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Los Angeles to hand over animal shelter to nonprofit group

The Los Angeles City Council, in another move to privatize some longtime city functions, voted to turn over management of a Mission Hills animal shelter to Best Friends Animal Society.

August 17, 2011|By Kate Linthicum, Los Angeles Times
  • The Northeast Valley Animal Care Center in Mission Hills was built three years ago for more than $19 million but never fully staffed because of budget cuts.
The Northeast Valley Animal Care Center in Mission Hills was built three… (Ricardo DeAratanha / Los…)

In another move to privatize some longtime city functions, the Los Angeles City Council voted Tuesday to hand over management of a Mission Hills animal shelter to a nonprofit group.

Under the plan, Best Friends Animal Society will provide adoption and spay and neuter services at the Northeast Valley Animal Care Center, built three years ago for more than $19 million but never fully staffed because of budget cuts.

The deal with Best Friends costs the city nothing and will save the lives of thousands of animals that would otherwise be euthanized each year, according to Brenda Barnette, general manager of the Department of Animal Services.

But the plan has its critics, including some who said they wished the city had been more transparent in its selection of an operator.

Best Friends, a national animal rescue group that has been active in L.A. for more than 20 years, was the only nonprofit to apply for the contract. Several other animal groups have said they wished they had been approached by the city to make a bid to manage the shelter.

"We don't know what their proposals would have been," said City Councilman Richard Alarcon, the only council member to vote against the plan. "Something smells wrong."

Jake Miller, an animal care technician at the East Valley Animal Shelter in Van Nuys, said he thinks Best Friends is a good organization but shouldn't be running a taxpayer-funded facility.

"We disagree with them turning over a city-owned property to a private entity," he said. "Taxpayers have already invested so much into it."

Best Friends has said it will spend up to $1 million of its own money to improve the facility. It has committed to adopting out at least 3,000 animals each year and performing at least 6,000 spays and neuters. The contract is for three years, with an option to continue it for up to two years after that.

The shelter has been boarded up since Aug. 1. City budget officials say it would cost $3.3 million if the city ran the shelter.

Tuesday's vote came as city officials are also considering proposals to turn over management of several arts facilities, the Los Angeles Convention Center, and the L.A. Zoo and Botanical Gardens.

The city started exploring the possibility of such arrangements, known as public-private partnerships, in the midst of the recession two years ago, when Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa instructed analysts to reevaluate the city's core services.

kate.linthicum@latimes.com

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