want to be sure your voice is heard, please cc: [email protected]
AND, also cc: any e-mail to Neighborhood Council Budget Advocate G[email protected]
Barnette, a former dog breeder and AKC legislative Liaison in Seattle, WA, who stated when confirmed that she did not intend for LAAS to do law-enforcement, has a glib answer for everything, relying on the "No Kill" propaganda machines of such organizations as Best Friends Animal Society and Austin Pets Alive -- but that does not remove an animal from harm or stop its pain when officers are delayed trying to drive across the wide expanses of the Valley to cover both the East and West Valley areas -- especially in Los Angeles traffic.
HIDDEN FROM THE PUBLIC
Equally unacceptable is that the public would not have known about this subversive plan to violate the will of the majority of the people in the city -- including the San Fernando Valley -- who voted "yes" in 2000 to provide Prop. F funding for renovation of existing animal shelters and construction of new animal shelters.
The badly needed Northeast Valley "Mission" shelter was turned over to Best Friends Animal Society soon after Barnette became General Manager in 2010.
Since then, without public input and scrutiny, two additional South Los Angeles facilities have been turned over to non-profit organizations (the South LA "Jefferson" shelter and the nearby annex on 111th Street), with the support of Best Friends, according to Barnette's comments to the Commission.
"RECONSTITUTING" THE WEST VALLEY SHELTER IGNORES THE WILL OF THE PEOPLE
A very on-target article by Los Angeles attorney Marla Tauscher, states that in the LAAS proposal (Reconstitution Plan), "Barnette boldly states that the goal is 'to support and assist with the City’s large goal of ending institutional racism and injustice.' However, there is absolutely nothing in her plan that even begins to address racism or injustice. In fact, Barnette’s plan will likely do just the opposite."
This proposal by Barnette will decrease shelter space by turning over all or most of the 120 cat cages and 146 kennels at the West Valley (the only shelter with air-conditioned dog kennels needed badly in summer Valley heat) to non-profit groups. She mentioned cat groups, a rabbit group, and the possibility of a Pit Bull rescue at a recent meeting.
So, how much space will be left to meet the needs of the community?
It will cause ALL impounded animals in the Valley to be crowded into the East Valley's 57 cat cages and 146 dog kennels, where recently, a volunteer called for public help to donate ice to lower the water temperature of the dogs' drinking water, and Barnette admitted at the last Commission meeting, she had just discovered (after ten years as GM) that the water was "warmer than she realized."
This issue was brought to the public's attention by a volunteer, and at the last meeting the Commission approved ice-making machines to address this very important and inhumane condition.
BARNETTE MAPS OUT THE PROCESS
PROPOSAL ADDITION TO ANIMAL SERVICES RECONSTITUTION PLAN: Recommendation to make West Valley Animal Services Center a Community Resource Center providing services and assistance for Pets and People for Pet Retention
(Note: No mention of providing public animal sheltering for lost, abandoned and unwanted animals nor retaining found animals for their owners redemption, nor is their discussion of services by Animal Control Officers for public safety and enforcement of laws regarding humane treatment of animals, wildlife welfare and enforcement of State rabies control laws through licensing and immediate response to calls regarding animals exhibiting dangerous or erratic behavior.)
NEXT STEPS IF APPROVED TO MOVE FORWARD:
-- Receive approval to establish WV as a Community Resource Center through the CAO's Debt Management Office.
IF THIS IS APPROVED BY THE CAO, IT IS A DONE DEAL, because this would not be happening without the approval of Councilman Paul Koretz (who was key in Barnette's hiring, whose wife works in Mayor Garcetti's office.) Koretz also is the Chair of the Council's Personnel and Animal Welfare Committee and dictates polity for the City's animals. (Don't forget, he may also be running for City Controller soon.)
IF THE WEST VALLETY SHELTER IS REDESIGNATED BY THE CAO AS A COMMUNTY RESOURCE CENTER, IT WILL NEVER BE ANIMAL SHELTER AGAIN!
There is no way the East Valley shelter with 26 cat cages and 192 dog kennels can meet the needs of the entire Valley population.
LAAS EMPLOYEES AND OTHERS REFUTE BARNETTE'S CLAIMS OF HARDSHIP
History shows that LAAS shelters have never closed during serious civil or financial crisis.
