It wasn't a big crowd, but it was bigger than usual for the CSD Security Committee.
The Community Services District’s Security Committee – which includes two of the CSD’s five directors – was clear Thursday afternoon: It’s not interested in continuing the longtime practice of handling wild animals and pets in the community.
“We need to get out of this business or any illusion of us being in this business,” said Director Mark Pecotich, board president and a member of the committee.
There were eight people present for the session, which was moved to the CSD’s main meeting room instead of the small conference room where it's usually held.
General Manager Mark Martin said a complaint was filed with Cal-OSHA, which addresses workplace safety problems, about animal control work being done by Security patrol officers.
Martin said the investigation took months and was only resolved late last month, with CSD fined $550. Martin said he immediately suspended animal-control activities until the problem could be studied and discussed.
Trying to research the issue, Martin said he could find no record of the CSD actually being given authority to handle animal control in the first place.
“We have investigated the law,” Martin said. “The law says (the authority) has to be conferred upon us by the county officially for us to be performing that role.” He added a long list of other concerns – transport vehicles for animals, equipment for officers, training, facilities for the animals and more.
In every agency they researched, Martin said, animal control is separate from security.
Pecotich, the board president, established that no one is paying for animal control now as part of their CSD bill. He added, “So let’s just cut it off right there, in my opinion. This is not in (CSD’s) wheelhouse. ... As residents, we pay Sacramento County a fee for animal control. Right? It comes out of our Sac County taxes. So, this is not our thing.”
Director Les Clark, the other committee member, called it “scope creep,” adding, “Everybody’s trying to be good neighbors and have provided pseudo-services outside the boundaries of our authority.”
Pecotich emphasized that Murietans need to call the county for help with animal issues.
Sacramento County says it responded to 140 animal calls last year in the 95683 ZIP code, which includes Sloughhouse.
Annual Rancho Murieta Security reports from 2009 through 2015, tracking issues like loose dogs, deer issues and rattlesnakes, totaled an average of 659 animal incidents handled by Security yearly, nearly two a day.
Janna Haynes, a media representative for the county, said Rancho Murieta’s change will be felt throughout the county.
“Our response time will be considerably longer than Rancho Murieta CSD due to the distance from other parts of the county,” she wrote in an email, “and that will have a direct impact on our response times to other areas within the county.”
She also wrote, “The county does not generally deal with wildlife animals. We can work with the Department of Fish & Game or the federal trapper to address these call concerns. We do respond to injured wildlife and rabies vectors such as skunks and bats.”
“We’re S.O.L.,” Beth Buderus, a neighbor involved in animal rescue issues, said after the meeting. "They're going to close it down, period ... unless the public really stands up and supports this, and I don't know if they will." Later, she added in a text message, "It seems all the services we need from CSD/Security are being taken away for one reason or another. So why do we have Security, what services are left that they can perform?"
During the meeting, after hearing the directors’ response to the situation, Buderus asked if Security would euthanize an injured animal (no), help a fawn stuck in a fence (no), or contact her to see if there’s a volunteer to take the pet in until its owner can be found (yes).
“My staff has been instructed to help as much as they can, without going over that line, so to speak,” Security Chief Jeff Werblun said. Answering a concern Buderus expressed recently, Werblun said, if necessary, a patrol officer will bring the I.D. chip reader to the location of a lost dog to see if the dog’s owner can be identified, instead of requiring that the lost dog be brought to the South Gate.
So how did Security get into the animal business?
“I think they can blame me for that,” said Jim Noller, on the phone from Wilton. He served as Security chief for almost 30 years before retiring in 2004. “I’ll take responsibility for it, because I wanted the department to do everything they could for the residents. ... So everything that was ever asked of me, we did.”
Noller joked, “Thirty years ago, if I knew that calling OSHA would get us out of the dog business, I would have done it myself.”