MOORLACH UPDATE — Vicious Dog Ordinance — December 17, 2013

One of the topics addressed at todays Board meeting was a vicious dog ordinance. The agenda item included a directive to pursue a website, providing information on where dangerous dogs were located. I was rather surprised to receive most of the opposition to the website proposal from dog and pet advocates. The OC Register opined against the idea in todays issue, in the first piece below. The LA Times provides its observations in the second piece below, which may appear in tomorrows edition.

Last night I participated in a changing of the guard ceremony at the Los Alamitos City Council. The Orange County Breeze provides its observations in the third piece below.

This dog doesnt hunt

Reject Megans Law-style website for canines.

The Orange County Board of Supervisors was slated to vote today on a list of proposed changes to the countys ordinance on dangerous dogs, including entertaining the possibility of introducing a Megans Law-style online registry for canines with a history of biting.

The website, which would be accessible to the public and would list the home addresses, and possibly even include a picture of the dog and a description of the attack, seems excessive. The revised ordinance should not go forward with it included.

Because, while the rest of the proposal seemingly seeks to clarify the current ordinance, we worry that a website outing canine offenders will needlessly shame owners, place a financial black mark over affected neighborhoods and give residents unnecessary cause for fear of every dog that possesses similar characteristics.

This is the thing I am getting the most push back about, Supervisor John Moorlach told us. I can see parents with young children wanting to know, but someone would have to make a pretty strong argument.

And while concerns about dangerous and vicious dogs in our neighborhoods, especially for those with young children, are reasonable, county animal control already has robust powers in dealing with potential canine threats to public safety.

The director of OC Animal Care, who represents the county and 17 cities on the subject, has wide-ranging discretion in dealing with dangerous and vicious dogs, from impounding them to euthanizing them.

Quite frankly, if it is a dog I think needs to be put down, we are going to seek destruction, Ryan Drabek, director of OC Animal Care, told the board Sept. 17.

And while we question why a so-called vicious dog defined as being bred for fighting or having already killed or maimed a human being would be returned to its owner, law provides stringent protocols for their continued care.

Requirements include a laundry list of county-monitored requirements, including keeping the dog in a locked enclosure, muzzling them on walks, placing Beware of Dog signs on the property, paying hundreds of dollars for permits and having $100,000 in liability insurance.

In light of these facts, a Megans Law-style website for dogs seems more of a needless layer of government control than a sensible effort to protect the public. It is likely to instill more fear in homeowners and parents than it will mitigate by potentially painting all dogs of a similar coloring or breed as potential threats and making homebuyers leery of neighborhoods where dangerous dogs are kept under lock and key.

O.C. supervisors reject Megan’s Law-style website for vicious dogs

By Paloma Esquivel

Orange County won’t be creating a Megans Law-style website for dangerous dogs any time soon.

The county Board of Supervisors had been considering creating an online database listing the addresses of homes where dangerous dogs are kept, but on Tuesday a majority of supervisors said they don’t support such a site.

I think that whole area needs a lot more study before we go in that direction, said Supervisor Patricia Bates.

The website had been included in a proposed ordinance defining vicious and potentially dangerous dogs and outlining the countys recourses for dealing with them. The board voted unanimously to adopt the ordinance without the website provision.

In addition to Bates, Supervisors John Moorlach and Shawn Nelson said they opposed the creation of a website.

Bates said she worried it might be difficult for owners to get their dogs removed from the site even if the animals stopped behaving dangerously. Nelson said residents who want to know the location of dangerous dogs already have the option of calling OC Animal Care to learn where they are kept. He also said he worried it would be difficult to keep the site up to date.

The adopted resolution allows the countys Animal Care director to declare certain dogs vicious or potentially dangerous and to impose conditions on their owners, including possibly requiring them to maintain liability insurance against injuries caused by the dog, post warning notices to the public, use muzzles or sterilize the animal.

Owners whose dogs are deemed dangerous have a right to a hearing and to appeal the decision in Orange County Superior Court, supervisors said. Animals deemed the most dangerous would be euthanized. The ordinance isnt much different from the countys current practices but it makes the rules more explicit, Bates said.

Los Alamitos Council reorganizes

In a reorganization notable for its amicable efficiency in comparison to the rancor and spite of recent memory, the Los Alamitos City Council unanimously voted in Gerri Graham-Mejia as Mayor and Richard Murphy as Mayor Pro Tem for the coming year.

