PROVIDING INFORMATION AND ANALYSES OF ANIMAL ISSUES IN LOS ANGELES
Beverly Hills Council--what Happened According to Ben Lehrer
The meeting kicked off late, at around 7:30, and there were several items on the agenda before the urgency ordinance came up for discussion. The Council chamber was packed, mostly with people there to speak out against the ordinance. As at the court hearing last week, the Stray Cat Alliance passed out red ribbons which opponents of the ordinance fastened to various body parts one way or another.
The discussion of the urgency ordinance was kicked off by a report from George Chavez, the Assistant Director of Community Development for the City of Beverly Hills. George's report was given as support for the ordinance and focused on two primary issues: first, that an anti-feeding ordinance had been in place in Beverly Hills for years until very recently when it was supposedly accidentally deleted from the municipal code after Beverly Hills contracted with the City of Los Angeles to handle animal control in the city; and second, that there has been an increase in coyote sightings all over the City, with the suggestion that feeding ferals attracts these coyotes.
The report also stated that feral feeding attracted other unwanted critters (roaches, rats, raccoons and crows), and that it generated complaints from local residents.
Then came the public comment period. All told, 105 people spoke. Of these, three spoke in favor of the ordinance and 102 were against it. This took over three hours. A fair number of people slipped out during this time but a good many of us stayed on well into the morning.
The three proponents of the ordinance were all residents who lived in a small area where Katherine Varjian has been TNRing and feeding feral catsfor years. Their claims were that the feeding was an attractive nuisance and causally linked to an increase in coyote sightings, fleas, cockroaches and the like. They all claimed to have nothing against the animals, but just didn't want them fed where they live.
The 102 people who were against the ordinance were pretty much all over the board, but the main themes were that (a) prohibiting feeding would not result in the disappearance of rats, cockroaches, fleas, coyotes etc., (b) there is no causal link to feral feeding and coyote appearance, as suggested in Mr. Chavez's report, (c) feral cats are a part of the urban landscape, even in Beverly Hills, and the only way to contain and manage a feral population is through TNR + maintenance, including feeding, and (d) to prohibit the feeding of cats would be unnecessarily cruel. Public comment went for nearly four hours and I know I'm really cutting things down in summary. You should be thankful.
Then the Mayor and each Councilmember gave their opinion. The one thing that everyone agreed upon is that the feral cat issue goes beyond the problem (or perceived problem) of food being left in public alleyways, and they welcomed having the rescue community help craft a comprehensive program to address the issue in a progressive and humane fashion. But aside from that, the council was split on what to do about the ordinance and how to address the complaints of the people upset at Katherine for feeding ferals in the alleyways behind their homes.
The most outspoken opponent of the ordinance was Vice Mayor Jimmy Delshad, who did not support the urgency ordinance and wanted to give the rescue community a few months (he suggested 90 or 180 days) to help design a comprehensive feral cat maintenance program. Leaning in this direction was Councilmember John Mirisch, who also wanted to include an adoption component in the program for adoptable cats, as well as mandatory microchipping in the City, presumably for feral and non-feral cats alike. On the other side, Councilmember William W. Brien spoke out strongly in favor of the ordinance, saying he believed that the feeding of ferals does represent a public health risk and that the interests of the residents are more paramount and their wishes should be heeded. Farther towards the center was Councilmember Barry Brucker, who seemed to lean slightly in favor of the ordinance as a temporary measure while a bigger-picture cooperative solution could be crafted.
Mayor Krasne had the unenviable job of trying to manage the proceedings, which at this point - after 1 am - were getting a little unruly. It certainly did not help that any statement that echoed any of the positions taken by the pro-ordinance people was met with loud jeers by the anti-ordinance people in the crowd, leading her at one point to threaten to support the ordinance if they didn't keep quiet. When it came time for her to state her position, she seemed to split down the middle. On the one hand, she was very affected by photos provided by the pro-ordinance people showing food dumped on the ground in the alleyway, saying that this was an unacceptable mess. (Several people tried to point out that Katherine used to put dishes down but the residents kept throwing them away, but that didn't seem to really register.) On the other hand, she expressed sympathy for the cats and ultimately decided that she was not ready to support the ordinance without giving the people on all sides - the residents, the rescue community and the City Commissioner - an opportunity to come up with a compromise solution.
The Council ultimately decided, after much back-and-forth, to table the vote on the ordinance for now. Over the course of the next couple of weeks, Mr. Chavez will meet with resident cat advocates and the heads of a couple of rescue groups that focus on feral cat caretaking in order to construct a proposed feral cat management plan that the City Council would discuss, and, if approved, turn into an ordinance.
This portion of the meeting ended just shy of 2 am. The poor Council still had several items on the agenda ahead of them as all of the cat peoplefiltered out and left them to their business.
This is not a bad result, but it is too early to declare victory on behalf of feral cat caretakers in Beverly Hills. I think it is fair to expect the people who were in favor of the ordinance to continue to put pressure on the Council to ban feeding. Even if they are unsuccessful, it doesn't seem likely that the pendulum will swing the other way so that feeders would be protected, and without this protection, local residents could and likely will still sabotage feeding & caretaking efforts on the ground.
Nonetheless, we'll proceed optimistically, and right now, the goal is to come up with a plan where if everyone is able and willing to cooperate, there will be peaceful coexistence between local residents and feral cats and their caretakers. And our work may even lead to a progressive ordinance that puts Beverly Hills at the forefront of the movement to institutionalize TNR as the most humane and effective manner of dealing with feral cat populations.