Priceless Pets to provide full-service animal care in Costa Mesa under $480K contract

A Priceless Pets volunteer spends some social time with sheltered dogs.
Priceless Pets was tapped in December to provide intake services in Costa Mesa under a temporary agreement and in July will become the city’s sole animal care provider.
(Courtesy of the city of Costa Mesa)

After a long effort of trying to consolidate animal sheltering, adoption and medical care services in Costa Mesa under a single provider, city officials Tuesday approved a five-year contract with the nonprofit Priceless Pets Rescue.

The organization, which has overseen animal adoptions in Costa Mesa since 2018, will earn up to $480,000 annually to provide full-service animal sheltering and adoption services, including the intake, coordination and management of domesticated animals, according to a service agreement approved by the City Council in a 5-1 vote.

Priceless Pets was one of only two respondents to a request for proposals issued in June 2023 by city staff, who were seeking to have a single contractor cover adoptions, sheltering and veterinary intake and medical care.

Lisa Price, chief executive and co-founder of Priceless Pets poses in a pet adoption center in Costa Mesa.
Lisa Price, chief executive and co-founder of Priceless Pets poses in a pet adoption center in Costa Mesa in 2019. The Chino Hills nonprofit will become Costa Mesa’s sole animal care provider, earning $480,000 annually through June 2029.
(File Photo)

The other bidder was Newport Beach’s Newport Center Animal Hospital, which had provided clinical services for the city under a $20,000 monthly contract for years. That business, however, withdrew its bid in November and gave the city 60 days’ notice of its intention to end the original arrangement as well.

Left in the lurch, city staff negotiated with Priceless Pets to pay above a longstanding, $25-per-animal agreement, offering $30,000 a month for the mostly volunteer-run organization to serve as Costa Mesa’s animal control intake center on an emergency basis, while still providing adoption services for the city.

To make that happen, the group was permitted to subcontract with Newport Mesa Animal Hospital, adjacent to its adoption center at 1536 Newport Blvd., for veterinary care and sheltering of animals brought in.

With Tuesday’s vote, Priceless Pets’ interim monthly rate was bumped up to $33,000 until the five-year contract takes effect July 1. It runs through June 30, 2029.

Although the organization may continue to partner with the animal hospital temporarily, the agreement stipulates its leaders will “identify and secure a standalone facility in Costa Mesa, establish a lease and take steps to apply for any required permits.”

The new facility is to accommodate areas for intake, isolation and quarantine areas, as well as a fully staffed veterinary suite. It shall open its doors to allow members of the public to redeem their lost/stray animals and provide for the surrender of animals, according to the agreement.

Costa Mesa resident and longtime animal volunteer Sue Lester spoke against the new contract in a public comment at Tuesday’s City Council meeting, maintaining it failed to include any kind of accountability or explanation for how the $40,000 would be spent.

“I can’t see paying somebody $40,000 per month blindly without an accounting of what’s happening, and that’s how it reads to me,” she told the council. “I understand only two people bid for this. But I didn’t understand why we didn’t actively reach out to people and ask them to make a bid.”

She also questioned the optics of the fact Costa Mesa Councilman Loren Gameros’ wife, Heather, is a paid manager of Priceless Pets. The council member regularly recuses himself from the approval of any warrants involving the organization and stepped out of council chambers during Tuesday’s discussion.

Becca Walls, who chairs the city’s Animal Services Committee, said the group has assessed several different sheltering options and care providers, finding only facilities that cost more, had higher euthanasia rates and lower intake availability.

“We really vetted it,” she said. “Personally, I have spent a really long time doing research, following up and harassing everybody here. I think those [concerns] are addressed.”

Mayor John Stephens, who serves as a liaison on the committee, lauded the thorough monthly reporting on animal service efforts and outcomes, noting a very low euthanasia rate.

He recounted efforts to bring in Priceless Pets and, later, shifting oversight of animal services from the city’s parks department to Costa Mesa Police Department, which handles animal control issues.

“We were lucky to get Priceless Pets in at the time,” Stephens said. “We were also lucky to put in place the Animal Services Committee. I’m very grateful for their work.”