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Simi Council Votes to Go With L.A. County for Animal Control

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Concerned about the cost of impounding strays, trapping wild critters and removing road kill, city leaders here are severing their ties with the Ventura County Animal Regulation Department.

Following in the footsteps of Thousand Oaks, the City Council decided Monday to notify county animal regulators that Simi Valley plans to end its relationship Sept. 7. The following day, the less expensive Los Angeles County Animal Care and Control Department is scheduled to take over licensing, rabies control and animal shelter services.

But there is a caveat: The deal could be off if Simi Valley doesn’t secure a temporary or permanent shelter within city boundaries.

“I think it’s absolutely imperative that this city get its own shelter,” Councilwoman Sandi Webb said during the council’s debate. “A city this size needs its own shelter.”

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Keeping a Simi Valley shelter open would likely chew into anticipated savings, City Manager Mike Sedell warned.

Turning to Los Angeles County is expected to lower Simi Valley’s costs for animal control services from $265,000 to $182,000 in the upcoming fiscal year, according to a report prepared by Diane Jones, director of Simi Valley’s Department of Community Services. But factoring in the cost of operating a shelter is likely to reduce those savings.

Simi Valley is home to a facility now, but it is owned and operated by Ventura County on city-owned land and is open reduced hours. Typically, local strays are held at the facility, originally built as a full-fledged shelter at 670 W. Los Angeles Ave., for 24 hours before being transported to the main shelter in Camarillo.

It could be possible to share the existing shelter in Simi Valley three ways among the city and Los Angeles and Ventura counties, Sedell said.

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“The details need to be worked out,” he said, but added that officials from both counties have told him that the concept has merit.

With or without the city’s participation, the Simi Valley shelter should remain open to handle the animal control needs for Moorpark and unincorporated areas, Ventura County Animal Control Officer Kathy Jenks said Tuesday.

Jenks is working on a proposal under which Simi Valley or Los Angeles County could pay a per-animal, per-day fee for Simi Valley animals to stay at the local site for a day or two. After that, animals would be shuttled to a Los Angeles County shelter in Agoura Hills.

While the decision could spell big savings for Simi Valley, it could jack up costs for other cities remaining with Ventura County animal regulation. Those fee hikes wouldn’t take place until the 1998-99 fiscal year.

“We’re taking a wait-and-see approach,” Camarillo Assistant City Manager Larry Davis said. “Simi Valley leaving could affect our rates and increase costs significantly.”

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Moorpark is following a similar tack. Officials there decided this month to stay put for now. What happens next year, though, is hard to predict, said Don Reynolds, the city’s administrative services manager.

Thousand Oaks turned to Los Angeles County for animal control services five years ago and hasn’t looked back.

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As in Thousand Oaks, pet licensing in Simi Valley would be affected by the changes, and fees will drop for some animals. While Ventura County issues all animal licenses with random renewal dates, Los Angeles County has a uniform June 30 renewal date. After that date each year, animal control workers canvass door-to-door to ensure that all licenses have been renewed.

With Los Angeles County, licenses for unaltered animals will cost $20 rather than Ventura County’s $30, and licenses for spayed and neutered animals will hold steady at $10. Cat licensing will remain voluntary.

Spurred by a potential east county exodus, Jenks is soliciting proposals to contract out all the county’s animal control services to a private or another public animal control agency.

State law requires each county to provide animal regulation services to its cities and unincorporated areas.

Because it encompasses more cities than Ventura County to shoulder expenses, Los Angeles County rescues treed kittens and spays and neuters house pets for less.

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The animal shelters offered by the two counties are about the same distance from Simi Valley, with the Agoura Hills facility, roughly a 25-mile drive, actually a bit closer than the Camarillo shelter, which is about 30 miles away.

Unless something dramatic happens, Simi Valley Mayor Greg Stratton doesn’t see his city sticking with Ventura County’s animal control program.

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“If the county wakes up one day and finds a way to cut the costs in half, that’s great,” he said. “But I don’t see it happening.”

Webb added: “My guess is that [Ventura] County itself will eventually contract out if Los Angeles County can do it cheaper. With that amount of savings, they’d be crazy not to.”

Times correspondent Richard Warchol contributed to this story.


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