Culver City News
February 7, 2008
Silbiger Joins Demands for Multi-City Shelter Probe
by Gary Walker
City Councilman Gary Silbiger has joined Carson City Councilman Mike Gipson in calling for a multi-city alliance of elected municipal leaders to supplement ongoing investigations into the alleged unlawful activities at the Carson Animal Shelter, which has been the target of several demonstrations and at least three lawsuits since December.
"I would like to create a coalition of elected officials to have meetings with the [Board of County Supervisors] and the district attorney to conduct a full investigation into the neglect, the misuse and the mistreatment of the animals at this location," Gipson said during a recent protest outside the Carson shelter.
"I think that's a good idea," said Silbiger in an interview at his Culver City law practice Monday. "This is a county wide situation with cities that are affected by the activities at the shelter, like we are in Culver City.
"Some Issues go across city boundaries, and this is one of them," Silbiger continued. "I continue to receive letters and e-mails of our residents and others complaining about the terribleble things that are going on at the Carson shelter."
Supervisor Yvonne Brathwaite Burke announced in December that the board. would be looking into the numerous accusations leveled against the county shelter and at the director of the Los Angeles County Department of Animal Care and Control, Marcia Mayeda. Burke toured the facility after hearing from hundreds of her constituents in various cities about the conditions at the animal shelter.
"You get the impression from some reports that [the animals] are outside, but they aren't," Burke said in an interview with the News last month. Regarding the physical condition of the facility, Burke stated, "It was not dilapidated at all, but it could use some upgrading. "
The county has appropriated $5 million in funding for new medical treatment and surgery wards at three county shelters, including Carson. "We will be looking to see how many of the improvements have been made," Burke asserted.
The Carson shelter, which is a Los Angeles County facility, has been I accuse by animal rights activists andd pet owners of failing to provide adequate and humane care to the animals that are housed at the facility, of retaliating against volunteer rescue workers who have questioned the county's practices and violating a state law that regulates animal shelters.
Senate Bill 1785. which was passed in 1999, expanded the rights and duties of publicly funded animal shelters and pounds. It updated portions of the California Penal, Civil, Food and Agricultural Codes. Sponsored by former Assemblyman Tom Hayden (DSanta.. Monica), it requires shelters to maintain lost/found lists and to provide the names and addresses of other shelters in the area, provides a list of records that must be kept so that shelters will be able to track animal in the system, allows nonprofit animal rescue and adoption groups to obtain shelter animals who are abou to be pulled and requires shelters to use all reasonable means of checking for owner identification on strays.
Abandoned and lost I animals in Culver City are taken to the Carson shelter. The county probe was sparked by the death of a female puppy from Culver City that was transported to Carson last October. Zephyr, a 10 month old mixed breed, died of pneumonia after she was allegedly left unattended for several days. Since then, several Culver City animal activists have jomed other organizations in protesting at the Carson shelter and demanding Mayeda's resignation. They believe that the recent events at the facility and the puppy's untimely death are grounds for Culver City to hire its own animal control officer.
S.ilbiger had previously asked his coucil colleagues to open an investigation into the shelter along with the county, but was rebuffed: "Culver City has a responsibility to ask for an investigation just like the county has, because our animals go [to the Carson shelter] too," the councilman pointed out. "If we had a department at City Hall that had received these types of complaints, we would have begun an investigation a long time ago."
Gipson also mentioned that if his council found I evidence that there has been misconduct or improprieties at the shelter, the body would move to terminate the contract that it has with the shelter. "I'm concerned about the lack of competency that this staff has as it related to the accsations, especially people who rescue animals that are [allegedly] being blackballed and not being allowed to rescue animals."
He has not been impressed by Mayeda, who gave a report before the Carson City Council last month. "I was [uninspired] by the comments that she made," he stated. "She had to read from a script, which told me that she was unprepared for the questions that the council members asked her."
The Carson city attorney is reviewing the contract in order to determine if county workers have breached their contract with Carson, which 1 would enable them to extricate themselves from the current contract with the county shelter.
Culver City animal advocates are also proposing to ask the city government to cease contracting with Carson and to utilize an animal care facility that has a better reputation than the Carson facility.
Gipson said that he would also seek District Atty. Steve Cooley's involvement if evidence of criminal acts are determined to have taken place at the animal care facility.
Orly Degani, an attorney with the Los Angeles based law firm of Eisenberg, Raiznian, Thurston & Wong represents rescue worker Cathy Nguyen in her lawsuit against the county, called the conditions at the Carson facility "deplorable." Volunteer rescue workers have publicly claimed that the animals at the shelter are not given the humane care that is mandated under SB 1785. Asked if the plaintiffs in the case were alleging that the state law had been violated, Degani replied, ''That is their contention."
The legal acl;ion accuses Mayeda of indefinitely suspending the volunteer status of Janet Taylor, Nguyen's rescue partner, and refusing to release any animals to either rescue worker in their capacity as volunteers for nonprofit animal rescue groups willing to care for those animals or as members of the public, among other allegations.
"State law mandates that animal shelters maintain clean, humane conditions instead of unsanitary, abusive conditions," said Degani.
The lawsuit seeks an injunction against the shelter that would force the county shelter to "follow the law and make every effort to give human care and shelter to the animal there," said Degani. The plaintiff, Nguyen, is not seeking monetary damages. "State law mandates that animal shelters maintain clean, humane conditions instead of unsanitary, abusive conditions," said Degani. In addition, Degani contends that county officials have sought retribution against Nguyen. "My client has been retaliated against because of her speaking out on behalf of the unlawful conduct at the shelter," said the attorney. Although the county is conducting a formal inqury into the allegations at the Carson shelter. Silbiger believes that more should be done on the local level. "I'm happy that Supervisor Burke is looking into this, but that doesn't relieve us from conducting our own investigation," he said, referring to his council colleagues. He also feels that the ongoing reporting regarding the lawsuits and alleged misdeeds at the shelter could very well play a role in Culver City's upcoming municipal election in April. "Anyone who gets elected should have services involving animals as a top priority," Silbiger insisted. "This is not just about how we treat our animals; it's about health and safety and a more humane approach to city government."
Dr. Anita Jaskol, a Culver City homeowner who is active in animal rights causes, said that a candidate's stance on bringing in a local animal official would greatly influence her decision in this year's campaign. "I plan to vote for candidates who support having an animal control officer in Culver City," she said.
The supervisors will hear from their chief executive officer, William T. Fujioka, who will present the board with his findings pertaining to the Carson shelter probe at the Feb. 12 meeting. Fijioka was due to brief the board last month, but requested more time to complete his investigation.