Animal Shelter Committee At A Standstill After Mulvihill’s Exit

Dismayed that the county is not interested in partnering with the city to operate a large scale animal shelter, San Bernardino City Councilman Jim Mulvihill has resigned from the ad hoc animal shelter committee that Mayor John Valdivia created in May and to which he appointed Mulvihill to head.
There has been heightened discontent among those in San Bernardino concerned with animal welfare since changes were made in the way in which the city’s animal control division is run. A crisis at the city’s aging animal shelter, located at E Street and Chandler Place, has been brewing for years. San Bernardino, which declared bankruptcy in 2012, has reduced services in keeping with its diminishing revenues, even as the need for animal control had intensified in the 62-square mile, 220,000-population county seat. Several years ago, animal control duties were transferred to the police department, which ran the shelter and oversaw the city’s dogcatchers and personnel assigned to license animals and encourage neutering and spaying.
Within the police department, however, the constant drain on the attention of five sworn officers who were assigned off-and-on to the animal control division was considered a squandering of the department’s resources. The police department began pushing the city toward the option of contracting with Riverside County for animal services.
A wide cross section of the city’s advocates for the animals, who have never been fully pleased with the police department’s management of the animal services division, were nevertheless unsettled by the prospect of the city essentially surrendering city autonomy over animal control to Riverside County. The fear was that Riverside County’s employees at its animal shelter would be less caring of animals originating in San Bernardino, and would be quicker to, in the euphemism used to soften the consideration of brutal reality, put them to sleep.
The city council, wrestling with financial challenges which kept it from prioritizing the humane handling of the city’s lost, dispossessed, missing, runaway or feral animals in a manner consistent with the animal activists’ expectations, still the same pledged to keep the city’s animal shelter open for a year while options such as contracting with Riverside County were contemplated, negotiated and perhaps settled upon.
An unexpected exacerbation of the situation in September 2018 occurred when for a yet-undisclosed reason, the shelter’s manager, Oscar Perez, was placed on administrative leave. He was replaced by Police Lieutenant Frank Macomber.
Macomber, true to the machismo-rich nature of a Hemingwayesque character after which he had been, either deliberately or inadvertently, named, showed decidedly less compassion for the animals which were made his charges than had Perez, who had evinced a genuine passion for preserving the animals brought to the shelter and arranging for their adoption into caring households.
Indeed, animal activists keeping a tally reported that almost immediately after Macomber’s watch had begun, there was a substantial increase in the number of animals that made their way to the San Bernardino dog pound being euthanized. Moreover, according to the activists, Macomber lacked the requisite regard for the welfare of the animals that survived, as he regularly spurned the efforts of volunteers, animal groomers and others offering critical services to assist at the shelter. In a curious move, he ordered the removal of blankets from the beds in the kennels, those familiar with the shelter reported.
Beginning late last year, while former Mayor Carey Davis was yet in office, and continuing this year, advocates for the animals called upon the city council to dedicate money toward a permanent fix of the situation. The council, however, did not react with alacrity to those requests. Overwhelmed with demands on multiple fronts and with less than adequate funding to address any of them, the council was not in a position to offer anything approaching what the animal advocates considered to be a satisfactory resolution of the matter. Indeed, a majority of the council, along with senior city staff, felt the city’s best option was to close out the city’s delapidated animal shelter and go with the contract with Riverside County. This was anathema to the animal activists, who at one point sought to stave that eventuality off by providing assurances they would, indeed offering a committing that they were able to, raise with their own grassroots effort sufficient funds to replace the city’s shelter at E Street and Chandler Place. Despite that assurance, the group, which was functioning largely under the umbrella of the San Bernardino Animal Care Foundation, was unable to raise anywhere near enough money to undertake a shelter modernization project, as the lowest estimates on the cost of a new a facility is $14 million, with a more realistic price tag being $18 million.
While the members of the city council did not want to anger the advocates for the animals, as they represented a galvanized constituency that could certainly complicate the reelection efforts of any one of them, the reality of the city’s financial position did not provide them with the ability to meet the group’s expectations. In an effort to simply be done with the issue as well as reduce the $2.6 million the city is spending on the totality of animal control services annually, a 5-to-1 majority of the city council ratified the city entering into a $2.1 million contract with Riverside County, which under contract already provides shelter services for Colton, Fontana, Grand Terrace and Rialto, to have it take on responsibility for the animal control function, animal shelter and animal licensing within the San Bernardino City Limits for one year.
San Bernardino’s animal activists at once went to work on lobbying the Riverside County Board of Supervisors against entering into the arrangement. Ultimately, on May 21, Riverside County Supervisors Kevin Jeffries, Jeff Hewitt and Chuck Washington voted against entering into a $2.1 million contract with San Bernardino to take over the city’s animal field, shelter and licensing services for one year.
