LA Councilman Koretz Sends Forward Potential Changes to Animal Services

LOS ANGELES (CNS) – City Councilman Paul Koretz approved a series of his own motions requesting funding and adjustments to the Los Angeles Animal Services department through a committee Monday.

Koretz, the chair of the Personnel, Audits, and Animal Welfare Committee, faces criticism that he took too long to address underfunding and staffing shortages affecting animal shelters in Los Angeles. He was the only member present at Monday’s special meeting, so each of the 10 items were sent to the council as a recommendation from the chair.

One of the motions seeks $3 million in emergency funding to Animal Services for the current fiscal year, and Koretz also pledged to contribute $100,000 from his office to hire staff to improve the dog-walking program.

The committee held two meetings over the summer bemoaning alleged animal neglect and insufficient staffing at the city facilities, and accused the department of dismissing multiple volunteers for blowing the whistle about various issues at the shelters in a Los Angeles Times article in July that widely exposed the problems.

Department officials blamed insufficient staff levels for problems including dogs living in overcrowded conditions while sometimes going weeks or months without being walked. Several callers on Monday claimed that Koretz was only taking action now because he is running for city controller against Kenneth Mejia, who has been critical of Koretz’s handling of the situation.

“After 10+ years of failing to address the animal shelter crisis, Koretz is using his last few weeks as committee chair to ham-handedly try to alleviate the crisis,” Mejia said Sunday on Twitter.

Koretz cut off at least four public speakers who criticized him during the meeting, claiming they were off-topic.

Koretz defended his role during a news briefing at City Hall earlier this month, calling it a “false narrative” that he could “make all the decisions to fix every perceived problem.” He claimed that he has limited oversight over the department.

“I kept hearing and reading that I’m responsible for every complaint anybody has with Animal Services,” Koretz said. Some of those allegations are motivated by genuine concern about genuine problems. Others, I suspect, are politically motivated.

Koretz, who is termed out on the council this year, released a 46-page report earlier this month on the department. In it, he wrote that the department has been the victim of a “chronic budget issue” and is in need of “much more personnel and a drastic increase of its funding.”

During Monday’s meeting, department officials reiterated that they needed more staffing to address the many issues.

According to the report, the department has $27 million in funding for the current fiscal year, with 300 out of 343 budgeted positions filled. A “desirable” amount of funding would be nearly double that amount, but the report claims Animal Services is not a “sexy” department to fund and notes that a ballot measure may be needed to achieve adequate resources. Koretz said the city only has enough General Fund money to operate four shelters, instead of the six it currently runs, along with a seventh operated under contract with a nonprofit group.

Koretz admitted that prior to a few weeks ago, he hadn’t made a visit to a city shelter since before the pandemic began. He claimed he didn’t need to physically visit the shelters to address the problems in them because not too many of them have changed.

The report mostly blamed staffing shortages for failures to walk dogs on a regular basis and clean kennels more frequently. Staffing issues have also contributed to approximately 300 unprocessed volunteer applications, according to the report. It called for the city council to relax a mandated 10-day quarantine for animal shelter staff exposed to COVID-19, recommending the period be cut to five days and a negative test.

Several callers bemoaned what they described as a lengthy process of applying to be a volunteer, and strict requirements that they believed were unnecessary.

“This has been somewhat disastrous,” Koretz said on Monday. “There are a lot of unhappy volunteers out there.”

The report generally concurred 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 friction between staff and volunteers, but claims it “long predates any recent controversy.”

Other motions approved by Koretz on Monday called for:

— reactivating the Animal Cruelty Task Force;

— a review of the training and qualifications for staff to serve as Animal Care Technicians;

— creating a centralized program to handle volunteer applications;

— promoting the city’s spay/neuter law;

— ensuring the Orange List, a list of animals in need of serious care that the department can’t provide, is given to organizations who could provide such care;

— a plan to ensure all dogs are regularly exercised;

— a plan to ensure the “best possible” treatment of cats, rabbits and other small animals;

— incorporating trainees in the city’s Targeted Local Hiring program into the shelter; and

— a plan to utilize the department’s joint Labor-Management Committee.

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