An old conflict in Fresno has again reared its ugly head: The Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals has given notice that it will terminate its contract with the city on June 30, 2020. This conflict first arose in 2012 over criticism of the high euthanasia rate at the center, and that their board meetings were secret. The reason for the notice of termination this time is not clear. This notice creates a crisis, but the solution is readily available.
The SPCA has for decades provided animal control services and has done so with such panache and skill that we now take it as normal. These services include many vital to our safety. First, they collect stray animals. These number tens of thousands a year. These animals can pose a threat to the community. Some could have rabies or other illnesses. Imagine our children, in the worst case scenario, biking or walking to school threatened by uncontrolled and perhaps vicious or diseased predators.
The cancellation problem centers on the SPCA building, which has evolved into a special place well suited to the tasks performed there (including many beyond the contract). It is upon the replacement of this building that all attempts to find a substitute for the SPCA have foundered. The immense cost of replacing such a structure is estimated at $15 million plus infrastructure, if needed. A possible bond issue is suggested.
And there is another service. Sometimes the animals collected are beloved household pets. How can a homeowner find his or her pet without this service? And dead animals are also collected. Imagine a landscape littered with such carcasses.
In short, these services are urgent and necessary, so the announced termination presents a serious threat to our community well-being. These services must be provided without even a one day gap.
As a country lawyer, I often searched for an answer that would solve complex problems in an expeditious way. Here there is such a simple answer: it is to condemn the SPCA building and for the city to seize it under its powers of eminent domain. To do so there must be either a “public purpose or necessity.” There can be no doubt that there is such a need. The idea of rabid dogs running loose would convince the most conservative finder of fact, judge or jury. In this instance condemnation doesn’t mean to tear down, but to allow city utilization.
And the law also allows for the public agency to get immediate possession (CCP 1255.410). They must post the amount of money in county or state coffers that represents their appraised valuation of the property. Often the owner gets 90 days to vacate, but this may be shortened.
Once the city had possession of the property, staffing it would be a far lesser task than building a new structure. And with the building in city hands, a management contract with suitable groups for a part or all of these services should be attainable.
I have no quarrel with the SPCA, and for half a century we have contentedly used their services. Yet, faced with a public health safety crisis, their sensibilities must yield to public need. And who knows — perhaps their objections to the public contract requirements will disappear faced with total loss of their facility and hopefully then an amicable solution can be found. It would be for political leaders to decide if such an amicable solution ended the problem or merely deferred it, suggesting that one proceed with the condemnation.
Phil Fullerton of Fresno is a retired attorney.