Costa Mesa City Council members raised serious questions Tuesday night about the future of the city's relationship with the Orange County Humane Society, voting not only to scuttle plans for a new local shelter the organization sought to open but also to delay a proposed extension of the group's animal-services contract.
In both cases, the vote was 4-1 with Councilman Jim Righeimer opposed.
Between now and when the contract returns to the council next month, city staff will investigate whether there are any alternatives for meeting Costa Mesa's animal-shelter needs in the near term.
"Sadly, I do believe that of the 34 cities in Orange County we have the worst animal care, and that really bothers me," Councilman John Stephens said. "I feel like the only reason we would continue this contract is because we feel we're boxed in and we have no alternatives. ... But I don't think we're in that situation."
Stephens added that he doesn't think the Humane Society "has provided the type of animal care that the citizens of Costa Mesa should expect and that our animals should have."
Samir Botros, who owns the Humane Society shelter in Huntington Beach and had sought to open the new facility in Costa Mesa, declined to answer questions about the council's actions as he left City Hall.
Some residents have regularly objected to the city's relationship with the Humane Society, which has provided animal-shelter services to Costa Mesa since 2009. Under the existing agreement, the city's stray animals are taken to the organization's shelter, which also serves Garden Grove.
Critics have leveled several accusations against both the shelter — saying it's unsanitary and unsafe for animals — and the Humane Society, which they believe lacks transparency and too often euthanizes animals in its care.
In 2015, the city of Newport Beach terminated its agreement with the Humane Society after its animal-control officers alleged they had found unsanitary and inhumane conditions at the Huntington Beach shelter.
Another issue, Costa Mesa residents and council members said, is that OC Animal Care denied the Humane Society's license for the Huntington Beach facility earlier this year. That decision is pending an appeal that could be heard Thursday, according to city officials.
Righeimer said he supported temporarily extending the Humane Society contract to allow more time to explore other options. The costs of those alternatives, he added, also need to be carefully vetted.
Regarding the proposed new shelter in Costa Mesa, some council members cited concerns with parking, since the shelter would have 10 spaces to accommodate employees, volunteers, city staff and visitors.
Others said they were worried that the sound of barking dogs would negatively effect surrounding businesses, or that the animals could be frightened by loud noises from nearby auto shops or traffic on Baker.
"The parking is completely insufficient, in my humble opinion," said Mayor Pro Tem Allan Mansoor.
Councilwoman Katrina Foley characterized the proposal as trying to fit "a circle in a square."
"I know we want to get a shelter and we need a shelter, but I just don't think this is the right fit," she said.
Righeimer, though, said he thought having a local shelter would better empower the city to keep an eye on things and address any issues.
"I don't think there are all sorts of options of where to put these kennels when land costs a couple million dollars an acre around here," he said.
Council members also seemed taken aback at the way the proposed shelter would operate. According to city staff, pictures and descriptions of animals would be posted online, and residents would have to make an appointment to collect their pets with an animal-control officer present.
According to the proposal, dogs and cats would be housed at the facility for seven days and then transferred to Huntington Beach to be made available for public viewing and adoption.
"I had not known that the whole idea here was to have the animals posted on the website and that's the only way you get to look for your animal and then they get shipped off to Huntington Beach," Mayor Sandy Genis said. "I find that wholly unacceptable."