Letters for July 28

Readers sound off on Oakland Animal Services, PG&E's Hayward plant, Alameda schools, and pot ads.

Pot ads, Legalization Nation and elsewhere, 7/7

Too Many Pot Ads

I think you should change your name to the East Bay High Times so that those of us who are actually interested in reading local news and not selling or smoking weed can look elsewhere for real content. I used MM for nausea after chemotherapy and I guarantee you I didn’t need a million ads to find what I needed. With all of the ad revenue you’re earning, why don’t you just create a supplement so those of us who don’t want to feel like we’re back in college listening to Bob Marley can read the movie reviews and get on with our day.

Michaela Brasesco, Oakland

“Foes of Hayward Power Plant Fight Back,” Eco Watch, 7/7

Build the Gas Plant

Robert Gammon gives good information about PG&E‘s Hayward natural gas plant, but implications of the most important fact were missed. Nine pounds of particulate matter per hour from the plant is nothing compared to the pollution from 500,000 vehicles per day on the city’s freeways. Quibbling over 1.5 pounds an hour is a joke. The little bit of pollution added by the plant is nothing to be concerned about. Gammon’s article gives no numbers on how much in particulates is added to Hayward’s air from those 500,000 vehicles, but it should be noted that the antagonists in the controversy, the Sierra Club and Chabot College, don’t seem to mind the freeway’s threat to health. Neither does the State of California. Pollution problems from cars were dealt with thirty years ago, but particulates from heavy trucks are only now being addressed. For some reason electric power has become the culprit in Hayward and must be curtailed.

Fossil fuels have become an obsession in certain circles. Gammon’s mention of the state’s 20 percent “renewable” standard shows that he takes this obsession seriously, but that standard will go the way of the dodo bird when Assembly Bill 32 is suspended this fall by an initiative designed to combat its draconian push for “renewables.” The recession is forcing our state to embrace reality and leave the “green energy” mantra behind. The initiative demands that planners forget about stopping fossil fuels until California’s unemployment rate falls to 5.5 percent from its current 12 percent. That is not going to happen anytime soon. Build the plant, then get to work curtailing heavy trucks and their particulate pollution.

Steve Tabor, Oakland

“Is Oakland Animal Services Killing Too Many Dogs?” Feature, 7/7

Start Saving Lives

Stop blaming the community. There is no doubt that Oakland Animal Services faces unique challenges. No one said running an open-access municipal shelter in Oakland was an easy job. But I was surprised that the shelter administration said nothing about what they are doing to reduce the number of animals they kill. They simply defended the status quo of killing 40 percent and blamed the community at large. Their excuses for having such a high kill rate focus on social problems such as poverty, the economy, and irresponsible pet owners. These problems will always exist in Oakland. What is important is not the problems that exist, but what policies the shelter administration implements to solve them. The shelter administration needs to stop blaming the public and start utilizing the whole of the community as a resource. Outreach to the Latino, Asian and African-American community has always been sorely lacking. Partnership with Bay Area rescue organizations is dropping dramatically. You can’t just open the doors every morning and expect people to line up and adopt. Without embracing every cross section of the community through targeted outreach, adoption events and education designed for the majority of people who live in Oakland (multilingual web site, advertising, flyers), the shelter will never reduce its kill rate meaningfully. The tried-and-true policies proven to drastically reduce kill rates are painstakingly documented by The No Kill Advocacy center. Look it up. If the shelter administration doesn’t have a strong commitment to reduce the numbers of animals it kills — by creating the necessary policies and aggressively implementing them — the shelter will continue to fail in its primary objective. Saving lives.

Ian Elwood, Oakland

Five Steps OAS Can Take Now

The article and the ensuing comments, by volunteers (supportive and otherwise), as well as rescues and concerned citizens, have brought into sharp focus a number of practices that could be changed virtually overnight with life-saving results. It will be very interesting to see if any of them get implemented.

1. Stop locking the door to the back cages. They were not locked at the old hellhole at Ford and Lancaster, and anyone could walk in off the street and look for their lost dog and/or see if they wanted to adopt any dog there. I know, I did both. The locking of the door to the back cages was an extreme sore spot with the citizenry back in the days of the Reshan Wars, and has been held over anyway. This is clearly more about asserting control than about getting dogs out of the system alive. If there is an actual security issue, it can be addressed equally well by stationing a volunteer in each kennel room during the hours that the shelter is open. Requiring people to wait outside a locked door till a volunteer is available to “escort” them is controlling, mean-spirited, and above all inefficient.

