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Costa Mesa is working to resolve animal shelter situation in a humane way

I first wrote about Costa Mesa moving toward getting its own animal shelter on Oct. 25. I thought it was a good idea, but raised concerns about the Planning Commission vote approving the Orange County Humane Society’s request to develop a shelter at 642 Baker St. and to continue partnering with the city.

Costa Mesa’s contract with OCHS in Huntington Beach is up in January. The facility has received criticism the past couple of years over the conditions there. Newport Beach, for example, canceled its contract with the shelter in 2015 and started its own.

On Nov. 2, I reported that Costa Mesa Mayor Sandy Genis and Councilman John Stephens planned on appealing the Planning Commission approval. At Tuesday’s council meeting, with a vote of 4-1 (Councilman Jim Righeimer dissented), the council quashed the Baker Street plan.

When I talked to Stephens on Wednesday, he applauded Councilman Allan Mansoor for pressing the parking issue for Baker Street because it became clear that of 10 spaces proposed, just two or three would be for the public.

“Mansoor framed it in a way that discovered this issue, which never came up in a public hearing or in staff reports,” Stephens said.

Further explanation revealed that animals taken there would be held for five to seven days and then returned to the OCHS facility in Huntington Beach.

And in order for owners to claim an animal at the proposed Baker Street facility, they'd have to identify the pet online, then make an appointment to be escorted at the facility by a Costa Mesa Police Department animal-control officer. Thus, the limited parking was OK because the facility wouldn’t be open to the public without appointment.

Since November, however, Stephens has kept his promise to “dive deep,” exploring options for Costa Mesa’s unwanted animals and gaining a better understanding of the situation. He’s visited almost every shelter in the county and last week made an unannounced visit to Dr. Samir Botros, who owns the Huntington Beach shelter that contracts with Costa Mesa.

Stephens shared his “informal, paraphrased notes” from his meeting with Botros in a supplemental packet circulated at Tuesday’s council meeting.

I called Botros’ office but was told to leave a message. I was told he couldn’t get back to me to discuss Stephens’ findings until after Sunday — past my deadline

Nevertheless, Stephens concluded after his “deep dive” that Costa Mesa has “the lowest-quality service for animal care and shelters in the county.”

That needs to change, and the next step is exploring transitional solutions until a permanent one is clear.

The deadline to apply for Costa Mesa’s new Animal Services Committee is Dec. 13. Residents can fill out an application on the city’s website or at City Hall.

Appointments are scheduled for the Jan. 16 City Council meeting. Stephens said he hopes the committee will be instrumental in advising the council with a path toward a solution.

One option could be partnering with Newport in a capital campaign to build a Newport-Mesa facility.

Newport City Manager Dave Kiff confirmed that he spoke with Costa Mesa City Manager Tom Hatch this week and is open to exploring the idea.

Kiff said Newport’s shelter has a certain “spirit” and has received great community support.

If the cities can come up with a facility plan that continues that home-grown spirit and safety for the animals, he’d be open to discussions.

BARBARA VENEZIA lives in Newport Beach. She can be reached at bvontv1@gmail.com.

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