On Monday, the City of Austin’s controversial plan to relocate Austin’s animal shelter from downtown to a lot in East Austin hit a major roadblock: the affected neighborhoods from both East and West Austin, along with advocacy group FixAustin.org, sued the City in a Travis County District Court to block the move.
The lawsuit alleges that the City’s plan violates the Texas Open Meetings Act by failing to have a public, properly noticed, democratic process to determine the new shelter’s location. As evidence, the group pointed to an e-mail from Animal Advisory Commission Member Babette Ellis to Council Member Betty Dunkerley, asking her to “cement the [East Austin] site” as quickly as possible before “the community there” is ‘awakened’ to any issues.”
The City’s plan to move its animal shelter to an industrial site near Airport Road and East 7th Street has been met with consistent and heavy criticism from local animal-welfare advocates. Ryan Clinton, President of FixAustin, said, “Moving an animal shelter away from its primary adopters will lead to fewer visits, fewer adoptions, and more killing.” FixAustin has strongly urged the City to rebuild the shelter at its current Town Lake location.
The Central Texas Animal Alliance recently released a report condemning the City of Austin’s plan to close the downtown animal shelter and replace it with one on the City’s eastern edge. The report, written by national animal-shelter expert Nathan Winograd, concludes that “relocating Austin’s animal shelter would be a death sentence for dogs and cats who would otherwise find loving homes.”
According to the lawsuit, the Ellis e-mail and other documents reveal a pattern of deception by those attempting to move the shelter. Clinton said, “That e-mail is undemocratic and terribly offensive. I hope each City Council Member will denounce the obvious, concerted effort of some persons to avoid the democratic process in order to move our animal shelter.”
The lawsuit presents two main claims: first, that the City Council failed to post any proper notice to move the shelter from downtown; and second, that the City Council failed to post any proper notice to amend the Govalle/Johnson Terrace neighborhood plan that calls for affordable housing on the site where City staff wants to put the shelter.
In November 2006, Austin voters approved a $12 million bond to build a new animal shelter, but the bond ballot’s language did not specify whether the shelter would be rebuilt or moved. Local and national animal-welfare advocates say that moving the shelter away from downtown will lead to more animals being killed at the shelter each year. The City currently kills approximately 12,000 dogs and cats annually — more than half the pets it shelters.