By ERIC HE | city news service
Seeking to address the issues of underfunding and staffing shortages affecting animal shelters in Los Angeles, Councilman Paul Koretz today released a report on the state of Los Angeles Animal Services and filed a series requests for funding and adjustments to the department.
The department has been the victim of a “chronic budget problem” and needs “significantly more staff and a drastic increase in funding,” according to Koretz, chairman of the personnel, audits and animal welfare committee. advice.
The committee held two meetings over the summer to lament alleged animal neglect and understaffing at city facilities, and accused the department of firing several volunteers for speaking out about various issues at shelters. in a Los Angeles Times article in July that laid out the issues extensively. . Department officials blamed insufficient staffing levels for the problems, including dogs living in crowded conditions while sometimes going weeks or months without being walked. Many meeting callers criticized Koretz for not doing more in his capacity as committee chair.
Koretz defended his role at a press conference at City Hall on Friday, calling it a “false narrative” that he could “make all the decisions to solve every perceived problem.” He claimed he had limited oversight over the department.
“I kept hearing and reading that I’m responsible for every complaint anyone has with Animal Services,” Koretz said. “Some of these allegations are driven by genuine concern about real issues. Others, I suspect, are politically motivated.
Koretz – who is appointed to the council this year but is running for city comptroller – has been criticized by his opponent, Kenneth Mejia, for his handling of the scandal. Koretz has served as chair of the board’s personnel, audit and animal welfare committee since 2011 and lists a range of animal welfare-related accomplishments on his website.
“It took Paul Koretz 11 years to do something about our animal shelters,” Mejia tweeted Thursday. “Because of its lack of oversight, it has enabled a culture of whistleblower retaliation, financial mismanagement and zero accountability. Animals are suffering and cannot wait for successful reporting.
Koretz claimed that by holding two public hearings in response to the complaints, he was taking an “unusual” step as chairman of a board committee.
“You won’t find many such precedents for such an aggressive response in city council history,” Koretz said.
According to the 46-page report, the department has $27 million in funding for the current fiscal year, with 300 of 343 budgeted positions filled. A “desirable” amount of funding would be almost double that amount, but the report argues animal services is not a “sexy” department to fund and notes that a ballot measure may be needed to secure adequate resources.
Koretz claimed Mayor Eric Garcetti, who proposes the budget and appoints the department’s chief executive, has not been “hands-on” with overseeing animal services.
“The mayor should commit to providing animal services with the necessary funds so that they can do the work they are supposed to do,” the report said.
Harrison Wollman, a spokesman for Garcetti, had no immediate response to Koretz’s comments. In August, Wollman said the mayor “recognizes that the current conditions at the shelters are unacceptable and has directed his office to increase staffing as quickly as possible.”
Garcetti reappointed Annette Ramirez as acting general manager of Los Angeles Animal Services in August. She was confirmed by the council, although council members expressed a desire to install a permanent head of the department.
Koretz filed a petition asking for $3 million in emergency animal services funding for the current fiscal year, and also pledged $100,000 from his office to hire staff to improve the program. dog walking.
Koretz said the city only has enough money from the General Fund to operate four shelters, instead of the six it currently runs, plus a seventh operated under contract with a nonprofit group.
Koretz admitted that until last week he had not visited a city shelter since the pandemic began. He claimed that he did not need to physically go to the shelters to solve the problems there, because few of them had changed.
The report mainly blamed staff shortages for not regularly walking dogs and cleaning kennels more frequently. Staffing issues also contributed to around 300 unprocessed volunteer applications, according to the report. He called on the city council to relax a mandatory 10-day quarantine for animal shelter staff exposed to COVID-19, recommending the period be reduced to five days and testing negative.
The report generally agreed 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 the friction between staff and volunteers, but claims it “long before any recent controversy.
Other motions filed by Koretz asked:
— reactivate the animal cruelty working group;
— a review of the training and qualifications of personnel to serve as animal care technicians;
— creation of a centralized program to manage volunteer requests;
— promote the city’s sterilization law;
— ensure that the Orange List, a list of animals requiring serious care that the department cannot provide, is given to organizations that could provide such care;
— a plan to ensure that all dogs are exercised regularly;
— a plan to ensure the “best possible treatment” of cats, rabbits and other small animals;
— integrating interns from the city’s targeted local hiring program into the shelter; and
— a plan for the use of the department’s joint management-union committee.
Koretz admitted the controversy would “probably” damage his reputation as an animal advocate.
“It’s ironic because there are people who think I’m anti-animal, when in fact, throughout my 34-year career, I’ve always been criticized for caring more about people. animals than people,” Koretz said.
The council member believed he had taken a political risk in trying to reform animal services after the recent controversy. But he said he could “only make suggestions”.
“If the department doesn’t follow them, we’re limited,” Koretz said.