The Los Angeles City Council approved a series of items Friday seeking adjustments to the Los Angeles Animal Services department, which has been criticized for alleged animal neglect and insufficient staffing at city shelters.
Following a Los Angeles Times article in July that widely exposed the problems, Councilman Paul Koretz, chair of the Personnel, Audits, and Animal Welfare Committee, introduced several motions and held special committee meetings.
The items included reactivating the Animal Cruelty Task Force, creating a plan to ensure all dogs are regularly exercised in shelters and a review of the training and qualifications for staff to serve as Animal Care Technicians.
A motion to request transferring $3 million in emergency funding to Animal Services for the current fiscal year and seek a report back on how much it would cost to run the department and its seven city-owned shelters was referred to the council’s Budget and Finance Committee.
Koretz, too, faces criticism that he took too long to address underfunding and staffing shortages that have affected animal shelters in Los Angeles. During an Oct. 24 committee meeting, several callers claimed that Koretz was only taking action now because he is running for city controller against Kenneth Mejia, who has been critical of Koretz’s handling of the situation.
“After 10+ years of failing to address the animal shelter crisis, Koretz is using his last few weeks as committee chair to ham-handedly try to alleviate the crisis,” Mejia said on Twitter.
Koretz cut off at least four public speakers who criticized him during an the committee meeting, claiming they were off-topic.
Koretz defended his role during a news briefing at City Hall earlier this month, calling it a “false narrative” that he could “make all the decisions to fix every perceived problem.” He claimed that he has limited oversight over the department.
“I kept hearing and reading that I’m responsible for every complaint anybody has with Animal Services,” Koretz said. ”Some of those allegations are motivated by genuine concern about genuine problems. Others, I suspect, are politically motivated.”
Koretz, who is termed out on the council this year, released a 46-page report last month on the department. In it, he wrote that the department has been the victim of a “chronic budget issue” and is in need of “much more personnel and a drastic increase of its funding.”
“Not surprisingly, some people have been critical because they feel I’m not proposing big enough changes, or moving as fast as they’d like,” Koretz said at Friday’s meeting. “And that’s their right, but it’s our obligation to be realistic and work within the constraints we face every day.”
According to the report, the department has $27 million in funding for the current fiscal year, with 300 out of 343 budgeted positions filled. A “desirable” amount of funding would be nearly double that amount, but the report claims Animal Services is not a “sexy” department to fund and notes that a ballot measure may be needed to achieve adequate resources.
Koretz said the city has only enough General Fund money to operate four shelters, instead of the six it currently runs, along with a seventh operated under contract with a nonprofit group.
Koretz admitted that, prior to a month ago, he hadn’t made a visit to a city shelter since before the pandemic began. He claimed he didn’t need to physically visit the shelters to address the problems in them because not too many of them have changed.
The report mostly blamed staffing shortages for failures to walk dogs on a regular basis and clean kennels more frequently. Staffing issues have also contributed to approximately 300 unprocessed volunteer applications, according to the report. It called for the city council to relax a mandated 10-day quarantine for animal shelter staff exposed to COVID-19, recommending the period be cut to five days and a negative test.
Several callers bemoaned what they described as a lengthy process of applying to be a volunteer, and strict requirements that they believed were unnecessary.
“This has been somewhat disastrous,” Koretz said during the committee meeting. “There are a lot of unhappy volunteers out there.”
The report generally concurred with the department’s “no kill” policy of achieving a 90% live-release rate, though it notes that shelters should not cut corners and be transparent in statistics.
Koretz’s report documents friction between staff and volunteers, but claims it “long predates any recent controversy.”
Other items approved by the council called for:
— creating a centralized program to handle volunteer applications;
— promoting the city’s spay/neuter law;
— ensuring the Orange List, a list of animals in need of serious care that the department can’t provide, is given to organizations who could provide such care;
— a plan to ensure the “best possible” treatment of cats, rabbits and other small animals;
— incorporating trainees in the city’s Targeted Local Hiring program into the shelter; and
— a plan to utilize the department’s joint Labor-Management Committee.