Chick hits animal-shelter cost, design
By Rick Orlov, Staff Writer
City Controller Laura Chick took the city's engineers to task Thursday for underestimating the cost and improperly designing eight new animal shelters authorized by voters in 2000.
The result, Chick said, was less space for animals and up to two-year delays in opening most of the shelters approved under Proposition F, a bond that allocated $154 million for shelters.
One, the Northeast Valley shelter, is still closed to the general public for adoptions, while another in South Los Angeles is not scheduled to open until 2012.
"This is extremely disconcerting since a major goal of Prop. F was to provide centers which fostered greater public access to increase animal adoptions and community involvement," Chick wrote in a letter to Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa and the City Council.
Councilman Dennis Zine, who serves on the Public Safety Committee overseeing the Animal Services Department, said the audit confirms his impressions of the problems with the shelter program. Zine authored the motion that authorized Chick to audit the program.
Zine was outraged earlier this year when he learned of problems, sending his staff out to take pictures of dogs exposed to rain in shelters. The department was forced to build a cover to provide shelter for the animals.
His anger was at the need to spend an extra $180,000 out of the bond fund to correct errors.
"My concern is the management of Animal Services and the problems that came to us from employees and the general public and resulted in a waste of public money."
Animal Services officials said they agreed with Chick's findings on the problems of delayed openings at shelters.
"Animal Services shares the controller's disappointment that we are unable to open our new Mission Animal Care Center this year due to unforeseen budget constraints," Animal Services Director Ed Boks said.
"However, this unanticipated situation turned into a blessing during the recent fires when this location provided shelter for hundreds of evacuated pets while their owners became refugees from their own homes."
Officials with the Bureau of Engineering disputed some of Chick's findings, saying they believe the shelter project has come in on budget.
"Despite many challenges, including the unprecedented escalation in construction costs, we were able to deliver the program within budget and the facilities are a great asset to the residents of Los Angeles," said Engineering spokeswoman Cora Jackson Fawcett.
"We appreciate the input of the controller and we'll make every effort to implement as many of her recommendations as possible."
Chick said her auditors found problems at the beginning of the process.
The Bureau of Engineering began well when it came to program management. But, she said, its estimates for building costs were too low, forcing a redesign of the shelters.
"Animal Services and the Bureau of Engineering did not fully explore the impact of these changes, especially with stakeholders, which resulted in facility problems which could impact the welfare of the animals," Chick said.