City Council to bite back:
surprising twist in the case
of the disappearing coupons (Updated)from Examiner.com (USA)
Caught up in the budget crunch, the lives of L.A.'s animals hang in the balance Photo: Vanda Krefft
Update to Friday's report that L.A. Animal Services, in a surprise move, last week suddenly ended its much-ballyhooed spay/neuter discount coupon program, a critical adjunct to L.A.'s mandatory spay/neuter law; and demanded private rescues and shelters return all undistributed coupons immediately.
Since the City Council passed L.A.'s mandatory spay/neuter legislation last year with the assurance that the availability of discount and free spay/neuter coupons would make complying with the new law feasible for low income city residents, I called the offices of Councilmembers Weiss and Alarcon, as well as Council President Eric Garcetti seeking comment on this new policy that seemed to leave recession-battered Angelenos in the lurch.
While Weiss' and Alarcon's office did not return calls, Friday afternoon I did hear from Mitch O'Farrell, District Director of Constituent Services for Councilmember Garcetti. What he had to say was a surprise. He informed me that, contrary to initial reports, the City Council was not consulted or informed in advance about Animal Services' plans to discontinue the spay/neuter coupon program, and he characterized the news as "upsetting," and "not okay at all."
In a follow-up email, O'Farrell said, "the City Council did not rescind the spay/neuter coupons. That was an internal decision within the [Animal Services] department based on general mid year budget reductions all departments were ordered to take."
L.A. City Council President Eric Garcetti. The City Council was caught unawares by LAAS policy reversal
O'Farrell informs me the City Council is planning to take strong action to reverse this decision. "A motion will be introduced next week directing LAAS to reinstate free and discount spay/neuter vouchers. This program is something...Councilmember [Garcetti] and his colleagues strongly believe in. In fact, [Councilmember] Garcetti moved this program forward when he was on the Budget and Finance Committee a few years back."
It's another embarrassing blow for embattled Animal Services General Manager Ed Boks. Boks has stumbled publicly before, most notably in an August 21, 2007 press conference with Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa on the steps of City Hall, when Villaraigosa and he announced that L.A. Animal Services was the number one pet adoption agency in the nation, a claim that was almost immediately debunked, particularly in light of the fact that one of the agencies that outperformed LAAS in adoptions was L.A. County Animal Care and Control.
Boks also came under fire for planning a "Hooters for Nooters" event, ultimately canceled, which would have featured scantily clad female Hooters employees promoting pet sterilization.
Some of LAAS General Manager Ed Boks' missteps have been comical, like his ill-conceived "Hooters for Nooters" promotion, but ultimately mismanagement allows L.A.'s most vulnerable animals to fall through the cracks
Boks has also tangled with the City Council before, including his failed attempt to set up a "Pit Bull Training Academy" which would have employed ex-cons to train and make adoptable some of the city's many homeless Pit Bulls. While the plan might have helped save may dogs' lives, in addition to giving many ex-cons a meaningful new vocation, Boks failed to clear the plan with the City Council, and withstood blistering criticism from several Councilmembers. Plans for the Pit Bull Academy have since been shelved indefinitely.
In light of this latest controversy, I asked O'Farrell if the City Council was planning to confer with the Mayor, who appointed Boks, about this and other issues, including the September 2008 vote of no confidence in Boks, signed by over half of L.A, Animal Services employees.
O'Farrell declined comment on both Boks' performance and the vote of no confidence, saying the Council's immediate priority was to "get the spay/neuter vouchers reinstated, let the spay/neuter committee finish their work and get their report out; and consider their suggestions for policy proposals..."
Update: I also asked O'Farrell about my proposal that each City Councilmember donate ten percent of their annual $100,000 discretionary fund (which can be used for any cause the Councilmember chooses, except religious proselytizing or election costs) to help subsidize the spay/neuter coupon program. He didn't rule out some donation of money, but maintained that these finds are generally used for causes within each Councilmember's district.
This begs several questions. First, isn't animal welfare necessarily a citywide concern? An animal may be born in the 13th District (Garcetti's district) but may wander over to, say, the 12th. And his or her progeny could be scattered all over Los Angeles.
Second, do the City Councilmembers think about all L.A.'s issues in such fractional (or factional) terms? One would think that if ever there could be a uniting issue, it would be animal welfare, which has no borders. You can't solve the animal welfare problems of one district without regard for adjacent neighborhoods.
And third, even if the average Councilmember thinks only in terms of his or her own district, shouldn't we be able to expect a more comprehensive agenda from the Council President?
If we're going to solve the problem of too many animals -- and too many animals being killed in shelters -- it seems like we're going to need a citywide strategy and commitment from City Hall.