by Brooke Edwards Staggs
Thanks to a land swap approved this week, the county hopes to break ground on a $25 million animal shelter at the former Tustin Marine Corps Air Station by June.
The new facility will replace OC Animal Care’s 74-year-old shelter in Orange, which has garnered a poor reputation due to its run-down structure and once-soaring euthanasia rates.
“This is a very satisfying end to what became a very frustrating set of circumstances,” said Orange County Supervisor Shawn Nelson, who represents the Fourth District. “We had a log jam through no one’s fault, and this action clears the way.”
The county has talked for nearly three decades about building an animal shelter at the Marine Corps Air Station, which closed in 1999 and is being redeveloped as the Tustin Legacy community.
The Navy still owns chunks of the base, however, with deed transfers held up as the agency struggles to clean plumes of contamination. So while the county was promised 10 acres south along Armstrong Avenue to use for the new shelter, county spokeswoman Jean Pasco said the Navy isn’t expected to clear that property until 2017.
So during a closed session Tuesday, the Orange County Board of Supervisors approved a plan to trade the county’s pledged 10 acres of land for a parcel nearby that’s owned by South Orange County Community College District.
The college district – which oversees Saddleback College and Irvine Valley College – was deeded 62 acres of land in 2004. The plan is to use that land to develop an Advanced Technology & Education Park, district spokeswoman Tere Fluegeman said.
Swapping 10 acres of college district land with the county won’t affect the mixed-use park, Fluegeman said, since the project will be built in phases over many years. Plans for the first building – with permanent campus space for Irvine Valley College – were just approved, with construction expected to start in late 2016.
“It’s really just a win-win for everyone,” Fluegeman said. “It will allow everyone to move forward in a positive way.”
Most of the shelter’s $25 million construction cost will come from the 18 cities that contract with the county for animal care services. The county will contribute the land plus $4.4 million, which Pasco says has been committed to the project since 1995.
Tustin City Manager Jeff Parker, who’s been overseeing redevelopment of the base, said he doesn’t anticipate any more hurdles holding the project back.“From Tustin’s perspective, we’re pleased to see this moving forward,” Parker said.
The county’s shelter opened as a “pound” on 4.2 acres in 1941.
OC Animal Care has repeatedly received scathing reviews from the county grand jury, with reports stating the shelter was out of compliance and overcrowded, its staffing inadequate and morale low.
In the past five years, the shelter – which took in 31,527 animals in 2014 – has cut its euthanasia rate from 50 to 33 percent. But one criticism that hasn’t been addressed is the aging site itself. That’s driven many cities that contract with OC Animal Care to consider going elsewhere, which posed further problems for the struggling agency.
Supervisor Michelle Steel, who represents the Second District, said she hopes a new shelter will prompt more of the county’s 34 cities to contract with OC Animal Care.
Ahead of Tuesday’s vote, the county issued a request for proposals for the shelter Friday. The board hopes to award a bid in April and break ground June 6.
Early plans call for a 50,000-square-foot building plus outdoor areas. There will be 16 kennels with temperature controls, a training center, “get acquainted” rooms for cats and a yard to interact with dogs and other animals.
Rose Tingle of Laguna Woods still isn’t convinced that one shelter is sufficient to serve the entire county.
“Certainly improving the facilities would be a big, big step,” said Tingle, who founded Citizens for Animal Shelter Orange County. “I‘m very glad to hear the news, but we’re not done yet.”