Supervisors Approve Contracts to Build New Animal Shelter

Nick Gerda/Voice of OC

Orange County's animal services department has been facing increased criticism in recent years.

Orange County supervisors, who’ve faced years of criticism for the conditions at the county’s dilapidated World War II-era animal shelter, approved a series of contracts Tuesday to start the design and construction of a new shelter in Tustin.

The unanimous votes to approve a land swap with the South Orange County Community College District and build the $35-million shelter at the former Marine Corps air base in Tustin represents a belated following through on promises from supervisors dating back to the 1990s to build a replacement animal shelter.

The approvals included awarding a $33 million contract to Irvine-based Snyder Langston L.P. for design and construction, following a competitive bidding process, according to a county staff report.

In an effort to acknowledge ongoing criticisms from animal advocates, Supervisor Todd Spitzer said the county has “obviously gone through some difficult times [and] rightfully so” when it comes to animal services. But he said officials are making improvements and showing they’re “deeply committed” to dogs, cats and other animals.

Back-to-back grand jury reports last year harshly criticized the county animal shelter’s management, saying the shelter is in a state of “utter disrepair,” with health of animals and people alike put at risk.

The situation was so bad, grand jurors wrote, that the county should consider replacing the leadership of the animal services agency and the county’s community resources department, which oversees it. Supervisors and county executives disputed those recommendations and several others.

The concerns go back over a decade, with advocates and the shelter’s own advisory board complaining in 2000 that “the facility is outdated and its leadership isolated and resistant to change,” according to the LA Times.

And animal advocates in recent months have highlighted the county shelter’s high kill rate, and have charged that the county animal services director, Dr. Jennifer Hawkins, has falsely claimed the rate is 6 percent, when the county’s own data shows it’s actually closer to 35 percent. Hawkins has yet to publicly respond to the allegation.

In the wake of last year’s grand jury reports, as well as continuing concerns from advocates, two of the county’s 18 contract cities for animal services have decided to pull out of the system: Laguna Hills and Rancho Santa Margarita. They represent about 2.3 percent of county shelter use, according to county spokeswoman Jean Pasco.

And the city manager of Garden Grove recently wrote a letter to the county saying that while the City Council has been pleased with the services, they are concerned about the county’s projection that the city’s payments will more than double in the coming years.

At Tuesday’s meeting, supervisors sought to emphasize the importance of public input into the new shelter’s design.

“This is definitely a collaborative effort with all the stakeholders and will be” moving forward, said Chairwoman Lisa Bartlett.

Spitzer called on county executive Steve Franks, who oversees animal services, to explain how public input would be incorporated into the design of the new shelter.

Franks said there would be input from a “design advisory board,” comprised of county staff, representatives from contract cities, rescue groups, and the Southern California Veterinary Medical Association.

“In general, it’s intended to draw input from those people who will be using, and interacting, and paying for the new shelter,” said Franks, who directs the county department known as OC Community Resources.

When pressed by Spitzer, Franks explained that the public won’t be invited to the group’s meetings, describing it as more of a “staff working group.” But he said there would be opportunities for public input at separate “presentations.”

Supervisor Shawn Nelson noted that years ago the county thought the Navy would soon be giving up the Tustin air base land where the county had been planning to build a new shelter.

But over a decade later, “the Navy never did part with it,” Nelson said.

“We ultimately had to, through very creative efforts” by county staff, trade land with the community college district, he said. “I appreciate all the effort, because I know it would be easy to just do business as usual,” Nelson said.

At the end of the discussion, Bartlett sought to put a hold on selling the current animal shelter property, citing the possibility of nonprofit groups being able to host animal-related events there.

Spitzer, while supportive of an analysis about what should happen to the property, was apparently concerned about ensuring that the entire board weigh in on what happens. He made a point of emphasizing that all of the supervisors should “get the information at the same time.”

What to do with the current shelter property, which sits next to the county’s Theo Lacy jail and Orangewood Children and Family Center, should be a totally different discussion, Spitzer said.

Update: This story has been updated to include the name of the new shelter’s design and construction contractor and how they were chosen.

Nick Gerda covers county government for Voice of OC. He can be reached at

  • Sharon Logan

    The Garden Grove City Council
    Voted 4-0 to move away from OCAC and contract with OC Humane.

    OCAC tried to sock GG with a 17 Million Dollar Bill for the next 10 years, while OC Humane gave GG a quote of 9 Million Dollars.

