Story by Charlotte Dekle
Photo by Erin Lee
The City Council voted to extend consideration of whether or not to keep or disband the Animal Commission at their meeting on Wednesday, Sep. 15. This direction came as a surprise to many former commissioners who argued for its continuation.
The fate of the commission lies in one of three categories, though categories two and three are not mutually exclusive. The first option is maintaining the animal commission and providing outreach for the vacant positions. This was the option with the broadest support amongst the public commentators, though support among the council members was divided, with Cacciotti and Donovan being in favor of option one.
The second option entails disbanding the commission and divvying the workload amongst the 13 other commissions that are overseen. Councilmembers Primuth and Zneimer expressed their favor of the third option: disband the commission and instead implement an ad hoc advisory voting body that would commence when needed.
Opponents of the commission argued not of the quality of work, but the quantity of work in relation to council oversight. The City Council oversees 24 commissions, committees, and advisory boards. The animal commission and their infrequent meetings (only six times a calendar year) seemed too burdensome for Councilmembers Primuth and Zneimer.
“We have a city where people expect the councilmembers to attend meetings and I think that’s really important and to have a committee that requires a liaison, it stretches what I believe are scarce resources,” councilmember Jon Primuth said.
Another argument against the commission is the mission statement of the commission itself. As listed above, the Animal Commission does take an advisory position to the City Council in regards to animal needs. Whether or not this need is great enough to constitute a year-round commission, as opposed to an ad hoc advisory board, was a topic for discussion.
“When I looked at the Animal Commission report that came out, it said its principal function is to advise the city in issues affecting animals. I think that’s great, it’s an advisory function and that doesn’t have to be a commission in my opinion,” Primuth said.
The Animal Commission was founded after a coyote infestation in South Pasadena in 1983. Since then, its purpose is to serve in an advisory position, with the goal of providing animal information to residents and monitoring any and all services that may be needed. The commission has not conducted a meeting since March 2020 and, despite being a five-member voting body, three of the membership slots are vacant.
“Obviously, if no one wants to be on the animal commission, that is a major problem. But did the city actively look for commissioners? I do not think so. I cannot help but think that the city was trying to quietly let the commission die,” former Commissioner Elisabeth Emirhanian said in a public comment.
Emirhanian, as were other public commentators, expressed dissatisfaction with how the City Council handled the commission’s existence.
“The way this dissolution of the committee has been handled is wrong. Since early 2020, there was nothing to my knowledge publicly spoken about the commission. Then in January ‘21, there was an agenda item that reads ‘direct staff to prepare for city council consideration of an ordinance to repeal the commission,” resident Beatrice ‘Bee’ Simpson said in a public comment.
Proponents of the commission argued for its survival during public comments. Many argued that the Animal Commission, since its 1983 inception, has provided an invaluable service to the City Council.
“The commission researched the impact of tree-trimming and removal of wildlife and worked with the National Resources Commission on an ordinance. They worked with the city and California Department of Fish and Game for residents who treated injured squirrels and needed proper licensing,” resident Ed Simpson said in a public comment.
Councilmember Jack Donovan invoked a ‘swinging pendulum’ analogy in reference to his opinion on the disbanding of the commission. While he does see the scarcity of resources as a potential issue, the impassioned speeches swayed him towards keeping the commission. As a result, they proposed to table the discussion for a later time. This extension was approved unanimously and once the councilmembers discuss with their constituents, they shall return to vote.