Hillside’s Slow Collapse Chasing Away Animal Shelter : San Clemente: The city will relocate strays while shoring up the slope eroded by storms, then look for a larger location. A sewage treatment facility nearby is not threatened.


The hillside below the city animal shelter is slowly collapsing and will force the evacuation of 55 dogs and cats later this month.

Fire Department officials, who oversee shelter operations, hope to temporarily house the animals in a nearby business park and move them within two weeks.

Portions of the Avenida Pico hilltop where the shelter is located dropped as much as 3 1/2 feet after last winter’s storms and are still crumbling, Interim Fire Chief Gene F. Begnell said.

A neighboring $45-million sewage treatment plant is not threatened by the slope’s slippage, City Engineer Handan Sirit said, although a storage building on the site is threatened.


The city hopes to begin reconstructing the hill by month’s end, at an estimated cost of $500,000. Slopes near the treatment plant also will be reinforced.

“We have a large investment to protect” in the sewage plant, Sirit said.

The city plans to demolish the existing animal shelter during the three-month excavation work needed to shore up the hill. Begnell and the City Council want to move the shelter to another permanent location.

“It’s a matter of space,” Begnell said. “The shelter is now on about a quarter-acre and it really needs about an acre or an acre and a half to be run properly.”


Shelter workers are mulling how to transport the animals to their temporary home.

“We’ll probably have Animal Control move some of them,” said shelter manager Roberta Gorny, “and the (shelter volunteers) might be putting a few in their cars. It depends on where we move them.”

The shelter’s kennels were closed after the January storms, and volunteers have worked overtime to find new homes for the animals. Only 55 dogs and cats remain, down from 72 animals residing at the shelter at the same time last year.

San Clemente does not euthanize strays; animals are kept until adopted.


Replacing the shelter will cost at least $187,000. The city has applied for federal and state disaster funds to help pay for the project.

The thunderstorms pounded San Clemente for several weeks in December and January, causing million of dollars in damage to homes and city drainage systems.

A large runoff channel running behind the treatment plant was hardest hit, with runoff water gouging huge chunks of dirt from its banks. The tons of rubble deposited in the channel plugged a drain farther downstream, causing a flood that wiped out a restaurant on El Camino Real.

About 20 storm drain repair projects will get underway next month, as the city races to complete work before the next rainy season. “We have a lot to do before the next rains come,” Sirit said.