Mayor John Valdivia, who had hopes that the contract with Riverside County would alleviate a continuing financial burden on the city and put to rest an issue of controversy that was roiling the city during the initial phase of his mayoralty, was unable to mask his frustration.
“The Riverside County shelter is the only facility in the region that has the capacity to shelter our animals,” he said. “The County of Riverside recently rejected a proposal to transfer our animal control servies to their animal services department. The proposal represented a cost savings to our city and a short term solution for the crisis at our animal shelter. The San Bernardino animal shelter is in terrible shape. The building is over fifty years old and it’s crumbling. It would take several millions of dollars to bring the shelter into compliance with current standards for animal shelters. This is money our city does not have at this time. The cost to build a new shelter is estimated at approximately $18 million. This is also money we do not have. City staff will continue operating the current shelter with our limited resources available, but we need to take bold action and find a permanent solution for our city and our animals. I am very proud to announce that I have been speaking directly with neighboring mayors in the County of San Bernardino who have expressed an interest in forming a joint powers authority to construct a new regional animal shelter for our area. This is a long term project, and will take several years to complete. It won’t happen overnight, but I have made efforts and great progress toward that endeavor. It is important that we get this process started today and we start now.”
Valdivia added that “We are paring down and streamlining our organizations. We are creating those efficiencies that it is tough to tell the public about.”
Casting about for what he termed “an acceptable solution for our shelter within our financial means,” Valdivia picked up on reports that San Bernardino County was contemplating closing out its own aging animal shelter in Devore and constructing from the ground up a state-of-the-art facility in an area closer to the East and Central valleys. A gameplan that materialized on the fly was to provide the county with the land for such a facility in San Bernardino and then join in a joint powers authority for operation of that center.
Valdivia on May 29 created what was dubbed the city council ad hoc animal shelter committee, which was intended to find for the city the means to resolve the city’s animal control crisis. He appointed Councilman Jim Mulvihill chairman and designated Councilwoman Sandra Ibarra and newly elected and sworn-in Councilman Juan Figueroa as its members.
Abruptly this afternoon, just two months and four days after the committee was formed, Mulvihill tendered his resignation from the committee.
In an email to City Manager Teri Ledoux, Mulvihill wrote, “I’m formally resigning from the council’s ad hoc animal shelter committee. When I consented to join the committee, I was assured that the county was interested in a JPA, and there were other local jurisdictions interested as well. In fact, those assurances couldn’t have been more wrong. The county is committed to building an animal shelter in Bloomington – with Highland, Yucaipa, and Fontana likely joining them. All other nearby jurisdictions either have their own shelters or long term contracts with those cities already possessing shelters. From my view, there’s no reason to pursue a JPA [joint powers authority] on the animal shelter issue now or for the foreseeable future.”
In a subsequent email, Mulvihill stated it was Bill Esayli, who was formerly Valdivia’s chief of staff, who had indicated that the county would be willing to work out a joint powers arrangement for animal control services involving San Bernardino.
According to Mulvihill, “I’ve spoken to, or heard from, virtually all cities within the East Valley. I said there was no need to meet because I couldn’t find any potential JPA partners. No partners, no JPA.”
Mulvihill did not explain why it was in his view not possible to work with the county and the cities of Highland, Yucaipa and Fontana as well as the community of Bloomington in forming a joint powers authority.
After his resignation, Mulvihill said that Ibarra and Figueroa could continue their efforts to resolve the issues relating to the animal shelter and the provision of animal control in the city.
Ibarra, who earlier this year in response to the outpouring of public sentiment in favor of keeping local control over the city’s animal control services surfaced as the sole voice on the council questioning whether the city should enter into the contract with Riverside County, indicated she was willing to continue the effort to find a cost efficient solution that would meet with the animal activists’ expectation that animals collected from the streets of San Bernardino are dealt with humanely and not simply thrown into a euthanasia mill.
“I am willing to step up to the plate and come up with alternate solutions if a joint powers authority is out of the question,” Ibarra told Mulvihill.
In a public statement, Ibarra said, “In my view, it is unfortunate that Councilman Mulvihill as the chairman of the committee never called for a meeting in the two-plus months since we were appointed. I sent emails requesting we meet, provided ideas, and asked questions. Ad hoc committees can’t meet until the chairperson calls a meeting. Now we have to wait for the mayor to name a new chairperson and add another council member to the committee. Hopefully, he makes the announcement at the next council meeting so we can get to work as a team. He gave us a deadline of the first week of September, less than a month from now.”
-Mark Gutglueck

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