Advocates urge approval for animal shelter plan. Neighbors say ‘not in my backyard’

Emotions ran high at a Fresno County Board of Supervisors meeting on Tuesday before a scheduled vote to change zoning and allow a business owner to build an animal shelter in northwest Fresno.

But the supervisors instead put the vote off until Oct. 23 to ensure as many residents as possible who live in the area were aware of the proposed project and had adequate time to speak up.

The owner of Derrel’s Mini Storage, Derrel Ridenour, nearly five years ago agreed to donate $3 million and a 4-acre parcel on Grantland Avenue near Parkway Drive and Tenaya Avenue to build a state-of-the-art animal shelter and hospital facility. The proposed facility would be run by Fresno Humane Animal Services, which has brought Fresno County’s euthanasia rates down to about 5 percent from 75 percent since it began contracting with the county in 2015. Fresno Humane currently operates in the parking lot of the county’s former morgue and uses a trailer as an office.

On a 5-4 split vote in July, the Fresno County Planning Commission recommend the project to the Board of Supervisors. The supervisors were scheduled on Tuesday to amend the county’s general plan so zoning was changed from rural residential to light manufacturing. Although the location was in the city’s sphere of influence set to be zoned as industrial, the city declined to annex the land.

On Tuesday, a crowd of supporters and opponents filled the board chambers and spilled into the adjacent lobby and hallway.

Supporters and opponents of a proposed privately-funded animal shelter filled the Fresno County Board of Supervisors chambers and spilled into the adjacent lobby and hallway on Tuesday, Sept. 11, 2018. Brianna Calix bcalix@fresnobee.com

Opponents agreed the county needs an animal shelter and insisted they love animals. But, they said the shelter would increase traffic in an already congested area of the city and the project leaders did a poor job communicating the plans.

“We need it, just not in my back yard,” said Mannie Camareno, who said she circulated a petition opposing the project.

Gonzalo Arias Jr., who lives on Tenaya Avenue, said he and his neighbors never received notice of a community meeting. He said the neighbors are being villainized for opposing the project, and he was called “the animal hater.”

“I love my two fur-babies, and I swear if I could take more, I would,” he said. “We need this location, but we need it somewhere else.”

But another resident who live in the area, Sheila Mallory, said she likes the central location of the shelter and believes it will help adoption rates increase. “When we put shelters away from the population, people don’t go visit them,” she said. “I think it’s a great education system for the kids across the street (attending school) to visit, and they will learn compassion for animals and how to take care of them and how to be responsible.”

Supporters and opponents of a proposed privately-funded animal shelter filled the Fresno County Board of Supervisors chambers and spilled into the adjacent lobby and hallway on Tuesday, Sept. 11, 2018. Brianna Calix bcalix@fresnobee.com

Dillon Griffith, who lives about one mile from the proposed location, said the price of the land is right – it’s free. “No one is excited to pile the kids in the car and go down to the morgue to visit a potential family member,” he said.

Supervisor Nathan Magsig, who previously served on the Clovis City Council, said he lives near Clovis’ Miss Winkles Pet Adoption Center and has never heard a barking dog. He noted the rarity of the city’s and county’s cooperation for the Fresno project and said he’d support it.

Supervisor Brian Pacheco said he was between a rock and a hard spot. He supports the project but the residents who oppose it gave him pause.

Ridenour said he was disappointed with the outcome of the meeting. “It’s been a long, long path,” he said. “We’ve spent $50,000 to $100,000 getting to this point, doing all kinds of studies. … We’ve done everything that we’re supposed to do. … I’m just disappointed at this point that we couldn’t get a vote.”

His team will meet with the neighbors, as the supervisors asked, but Ridenour said he thinks they’ll only understand the benefits of the shelter after it’s complete. “I just feel kind of bad that the community could have a beautiful facility, and the county had their chance. … They’re never going to come up with enough money.”

Brenda Mitchell, board president of Animal Humane, said she’s still hopeful the project will move forward.

“It was good today to get a lot of talking points and figure out what we need to do,” she said. “It’s emotional for us because we watch the daily suffering of the animals in our community and we’re watching the conditions we have to house them in. Every day that goes by, and every week that goes by, delays our project, which we want to get moving. We want to break ground. We want to get these animals in a better place.”

Brianna Calix: 559-441-6166, @BriannaCalix