Cities may rejoin plan to build new animal shelter

SAN LUIS OBISPO — Last month the City Councils of both Atascadero and Paso Robles voted to walk away from an agreement with the County of San Luis Obispo to pay for a portion of a new, $14 million animal shelter in San Luis Obispo that would provide animal services countywide, but now a modified version of that agreement could be back on the table.

After both councils voted to leave the agreement, an ad hoc committee was formed to see if the issue could be resolved and the two cities brought back on board. The ad hoc committee, made up of District 5 Supervisor Debbie Arnold, County Animals Services Director Eric Anderson, Atascadero Mayor Tom O’Malley, Atascadero Mayor Pro-Tem Roberta Fonzi, Paso Robles Mayor Steve Martin and Paso Robles Mayor Pro-Tem Steve Gregory, had a productive meeting by all accounts.

“It was a great meeting,” Arnold said during a report to the County Board of Supervisors Tuesday. “The focus was on changing the (animal services business) model from where service included picking up lost and stray animals and that kind of thing to a more proactive and educational business model that the county could implement along with each city.”

Arnold said that cost reduction was the main concern of representatives from both North County cities and suggested that cutting the need for services down through outreach and education could be the answer.

“It’s the service costs that were the issue, not the capital,” Arnold said. “We need a strong, proactive educational campaign. This is something that we really haven’t targeted before, going out into the communities and educating people on what this service does, how they can help and how that license fee helps us to provide the animal services countywide.”

Arnold also suggested that a reduction in the need for services could be achieved by shifting the method used for dealing with the massive problem of feral cats around Atascadero Creek. Instead of trapping the animals and keeping them at the animal shelter, they would be trapped, spayed or neutered, and released back into the area where they were found.

Between the education campaign, the spay and neuter campaign, embracing community volunteers and pursuing new grant funding and donations, Arnold said that she believes that costs can be greatly reduced.

“This would go a long way toward reducing the need, reducing the feral populations and helping people keep track of their animals and reduce the problem where we’re spending money at the animal shelter trying to care for these lost and stray animals. We’ve got them (the cities) back at the table and we’re hoping that we can come up with a formula that everyone will be happy with and the county can continue to provide the services countywide.

The two cities and the county agreed to take a period of 30 days to discuss the situation before either moved forward with any plans, but that agreement was set to expire Dec. 7. Arnold asked her fellow supervisors for an extension of that agreement until she can bring back a modified animal services agreement sometime in early March.

“I think that by giving them a couple of months and putting this thing on hold until we get this figured out it will be beneficial for all of the cities,” Arnold said. “I’m confident that we’ll be able to come up with a formula that works for everybody.” 

At a recent Atascadero City Council meeting, O’Malley said that North County representatives “did get a more positive feedback” from the county.

“Coming out of that we did show that there are alternatives, viable alternatives for the North County, we made that clear,” O’Malley said. “We also learned that many county staff had the same recommendations that we had come up with, looking at some private sector options and it simply just didn’t percolate up to the board through staffing. I think we were really heard and the board will be looking at alternatives.”

O’Malley said that the City of Atascadero delivered a list of concerns about the project and “believes they’re taking them very seriously.”

“There’s potential for everyone to have a better program at a lower cost, so that’s our goal and we’ll hear back.”

You may reach Editor Luke Phillips at [email protected] for questions and/or feedback.

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