    Hawkins wasn’t given a platform at GG like Lake Forest allowed her to have one.

    I jumped up, clapped, flashed the victory sign, bowed to the GG City Council Members and thank them in Vietnamese.

    Steve Frank’s was pretty pissed never seen him turn such a shade of red before.

    OCAC’s third biggest City has left, 17 Million Dollars less in the coffers of OCAC.

    The people, the communities and 3 Different Cities in the past Month have all left OCAC over their poor care, poor service and Exorbitant Fees.

    Are you awake yet OCAC?

    Our voices do matter and our voices does make a difference.

  • BeeBee.BeeLeaves

    Animal care means animal care.
    Animal shelter means shelter.
    No kill! Do.No.Harm.

    If administration cannot or will not do right, if taxpayers cannot trust them, then the new building needs a new modus operandi.

    No more lies! Death because you strayed at the wrong time, or you have mats, or because you are a common breed is wrong and outright evil.

  • Jacki Livingston

    How sweet. [/sarcasm] How is it that animals get mileage with these idiot politicians, but the elderly and disabled don’t rate so much as a blink of their time? What a massive joke.

  • LFOldTimer

    What good is a new shelter if you have the same incompetent managers in charge? The infrastructure of the existing shelter in Orange was only about 20% of the problem. 80% of the problem (and the reason for the 6 brutal OCAC Grand Jury and Performance Auditor reports) was OCAC management.
    Building a $35 million dollar animal shelter and putting the same OCAC management and staff in charge of operations would be like the Navy building a brand new $3 billion dollar destroyer, making Moe the Captain and Larry and Curly his Executive Officers.
    New Buildings don’t improve the performance of any organization. The problem at OCAC for decades has been slipshod management and performance.
    Any city that signs this 10-year contract is nuts. It would only give the county a license to hose them over royally for 10 long years. The annual costs will go higher and higher and the quality of animal care services will continue to rank at the bottom in the State of California.
    Could someone name one other county in the state that forces its cities to put down multi-million dollar advanced deposits on a new animal shelter owned by the county? I’ve never heard of it before. The county is the owner. The county should pay full cost like in Los Angeles and San Diego.
    The county is discussing an expenditure of $150 million in the short term on the Civic Center renovation ($500 million long term). And the county can’t come up with $35 million of its own money to build an animal shelter?

    • David Zenger

      This is akin to building a super-expensive homeless shelter and putting it in the wrong place: the grand gesture with serious operating problems. But hey! There will be a shiny plaque on the front of it with the names of those who spent our money to build it. And laissez le euthanasia rouler!

    • Stupid is as Stupid Does

      Regarding: “The concerns go back over a decade, with advocates and the shelter’s own advisory board complaining in 2000 that “the facility is outdated and its leadership isolated and resistant to change,” according to the LA Times.”

      and LFOldtimer’s comment,

      “What good is a new shelter if you have the same old incompetent managers in charge? The infrastructure of the existing shelter in Orange was only about 20% of the problem. 80% of the problem (and the reason for the 6 brutal OCAC Grand Jury and Performance Auditor reports) was OCAC management.”,

      Where’s the logic? There have been many changes of OCAC managers several times over in the last two decades of “brutal” OCAC Grand Jury and Performance Auditor reports. So if things are worse than ever as I am hearing from those in the know, and it’s management’s fault, what incompetent manager(s) are at OCAC today that have been in charge the entire past decade or two? What manager(s) are really at fault?

      • LFOldTimer

        Management problems start at the very top – the BoS and the Directors at OCCR and OCAC – and filters down from there.

        You’d have to be deaf, dumb and blind not to understand that 80% of the problems at OCAC stem from incompetent managers.

        Go read the GJ and Performance Auditor reports. Afterwards if you still believe there’s nothing wrong with OCAC management – I can’t help you.

        • Stupid is as Stupid Does

          You have a point there but Tami Rosales has directly managed the shelter at OCAC for the past decade. Shouldn’t she be held responsible for the mess it’s in? Maybe she should resign to clear the way for change.

  • David Zenger

    Hmm. No mention of who got the design/build contract, or how they got it. Time to check out Form 460s.

    • Thanks for raising the question; the contractor is Irvine-based Snyder Langston L.P., which a county staff report says was chosen after a competitive bidding process. We’ve updated the story to include that info. – Nick Gerda

      • David Zenger

        Now please check out the Supervisors Form 460s and see if Snyder Langston has been casting its bread upon the campaign account waters.