Almaden Times

City Council brings back discussions on Coyote ordinance

October 14, 2004
Kymberli W. Brady, Staff Writer

After waiting nearly four hours for item 5.4 [Follow-up on alternative strategies to abate coyotes in the Villas of Almaden] to come up on the City Council agenda, Almaden residents left council chambers satisfied in having been heard and confident in its outcome.

Unlike last weeks session, which many felt was weighted with paid emotional speeches from a half dozen animal rights groups, all who spoke during Tuesday’s public comment period favored an ordinance change that would allow an exemption for padded leghold trap use on troublesome coyotes in the event they posed an eminent threat to public safety.
While some of the 15 two-minute accounts rendered terrified personal encounters with coyotes, others pointed out prior inaccuracies that had been delivered to the City Council and attacked a three-page memo, issued just prior to the meeting by Parks, Recreation and Neighborhood Services that instead laid out mandatory requirements for developing non-lethal alternatives—without discussion or input from residents of the Villas of Almaden.

The memo, written by Director Sarah Hensley, included several line items that were found to be in direct conflict with planned development permit PD79-016-13, which designated the Villas of Almaden as an Oak Woodland Habitat 20 years ago. According to the permit, property owners are required to “maintain native forging, roosting, and nesting habitat for wild animals.”

“I’m disappointed,” said Vice Mayor Pat Dando. “I didn’t get a copy of the staff memo until I started hunting it down and got it after noon. It was not coordinated with my office and there are several items that I would have suggested we change.”

Dando also recommended additional signs and increased enforcement in Guadalupe Oaks Park, as dogs that are allowed to run off leash could pose a threat to deer expulsion efforts from the Villas.

“This designation requires the Villas of Almaden to maintain that landscape environment and they have complied with this requirement for more than 20 years,” stated Berding & Weil attorney Steven Weil on behalf of his clients.

“In the past 18 months, coyotes have established den sites within the Villas and surrounding neighborhoods. They have become urbanized and aggressive and this is a precursor to human attacks.

According to Weil, residents have worked in conjunction with Vector to employ available methods to control the threat, which have not worked. He added that staff recommendations to use non-lethal methods to “expel” the coyotes from the Villas would serve only to shift the problem into surrounding neighborhoods and nearby schools.

“So where are we expelling the coyotes to?” he asked. “It’s not a responsible approach for this eminent threat to human safety. The appropriate government agencies already exist to determine available and appropriate methods of control.”

“This issue will not go well,” agreed Dando. “Coyotes are becoming more brazen in other neighborhoods and we’re now getting calls from areas off Camden and off Los Ceritos, which are quite far removed from the Villas.”

Weil reiterated that a change in city ordinance was necessary to ensure that prompt and reasonable methods could be employed to protect citizens and urged them to adopt an urgency ordinance to address the immediate threat.

“This is not a new problem in California,” explained Villas’ community relation’s coordinator David James. “The process begins with small rodents and other abundant animals, then moves on to cats, small dogs on leashes, and lastly, attacks on human beings become so likely as to become inevitable. It is evident that these coyotes are well along this chain of behavior and we don’t have time for other measures.”

Council members also heard from longtime resident Gail Haywood, who tearfully recounted the day her indoor cat slipped out when she opened her garage door and became one of approximately 25 feline casualties in the Villas. She is reminded of that day every time she opens her door to venture outside with her dog, only to find a coyote waiting in her driveway.

“There is a difference between co-existing and being threatened,” she said. “I am afraid that the next time my door opens and my grandson toddles out, it will want him as a replacement for my dog. We’re told they won’t attack, but I’m not going to risk my grandchild to find out which side is right.”

“It’s a different ballgame,” added Rich Latiere. “We’re trying to get your attention before something happens. The time to act is now.”

Dando again recommended both short- and long-term solutions and advised staff to look at other cities that have successfully implemented similar programs, including Pleasanton, Los Gatos, and San Diego.

However, after hearing the testimonies and reviewing the State Fish and Game code again, Councilmember Reed decided to simplify the matter.

“As I said last week, when I voted against the motion, it was based on the fact that we couldn’t use leghold traps unless it was the only method available to protect human health and safety. If the Fish and Game people come back and say it’s the only method available, then I’ll vote for the motion. The ordinance will have eight votes.”

“If you would like a letter from Fish and Game, I’ll make sure you get it,” replied Dando. “I don’t think our attorneys will advise us to go against state law.”

The Council ultimately ruled on two issues, including an environmental review with the recommendation of an urgency ordinance, a recommendation for an ordinance that would ban the feeding of all wildlife within city limits, and that the urgency ordinance pass upon receipt of the letter from Fish and Game.

“I will say that it’s very gratifying to have the council revisit the issue after hearing some of the many concerns people had with the staff report and with the experiences they’ve had,” said Weil later. “I also think it was fair that they were respectful of the state law and wanted the council to consider whether the exception is compliant. We’ve all got some homework to do.”