2. Stop locking the virtual back cages by failing to extensively publicize online, to any interested rescue and concerned citizen, the dogs in danger of being killed. Preferably on your web site in front of God and everybody, as you are a publicly funded agency subject to sunshine laws. Follow the good practice implemented by other shelters in the area, e.g. San Jose, which is dealing with similar issues.

3. Stop picking and choosing what rescues you’ll deal with. In so doing you are not complying with the law and inviting legal action. Follow the practices other shelters, e.g. Berkeley, are using with great success.

4. Stop making paperwork and high adoption fees a barrier to adoption. Once you signed on with the Maddie’s Adoptathon and let people adopt for free, which clearly worked admirably, the high adoption fees lost all legitimacy. A privately funded humane society or rescue is free to set whatever onerous policies it thinks best; a taxpayer funded agency, not so much.

5. Stop squelching the initiative and expertise of the volunteers when it has a chance of saving even a single life.

It will be very interesting to see if any of this happens, or whether we just get more handwaving, excuse-making, circling of the wagons and protestations that OAS is doing all it can and we’re all (as the taxpayers funding the system) being so MEEEEAANN to point out things that are not working, with fatal consequences to the victims.

Mary Eisenhart, Oakland

There Are Many Ways To Help

I think the “circling of wagons” response is due to the inaccuracies of the article and the fact that the author only spoke to disgruntled ex-volunteers, not any of the current ones who clearly love volunteering at OAS.

OAS does not turn a blind eye to criticism: it is constantly improving itself to be better. Just ask any volunteer; miss a week or two of volunteering and you’ll come back to different protocols as we figure out better ways to do the work we do. OAS is always changing how we can improve the housing and care for the many animals under our roof because we want to and because we have to — we also juggle dog bust cases, cruelty cases, kitten season, the recent spike in the small dog population, and many other serious issues. I wouldn’t volunteer at OAS if I saw that euthanasia was the knee-jerk response to these problems. Instead the staff and volunteers work together creatively and thoughtfully to do the hard work to find solutions to these problems. And those solutions do involve working with local rescue groups. Despite the article’s allegation that OAS has “chronically poor relationships with rescue groups,” we currently pay Hopalong to manage our kitten foster program and are hosting classes taught by Our Pack, a pit bull rescue group — just two groups among many that we work with.

If you want to be part of that solution I welcome any of you to attend one of our weekly volunteer orientations to get a tour of the shelter and see firsthand what we do. It may inspire you to get involved, as it did for me and many others. The sad fact is that euthanasia happens in many busy, crowded, underfunded municipal shelters. You can sit there and lament the fact, or you can do something: volunteer, foster, adopt, donate, lobby city council for more funding, etc. There are many ways to help rather than venting online.

Yvonne Tsang, San Francisco

Better Off Not Suffering

I think it is ridiculous to expect that an animal control facility — not a humane society, not an SPCA — behave in the same way. Their primary purpose is to get unwanted animals that are breeding rampantly off the streets. Wild and badly raised animals left to run (or starve) pose a huge danger to the public, not to mention add to the problem by increasing the population. Urban cities have much higher pit bull and other bully breed populations, for whom careful and loving raising is a necessity to integration into a family.

Budgets are slashed right now, and blaming this facility isn’t going to change its need to kill animals. If you people are so concerned, hold fundraisers, write to your representatives, volunteer, foster dogs, start a rescue. I’d like to see how easy it is for you to re-home them (in good homes, where they won’t be used to fight or bait fighters) in this economy, all while feeding them and homing them. If your response to that is “Easy!” then do it.

On another note, I adopted a rabbit from OAS over a year ago and I had to wait to adopt until surrenders were done. I sat there with two children for well over an hour as people signed over their pitbulls, german shepherd/rottweiler mixes, and several litters of puppies and kittens. And that was just a few hours of one day. It is very easy to yell about killing the animals, but so much harder to do something about it, easier to hold up a sign and protest or post anonymously on the Internet than adopt, spay and neuter, donate money, volunteer.

Frankly they are better off NOT suffering as some of them obviously were — with worms, beatings, being tied in the yard, being fought, covered with fleas and ticks, and starving.

Jessica Dawson, Discovery Bay

Anonymous Griping Won’t Solve the Problem

It’s natural for OAS supporters to feel defensive and want to lash out at somebody today, but Bad Rap is not at the center of this article’s message.

