It won’t be as lavish as the $2.3-million pet “Taj Mahal” up the freeway in Mission Viejo, but San Clemente’s new 5,000-square-foot animal shelter soon will become the county’s latest regional facility.
The City Council is expected to award a $500,000 contract tonight to a San Diego-based construction company to build the shelter in the barren hills of San Clemente’s backcountry next to Richard Steed Memorial Park.
The groundbreaking, expected to come early next month, will mark the end of a two-year struggle to replace San Clemente’s old washed-out shelter and the beginning of a partnership with neighboring Dana Point.
The lure of a nearby shelter and a pro-life policy that only rarely allows euthanasia of animals has convinced Dana Point city officials to forgo their annual $75,000 contract with the county and sign on--at a considerably higher cost--with San Clemente.
Such partnerships, particularly in light of the county bankruptcy, are the wave of the future, said Scott Diehl, a San Clemente councilman and local veterinarian.
“For our residents, it is undoubtedly better to be in a partnership like this and not have to drive all the way up to Orange,” Diehl said. “But this is not just about animal control. Virtually every city in Orange County is looking at how they deliver their services . . . and if we can share our resources.”
For volunteers such as Christine Muzyka, a member of the 12-year-old Friends of San Clemente Animals (FOSCA), the new shelter is only about animals. And for members of FOSCA, who have pledged $200,000 toward the construction of the shelter, the groundbreaking cannot come too soon.
Stray and abandoned animals of San Clemente have been housed temporarily for the past two years in a hot, cramped warehouse that was never designed to be a home to animals, the volunteers said.
“I can’t tell you how wonderful this is,” said Muzyka, a former director of FOSCA. “We have been waiting so long. The animals are off the street in the warehouse but it will be a relief to have them in our new facility.”
Members of the Animal Rescue Foundation (ARF), FOSCA’s volunteer counterpart in Dana Point, share the enthusiasm for the project. Members of ARF have made a pledge to contribute Dana Point’s share of the construction costs--$70,000.
“We have wanted to be part of San Clemente’s facility for a long time basically because of their humane philosophy,” said Bill Bergh, a past president and co-founder of ARF.
The seed of the partnership actually came with the rains of the fall of 1993 that washed out San Clemente’s old shelter on Avenida Pico. The $250,000 granted to the city in federal disaster money from those storms will pay for half of the construction, said Kumi Johnson, the San Clemente city staff member who has overseen the project.
After months of planning and tinkering with the design, the city eventually settled on a shelter plan that was less lavish than Mission Viejo’s facility, which includes heated concrete floors, stainless steel panels and built-in showers for dogs, Johnson said.
San Clemente’s shelter will have a core building, 50 kennels, 120 cat cages and drought-resistant landscaping, Johnson said.
“Our design is very basic and very functional, which we have tried to do from the beginning,” Johnson said.
Operating the shelter will cost another $400,000 a year with the costs shared by Dana Point, San Clemente and FOSCA, which has pledged to donate $100,000 a year in operating costs. Dana Point officials have estimated spending at $197,000 next year, more than $100,000 over what they are paying currently. Future costs should be offset by expected revenue from such things as animal licenses.
Despite the added costs, the Dana Point council majority voted July 11 to enter the partnership with San Clemente, citing the convenience of a local shelter and its humane policy. Councilwoman Toni Gallagher was one of two dissenters.
“If the dollars were even, I’d say let’s go with San Clemente. But the numbers are so out of whack,” Gallagher said in July. “I don’t think this is the best deal Dana Point can get.”
Judy Maitlen, the director of animal control for the county, said her shelter in Orange operates on a $6-million annual budget and is largely unaffected by the loss of Dana Point, she said.
“This is strictly a local control issue and you can’t argue with that,” Maitlen said. “If the citizens don’t mind paying more, we wish them well.”