Three Animal Control Officers -- one with a 30-year tenure of service -- testified at a recent Commission meeting, "LAAS has never closed down" nor has it ever refused to pick up strays or deny any services to animals and the public. It has found ways to spread any necessary adjustments/decrease in service equally across the City during economic downturns and even in the 2008 financial crisis, the Department served the animals and provided animal and public safety.
PROBLEMS AND LIABILITIES THAT CAN'T BE IGNORED
Barnette claims that the City will be free of liability because all "rescues" will carry insurance. Since she plans to have highly paid senior staff member overseeing all activities, that means the City is in charge of the operation and legally liable for such incidents as slips and falls, dog attacks on other animals or humans AND the public (which increased 59% this past year across all City shelters).
There is also a very high risk of the spread of disease, since Barnette alludes to possibly having "some" space for animals picked up by officers and possibly brought to this shelter. She did not indicate whether local animals would remain at West Valley or be transported to East Valley -- a drive of approximately 45 minutes during normal LA traffic.
This proposal will be costly to the City, which will provide the utilities, which include lighting, heating, cooling, and water for a shelter filled with animals that are privately owned by the organizations.
Barnette may also run into some serious discrimination claims, since she proposes to create a selection committee to make the choice of which non-profits will receive the benefit of free kennel/cage space. Barnette said at New Hope meeting that she feels responsible for helping non-profit businesses grow. That may be fine as an avocation, but where is that in her $314,000/annual salary job description.
BARNETTE'S BUDGET WHINING DOESN'T INCLUDE THE MAYOR'S TOTAL FUNDING
Barnette is blaming this slight-of-hand approach to end animal shelters in the City on her serious budget cuts and possible loss of staffing to an early-out retirement offer by the Mayor. She has gone to great lengths to explain that Barnette's elaborate charts show that her budget is cut $3,946,927 and totals only $23,209,142. hat she doesn't share is that, if you go to Page 50 of the City budget, Animal Services receives $42,922,054 for its total program. This includes basic expenditures such as utilities, construction.
Also, the ten (10) Animal Control Officer Positions she says are "deleted" were actually unfilled positions anyway and do not affect staffing, according to someone familiar with this issue.
LAAS currently has 55 full-time animal control officers but Barnette said total decrease in staffing could reach 41 employees due to the Mayor offering early-out retirements. I submitted a CPRA asking for a redacted list of those ACO's who had indicated an interest in taking advantage of the Mayor's early-out retirement offer.
The response from LAAS was that the department does not have such a list and I would have to contact the City Administrative Office. Does it make sense that Barnett is crying to the entire world about the potential loss of employees, but has NO evidence that this will happen?
Reliable sources say it seems that only three Animal Control Officers are retiring; plus, a hearing officer and Director (who originally were officers, will have no impact on the current field staffing.)
Additionally, the Department has recently hired seven new officers (which will not be affected by the hiring freeze). Thus, three will fill the new vacancies and there will be four additional officers on board as soon as their training is completed, and the Department's field operations will be better staffed than for many years when the other four join their ranks.
Based on a tip that Barnette had spent almost $250,000 for renovations at the West Valley shelter while it was closed, I placed a CPRA with General Services Department. The 18-page response did not quite make my submission deadline, but will be shared in comments when received, whether it confirms or negates that amount.
MONEY PROBLEMS DON'T SEEM TO BE CURTAILING STAFFING IN LAAS ADMINISTRATION
Brenda Barnette boasts frequently that LA Animal Services will soon be stepping up its "branding" and fundraising due to entering into a $1.5 million contract for public relations. She also recently announced her intention to hire a second Assistant General Manager -- a position that should oversee citywide field services, but she intends to revise the description to allow another administrative AGM.
This department has only 345 employees and 37 supervisors, according to a participant in one of the LAAS Zoom meeting, during which the public was allowed ONE MINUTE EACH to state opinions. The commenter pointed out that this is a high ratio. Barnette quickly quipped that these were not all in the shelters and some had clerical oversight -- as if that made a difference in the number.
She now claims the shelters are empty, which should decrease the drain on her very generous budget, and there appears to be no doomsday dangers of the Department being understaffed. There is no reason not to open the West Valley Shelter to serve the community and pets of the Valley, avoid overburdening the East Valley shelter, and providing the services to animals and humans for which Valley residents -- and the entire City -- pay.
City residents should say "NO" to Barnette's Proposal.
(Phyllis M. Daugherty is a former City of LA employee and a contributor to CityWatch.) Edited for CityWatch by Linda Abrams.