Newport Beach is expected to run a city-owned animal shelter for the first time in its history after a group of residents raised $3 million.
The facility is currently under construction and is slated to open in early February. A local nonprofit resident group, the Friends of Newport Beach Animal Shelter, spent five years raising funds to purchase the land and construct the facility.
The resident group then donated the facility to the city of Newport Beach to function as a city-run animal shelter. After a months-long negotiation, the city agreed to accept the piece of land and run it as an animal shelter for 50 years.
It comes as Orange County’s main animal shelter is facing heavy criticism from activists and community groups for closing public access to the kennel areas and suspending some spay/neuter programs for abandoned cats.
City officials accepted the shelter as a gift late last month. The shelter will be fully operated and controlled by the city’s animal control department.
The gift of the animal shelter was entirely funded by residents and the acquisition and operation of the shelter will create no additional costs expected for the city.
All costs to purchase and build the shelter were covered by the nonprofit group, and the costs to pay the workers and maintain the facility will be on par with the city’s current budget for animal control.
Robyn Grant, one of the nine board members for the nonprofit, was elected to the Newport Beach City Council in November. She said the “labor and love” was important to help find a place for animals, which will also benefit local residents.
“We believe that animals bring a lot of value into our community — individually, to our seniors, to our children, to families,” Grant said. “We believe in that and really wanted to make sure that we care for our lost and displaced animals. Just like they provide value to us, we wanted to provide value back.”
Friends of Newport Beach Animal Shelter board member Tim Fischbacher said it’s vital to have a local animal shelter to keep power within the city and not rely on outside vendors when caring for animals.
“The key to good care is control and being responsible and accountable to the service and care of the animals,” Fischbacher said, who worked for 31 years in the city’s police department — much of it overseeing the animal control unit.
“The city has a unique ability to be accountable and to do a really good job. Any time you outsource or you use a vendor you lose a bit of control. The idea of having the most direct control over who provides the services is key,” he added.
The city has been operating with a smaller animal shelter located at 20302 Riverside Drive since 2014. The new site is located just two doors down from the previous facility.
Since the city had leased the previous property, this new project will create the first city-owned animal shelter in its history.
Councilmember Diane Dixon pulled the item from the consent calendar during their Nov. 29 meeting.
“I don’t know, at least in my eight years, if this has ever been done before,” Dixon said at the meeting.
A chorus of barking can already be heard down Riverside Drive, which is zoned for kennel use and features a variety of businesses like animal training, boarding and grooming facilities.
The 1,500-square-foot property includes 21 kennels, a front-yard greeting area and a cattery that could host around 50 cats. The kennels can fit multiple dogs at once depending on the size of the animal.
The group had purchased the property in April 2020 for $1 million and began construction in January 2022.
The original shelter currently has about 25 dogs and 20 cats within its walls. The shelter has also seen a couple of other animals like birds, chickens and guinea pigs.
The animals in the current facility will all be transported to the new shelter within the next month. The lease for the current shelter ends in February and all staff and volunteers will be shifting over to the new building.
The group didn’t originally have a goal to construct a new facility, but after seeing donations flying in to help expand animal care services, the goal became a possibility.
The nonprofit decided to set its sights on purchasing the property at 20282 Riverside Drive to construct a state-of-the-art facility.
“Once we started marketing, we saw how many people wanted to be a part of it,” Grant said. “That’s what gave us the courage to go to the next level and raise the $3 million and build the shelter.”
The nonprofit has been working closely with the city’s animal control department and Animal Control Supervisor Valerie Schomburg to prepare for the opening of the shelter.
The new shelter’s chief goal is to boost the quality of care for the animals up for adoption in Newport Beach and surrounding areas, Grant said.
“Community is made up of a lot of things. It’s not just a city hall and traffic control,” Grant said. “We as a group wanted to devote ourselves to making a permanent, state-of-the-art shelter that we knew would be operated to benefit of the adoptability of the animals. This is one extra little gem in the crown of Newport Beach.”
Jean Watt, a board member for the Friends of Newport Beach Animal Shelter and former city council member, said the move is long overdue.
“Newport Beach should’ve had its own shelter years ago, but no one was doing anything,” Watt said. “It’s a very happy, noncontroversial, successful project altogether. The community came together really well. People love animals, and it’s a great feeling to see it done.”
Angelina Hicks is a Voice of OC Reporting Fellow. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @angelinahicks13.
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