Public Comment

Continuing Problems with Design of New Animal Shelter

By Jill Posener
Thursday November 19, 2009 - 09:46:00 AM

I appreciated the opportunity to vent my frustrations with the process for the new Berkeley Animal Shelter. Responses to your Letters page and e-mails I have received indicate that many people share the sense of being under-informed, misinformed or flat out excluded from a truly open public process.  

• There have been no community meetings, no surveys of user groups including volunteers, no notifications to interest groups to participate and provide input. That reveals that the city doesn’t understand what this facility is—a high-traffic community center. Compare this process to the extensive public meetings about renovation of the branch libraries, and you get a sense of how great a misunderstanding there is of what the animal shelter actually does. 

• The lack of an affordable wellness clinic for our community as part of the design is really a problem. This was a crucial part of the campaign, and with more people struggling financially, the inclusion of this feature is more important than ever. Our recent low-cost vaccine clinic sponsored by the East Bay Humane Society, the Berkeley Animal Welfare Fund and the shelter had people waiting in line for two hours to see a vet, receive vaccines, and get a brief well-pet exam for their pets. For some it was the first time these animals had ever seen a vet. 

Even in my lengthy opinion piece I didn’t have room to tell it all:  

• I was always told that including art in a new public building was a Berkeley city mandate—1.5 percent of overall budget of any new construction—but the art component was left out of the bond language on this project. So we now have an important public building being built in Berkeley without any funds for public art. 

• The Humane Commission was told Berkeley had a flood easement across a neighboring property, which might have been used to provide rear access to the new building, but then we were told that the easement had been a “good idea” but never actually obtained. 

• The design shows that there is just one single door for the main entrance—not a double door, not a sliding door. People with dogs are coming in and out of this entrance, because the walkway at the back of the building is so narrow that in order to avoid dog conflicts it can be used only to take dogs out for walks, not back in after their walks. 

• We have seen no drawings of what the indoor spaces look like, except for the bare technical drawings. Not a single one shows what the building looks and “feels” like from the inside. 

• The misleading report to the Zoning Adjustments Board stated baldly that there were usually no more than three or four people on site, including staff and volunteers. The shelter rarely has fewer than 10 people on site and often more than 20 or 30 at any given time. 

• The only access to the facility is at the northern tip of Aquatic Park. The city is in denial as to the impact of traffic, delivery vehicles, animal control vehicle access, rendering truck—that’s the truck that picks up the dead bodies—on that opening which is where pedestrians, bicycles, joggers, etc., access the pedestrian bridge over the freeway. The gate to the sally port is not tall enough for delivery trucks, and there is no room to turn vehicles around in that area, necessitating them reversing out in front of the entrance to the shelter. 

• There is an EBMUD easement across the front of the property that covers a 66-inch sanitary interceptor built in 1958. What happens if that easement needs to be accessed and there is NO rear access to the animal shelter? 

City staff have chosen to rush this process forward and, while doing so, taken potshots at the messengers raising the alarm. The lack of public process on this major public facility has been disappointing at best. And so I ask the city again—stop, think and choose another way, including sitting down with the Berkeley East Bay Humane Society to discuss the overwhelming benefits to both agencies to creating a joint facility, sharing hospital, sheltering, training and adoption facilities.   


Jill Posener is a member of the Berkeley Humane Commission.