Since our motivations have been called into question, I need to clarify: BR was invited in 2007 by former director Adam Parascandola to create a closer relationship with OAS in order to help the shelter build an in-house training and enrichment program that would benefit pit bull type dogs and — with some luck — all dogs in the shelter. We agreed to a pilot program and got to work: All pit bull type dogs would be evaluated for suitability in homes. Until enough people were trained to work them, five to six dogs with a variety of behaviors (dog reactive to dog tolerant) would be housed in a separate ward — a ‘classroom of sorts’ — designed to help volunteers learn how to work with behaviors while creating and reinforcing a safe, quiet place for learning and de-stressing. We brought in a trailer to provide some sanity, a part time trainer, an enrichment program that included stuffed frozen kongs, new handling techniques, and for the first time, a protocol where dogs were asked to perform basic obedience to get out of their kennels and move through the shelter. While most OAS dog handlers decided not to participate, a handful did and one even adopted one of our celebrated dogs (“Bob”). Shelter reps from around the country visited the program in several ‘Camps’ and went back to jump start their own pit bull shelter program back at home, a ripple effect that is worth celebrating. I’m sad that some volunteers are unaware of the work that went on, but it is a busy shelter with a lot going on and communication can be spotty.

BR’s project at OAS was not designed be permanent. Our job was to inspire improvements and present templates that OAS could cherry pick from so they could be replicated throughout the shelter once we moved on to other projects. In our eyes, this particular program was as successful as it could be given the challenges. I’m not going to air “the challenges” here as this isn’t the right forum for that, but we ended when it was clear that we’d done all we could within the OAS culture. As a non-profit with several projects going at once, running this on-site program was costly and required funding from outside sources as well as countless man hours from BR management. It didn’t get nearly the amount of internal support that we’d hoped, so we pared it down accordingly. Despite all, it was well worth it to us and especially to the dogs that were saved as result.

I’m deeply disappointed to see the disparaging remarks here about BR from anonymous OAS volunteers. Our group came to OAS in good faith and brought love, hope and focus to this work, and I believe we all learned a lot from the experience. Dozens of dogs with health and behavior issues found their way to safety because of this focus, and the ones that were too broken to place got compassion holds (a concept that should be explored more in shelters with high euth numbers). What we learned about housing and training pit bulls in the chaos of a public shelter is being shared with shelters around the country in conferences and workshops, and is even being implemented in places that have long banned pit bull adoptions. When I hear that OAS is building a training class for dogs, I beam with pride. This is a long time coming and a result of years of building viable program templates (Berkeley’s example) that others can follow.

No, OAS is not nearly what it could be for the animals. It’s going to take several years of hard work to get there, and part of that work has to include hearing the criticism and learning from it. Hiding behind anonymous handles on message boards and raging at other animal groups won’t help the dogs … Oakland has to be better than that.

A longtime friend from an org that specializes in pit bulls told me today, “Sorry it has come to this, but given the perspective of the dogs in OAS view, it needed to happen.” We’re sorry too, but that does seem to be true.

Given the response that this article has already stirred up, it’s clear that this topic is not going to go away anytime soon. We hope shelter supporters see this as an opportunity to create healthy dialogue and substantial improvements. Message boards are great for venting, but the real work will have to happen face to face and in a setting where people are respectful and willing to listen.

Donna Reynolds, Executive Director, BADRAP, San Francisco

“Alameda Schools Face Grim Future,” News, 7/14

Where the Money Is

Prop 13 doesn’t have as much of an effect as one might think. According to Alameda County Tax Assessor records, 71 percent of the parcels on the County’s 2009-2010 tax roll have a base year date of 1990 or later. Those properties account for 90 percent of assessed property value on the tax roll.

The City of Alameda did give a presentation to the city council a few weeks back that explained that redevelopment in Alameda currently takes over $3 million from the schools. When the state faces funding shortfalls, as is happening now, that $3 million would be gladly welcomed by the district, no doubt.

Some of the redevelopment money is given back to the district through “pass-throughs,” but a lot of it in Alameda goes to a district housing fund which cannot be used to pay teachers or “maintain neighborhood schools.” The purpose, evidently, is to put the school district in the business of building low-cost housing for district employees. The problem is that most district employees earn too much to qualify for low-cost housing. That money will probably accumulate for some time, un-spent, before anything can be done with it. And it still can’t be used to pay teachers.

David Howard, Alameda

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