Animal Care and Control Eager for New Shelter

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San Francisco Animal Care and Control’s 1200 15th Street location was built in 1931 as a warehouse. In 1989, the City took six-months to renovate the building into an animal care facility. Since then, standards for treatment of animals have changed dramatically, and the structure is seismically unsafe, a major driving force behind plans for ACC’s relocation.

“At a pretty basic level, we don’t meet the standards,” said Virginia Donohue, ACC director. “The animal enclosures were modern 26 years ago, but now they’re not. We need more isolation rooms to separate animals. Last year we had kennel cough and ringworm outbreaks that each lasted a month — a lot longer than we would’ve liked — because we couldn’t appropriately isolate them. We isolated a few animals in the beginning but quickly ran out of space.”

The City has identified a potential new ACC location at 1419 Bryant Street, a historic building that was constructed by Muni in 1893 that’s presently used to store vehicles and Muni’s overhead lines. Similar to ACC’s current home, the aged Bryant Street structure is seismically outdated and in need of retrofitting. Because its current use doesn’t justify funding upgrades, the site was chosen for ACC, in part to preserve the historic asset.

Renovating the 15th Street building was evaluated but quickly dismissed by the City’s Capital Planning Committee, as it’d involve moving the shelter for a couple of years and relying on temporary private-sector spaces, which was deemed financially and practically infeasible. ACC is the only animal shelter in the City that accepts all species, including those with medical conditions or which are dangerous. The renovation and relocation project was approved by the committee, which makes expenditure recommendations to the Mayor and Board of Supervisors related to municipally-owned facilities and infrastructure.  Committee members include City Administrator Naomi Kelly, Legislative Aide Conor Johnston, and Melissa Whitehouse from the Mayor’s Budget Office. The project has received its environmental and historic building permitting 

Last month, the San Francisco Board of Supervisor’s Budget and Finance Subcommittee, consisting of Supervisors Mark Farrell, Katy Tang, and Norman Yee, voted unanimously to approve funding of the renovation and relocation project, using $60.5 million from the proceeds of certificates of participation (COPs). This financing approach allows assets, such as buildings, to be granted to third-party entities which then lease it back to the public agency.  COPs are complex transactions used by municipalities to secure project funding without having to garner voter approval while complying with state debt limitation laws.

Tang, representing District 4, and a lead project supporter, pointed-out that the current building wasn’t designed as an animal shelter, and was never suitable as ACC’s long-term location. In 1988, the San Francisco Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (SFSPCA) notified the City that it wouldn’t renew its contract as the municipal animal control services provider when it expired in 1989. This left the City less than a year to adapt another space for this use.

“It’s not an adequate facility,” Tang advised. “There’s excessive noise and some animals have been injured as the result of improper housing areas. The X-ray machines are not lead-proof and don’t have proper protections. I worry for the health of workers. This is very important for animals and all of their guardians. Our City has a lot of priorities, but we’re not asking for a fancy building, just something adequate to help animals recover from illness and better serve the City in the event of an emergency.”

“The authorization to issue the COPs will happen in the next three to four months, but it won’t affect the timeline for the project,” Brian Strong, the City’s director of capital planning, said. “It’s very likely that it’ll be approved. The resolution to amend the capital plan and funding was co-sponsored by 10 out of 11 Supervisors, so the likelihood of full approval is very strong.”

Groundbreaking on the new building’s renovation is expected to take place in mid-2018, with upwards of $5 million already spent on pre-development planning and securing environmental and historic building permits.  ACC hopes to be able to move in by the end of 2020, pending Muni’s ability to relocate beforehand. 

The agency operates with a roughly $3 million annual budget. The existing facility on average houses 238 animals, though the outdoor yard only has space for 100 dogs.

The current facility’s obsolete design requires staff to remove dogs which can be difficult to handle, restrain them, and then put them back to clean concrete enclosures. Modern designs will be used in the new facility; double enclosures, allowing dogs to remain in their areas during cleaning, reducing stress on the animals and risks to the workforce.  The new enclosures will feature a material that’s healthier for the animals than the existing concrete.

“There’s unanimous support for this at ACC,” Donohue commented. “Our adoption partners are also excited. It will be positive for the whole City. When there’s an earthquake we’ll be able to take in people’s displaced pets. One thing we learned from Katrina is that people won’t leave their pets behind. The place of animals in our society has evolved. It used to be that pets stayed outside, now they’re in our beds. We’ve recognized the importance of the human-animal bond.”

Jim Buker, senior architect at the San Francisco Department of Public Works, explained that the new facility will be able to safely house animals during the hours and days following a major earthquake so that they won’t have to be evacuated.

Public works’ employees will be responsible for the project’s structural engineering and architectural work. The City will contract with outside specialists who’ll provide advice regarding environmental considerations for animal care, energy conservation, acoustics, and historic preservation.

“Our structural engineers are very familiar with seismic safety,” Buker said. “It’ll be a similar criteria as for hospitals. We’re just moving out of the planning stages and into the design phase now. As a former resident of Potrero Hill, I’m pleased that it’s staying in the neighborhood. It’s a really great opportunity to adapt a beautiful historic building.”

Another advantage of the 1419 Bryant Street location is that ACC will remain close by its adoption partners, including Northern California Family Dog Rescue, SFSPCA, and Muttville Senior Dog Rescue. According to Donohue, the new facility will last for 50 years, and be more malleable to updates in veterinary practice and standards for the humane treatment of animals. Donahue hopes that with a healthier environment, more animals housed at ACC will be in better condition for potential adoption through partner agencies.

“With the new facility there will be more space,” Cynthia Spica, SFSPCA chief operating officer, said. “It’ll be designed so that it can be cleaned appropriately and will have a new HVAC system to help prevent the spread of disease. The new shelter will be better for the animals as well as the people of San Francisco.”

There’s no plan for ACC’s current building, which is seismically unsafe, prone to flooding, has a deteriorating roof, and no emergency water supply. According to Strong, discussions about how the building will be utilized in the future will begin within a year, after the City’s capital plan has been updated.

ACC is the City’s only open door shelter, meaning that it accepts all animals regardless of species, temperament, or health condition. It accommodates roughly 10,000 animals every year. The shelter is part of San Francisco’s first-responder emergency services; an aspect of the renovation is to ensure that animal control officers and other staff can adequately provide services by creating a facility that’s safe for both staff and animals.

A major driving force for the project is that the building doesn’t meet modern standards for seismic safety, which could inhibit ACC’s ability to serve as a first-responder in the event of an earthquake. In 2006, the Federal government passed the Pets Evacuation and Transportation Standards Act, which requires that state and local emergency preparedness plans consider the needs of household pets and service animals before, during, and following a natural disaster. The law was a response to situations that arose during Hurricane Katrina, in which some pet owners chose to remain with their pets instead of being evacuated or attempted to rescue their pets from burning buildings. Subsequent health and safety risks also resulted from a large population of abandoned animals in the area.