Personnel and Animal Welfare Committee Meeting 2-5-2020

By SWHS Legislation Chair Alyssa Ganezer

Prohibition on the Exhibition of Wild or Exotic Animals Passed From Committee to Full LA City Council

            Since 2017, the Personnel and Animal Welfare Committee of Los Angeles’s city council has been considering a ban on the exhibition of wild or exotic animals for entertainment and amusement. The Southwest Herpetologists Society only found out about it or its full implication this past October.

            At the PAW meeting on February 5, 2020, the ordinance was passed along for consideration by the full LA City Council, albeit with instructions to the Department of Animal Services to work with stakeholders as necessary to develop the regulations.

            The proposed new ordinance would add Section 53.39.1 to the LAMC. It defines “wild” as anything not domestic. (Yes, something of a tautology.) It defines “dangerous” as anything that “poses an inherent risk of harm to human health or safety because of its strength, size, physical characteristics, instinctual behavior or risk of disease transmission.” There is a hard ban on public contact with any “dangerous” animal. Presentations of any sort would be prohibited at any venue with amplified music or alcohol consumption.

            You can read the full proposed ordinance here:

            Supposedly, there is an exemption from the prohibition for movie filming and educational, conservation organizations, but even under this exemption, permits are required for each animal presentation event at $425 for each separate event.

            To speak to our concerns that the definitions of “wild” and “dangerous” and the high permit fees, Wes Pollock and I attended the PAW committee meeting on February 5, 2020. We spoke to the three city councilmembers of the committee about the vagueness of the definitions, our concerns about the permit fees, and the impossibility of continuing our education of the public about animals and wildlife conservation under the provisions of the proposed new ordinance. We added that we are an all-volunteer organization that receives no money for our presentations.

            A gentleman from the Wildlife Learning Center had similar concerns to ours about the limitations the law would put on educational presentations.

            Meanwhile, there were two speakers who felt the proposed new law didn’t go far enough. Diana Mendoza from PETA and Leslie McCave from Animal Defenders International gave nearly identical speeches. They wanted the restriction on the exhibition of dangerous animals to extend to any off-site exhibition whatsoever. These animals should not be “paraded about on leashes,” Ms. McCave said.

            The final speaker was David Ryu, City Councilman of the 4th District. The ordinance was first proposed on his instigation because he was alerted to the situation of a house party in the Hollywood Hills where a baby giraffe and an elephant were being marched up the hill to be “poked and prodded for cheap thrills” at a house party. He claimed to have seen such house party incidents repeatedly in his district. He praised the committee for considering “one of the strongest ordinances in the nation.”

            Matters did not look very promising at this point, but Committee Chair Paul Koretz had some questions for the LA City attorneys who have been drafting the ordinance. Koretz was concerned about the questions that had been brought up by the educational organizations. He wanted to make sure snakes (SWHS) could still be brought to P-22 Day, where there is amplified music. He said kids can hold snakes, and our booth is viewed as “a very positive thing.”

            Valerie Flores, the city attorney, said there is a specific exemption from dangerous animals for nonvenomous reptiles up to 8 feet long. (That’s not how the ordinance reads to me, particular with the addition of language about transmission of disease.) She also said municipal ordinances don’t apply at city events, so the amplified music at P-22 Day was not an issue.

            The fact the city does not have to follow its own ordinances did surprise us, but we aren’t going to complain in this particular instance.

            The other issue we are concerned about, the $425 permit fee per event, was also addressed by both Paul Koretz and Committee member John Lee. Both wanted to know why annual permits cannot be given to reputable and frequently presenting educational conservation organizations. Attorney Flores tried to argue that the permit does more than Lee was imagining. It ensures there is insurance and that the specific location for the presentation is acceptable and won’t “frighten the animal.” But she agreed at last that one should be able to get an annual permit if one’s sole goal is education and that she would pass Lee’s request onto the department (I assume the Department of Animal Services. The departments are the bureaucracies that create the actual regulations and define the terms that the ordinance leaves vague.)

            Koretz also objected to the 10-day lead time required to obtain a permit. Every company that supplies animals to the film industry said this was unworkable. Sometimes they only have one day notice, which is the best the movie producers can do. Flores claimed the 10 days are only required for new companies and the department would certainly be able to issue permits sooner than that. Koretz remained concerned that the 10 days was still written in the ordinance. He warned the city attorney that the full council would be hesitant to pass any ordinance that would have a negative effect on the film industry.

            Paul Koretz ended the discussion with this statement: “To attempt to address some of the outstanding questions, I’d like to add to the proposed actions instructions to Animal Services to either amend its existing permit regulations or add permit regulations to facilitate the proper implementation of this ordinance. And the department should work with stakeholders as necessary to develop these regulations and report back to PAW committee with status updates on how the ordinance is working at the six-month-point of implementation and the one-year point, and with those added to the motion, I’d like to ask that we approve that item without objection.”

            The motion was approved without objection. It will now move to the full City Council.

            The official recorded report of the motion regarding the ordinance does not include the above ” to attempt to address some of the outstanding questions.” It does not include any of the instructions to the city attorney to make sure educational groups can continue animal presentations or the idea of an annual permit fee for such groups.

            The full Los Angeles City Council of 15 members (quorum of 10) will consider the ordinance at their Tuesday, February 18 meeting at 10 am.