Mountain View approves switch in animal services providers, ends partnership with Palo Alto

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By Jason Green
Palo Alto Daily News/San Jose Mercury News
May 9, 2012
Read original article at www.mercurynews.com

Mountain View officially pulled the plug Tuesday on its long-running partnership with Palo Alto for animal services, approving a new agreement with a Santa Clara-based joint powers authority.

The city council voted 6-1 to contract with the Silicon Valley Animal Control Authority, or SVACA.

Council members said the decision was motivated by a desire to expand services, cut costs and have a greater say in financial decisions. As a member of the joint powers authority, Mountain View will get to vote, for example, on changes to fees, something it couldn’t do under its agreement with Palo Alto.

“I think we’re getting a good service. I think we’re getting some … political input to at least have some control over those costs and to at least have some say about things,” said Council Member Tom Means.

Mountain View expects to pay upward of $300,000 to join SVACA. The expenditure will cover the purchase of a vehicle to serve the city and an expansion of the joint powers authority’s shelter. Overall, the city expects the agreement to slash annual operating costs by about 10 percent, or $40,000.

SVACA is set to take over animal services in early November, according to the contract approved Tuesday.

Council Member Laura Macias cast the dissenting vote largely because of concerns about the $150 fee SVACA charges for animal surrenders. She said it would likely lead more residents who are down on their luck to abandon their pets.

“People are going through trying times in their lives and that’s not when they have an extra $150 lying around,” Macias said.

By way of comparison, the Humane Society of Silicon Valley charges a $160 fee and the Peninsula Humane Society charges $20. Palo Alto charges nothing to residents from its partner cities and San Jose does not accept surrenders.

SVACA Executive Director Dan Soszynski explained that the fee was set at $150 to reduce the number of animals being surrendered.

Macias’ concerns were echoed by nine public speakers who also urged the city council to stick with Palo Alto because of its popular low-cost spay and neuter clinic and close proximity to Mountain View.

“I know it’s expensive, but sometimes it’s worth spending the money,” said Mountain View resident Gloria Jackson.

Council members acknowledged that the decision wasn’t an easy one, but said residents ultimately stood to benefit from the switch.
“We didn’t take this lightly. I hear what you’re all saying. Try to be open about it,” said Council Member Jac Siegel. “Palo Alto has a wonderful facility … but I found the same thing at SVACA.”

The new agreement is also expected to take pressure off the city attorney’s office and police department, both of which are currently required to handle certain animal-related issues. SVACA will pick up those duties.

Mountain View’s decision to switch contractors is expected to create a $470,000 hole in the $1.7 million annual budget of the Palo Alto Animal Services division. As a result, Palo Alto City Manager James Keene has recommended outsourcing animal services, possibly to SVACA.
Means said he wasn’t worried about any ramifications to Palo Alto.

“I’m not concerned about them. I’m concerned about our city. This is the one we represent,” he said. “I think we’re making a good decision tonight. I think we’re getting good services.”

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