The Council reorganization was item 10A on the agenda, but was moved up in deference to the audience members who packed the Council Chambers and spilled outside.

A short recess immediately followed the reorganization, allowing audience members to congratulate the new Mayor and Mayor Pro Tem. Cake and other light refreshments were made available by City staff.

Following the recess, newly-elected Mayor Graham-Mejia took charge of the meeting, overseeing the rejection of a claim from the California State Military Department for repayment of City Utility User Tax wrongly assessed at least since 2006.

Earlier in the meeting, outgoing Mayor Warren Kusumoto received recognition from Congressman Alan Lowenthal; Michelle Steel, Vice Chair of the State Board of Equalization; Assemblyman Travis Allen; Orange County County Supervisor John Moorlach; and Seal Beach Mayor Gary Miller.

Congressman Lowenthal called out Mayor Kusumotos efforts in opposition to the High Occupancy Toll Lanes on the 405 Freeway for special comment.

Featured photo

Outgoing Los Alamitos Mayor Warren Kusumoto listens as Orange County Supervisor John Moorlach praises his term as Mayor of Los Alamitos. Congressman Alan Lowenthal waits his turn to recognize Mayor Kusumotos year of service to the City. Photo by C.E.H. Wiedel.

FIVE-YEAR LOOK BACKS

December 17

2008

Put this in the you cant win them all category. I would prefer letter or color-coded restaurant ratings, but my colleagues saw it differently. Jennifer Muir of the OC Register covered the topic in Supervisors reject A-B-C or color-coded restaurant ratings County board ignores health department’s call for overhaul because of concerns changes could hurt restaurant owners.

The Orange County Board of Supervisors on Tuesday rejected health department and grand jury recommendations that restaurant inspection results be made more consumer-friendly, instead opting to make minor changes to the signs already on display.

Health department officials had recommended that restaurants display color-coded placards indicating how they scored on their last inspection. An Orange County grand jury, which in May found that the public is "almost universally unaware" of the county’s current system for reporting violations, recommended adopting an A-B-C rating system like the one used in Los Angeles.

But supervisors voted down the changes, saying they were concerned that overhauling the system could hurt restaurant owners. They also said the county’s existing system already is doing a good job at keeping diners safe from food borne illness.

"It could really be devastating to restaurant owners." said Supervisor Janet Nguyen, who voted against even making the minor changes approved by the board and warned that any health department fee increases could be passed on to consumers and cause restaurants to lay off employees. "I think in these difficult economic times, if the system isn’t broken, we should not go in and fix it."

Restaurant owners will absorb the cost of the changes in the annual fees they pay to the health department. A color coded system would have increased that payment by no more than $7 a year for the biggest restaurants. The changes approved on Tuesday to the existing inspection placards will increase their annual payment by no more than $3.75.

"I can’t believe the Board of Supervisors copped out on this again," said Marilyn Franchini, a Chino Hills resident who frequently dines with her son who lives in Orange County. "We’re talking about public safety here, so any argument that this may be costly for the business owner is not relevant."

The discussion comes less than a year after an Orange County Register investigation found more than 20,000 major food safety violations in 2007 ranging from lack of hot water to vermin infestations — in some of Orange County’s 13,173 restaurants, supermarkets, convenience stores and other food venues.

Many restaurants with large numbers of violations operated without the public knowing about the poor health inspection scores, the Register reported.

Last week, the board backed away from health department recommendations and asked the agency to present small changes to the current health inspection reporting system.

Here’s how the current system works: Restaurants display a placard indicating whether they passed a health inspection.

There’s a separate placard, which looks virtually the same, indicating if the eatery needs to be re-inspected because a health inspector saw major violations that the restaurant owner could correct on the spot.

If a restaurant is shut down because of health violations, it’s not required to post a notice explaining why, so the agency has no way of making sure that restaurant owners don’t mislead patrons by saying they’re closed for renovation or because they’re on vacation.

The agency also makes inspection reports available online (www. www.ocfoodinfo.com).

Supervisors on Tuesday voted 3-2 to display the word "reinspection" more prominently on the reinspection placard.

"If they want to know what that’s about, they can inquire, or it’s on the web site," supervisor Pat Bates said.

They also established a seal that will inform consumers when a restaurant has been closed because it failed a health inspection. The new signs will not begin appearing in restaurant windows until October 2009. Nguyen and supervisor Chris Norby voted against making any changes.

Chairman John Moorlach voted for the minor changes after his motion to adopt a color-coded system failed.

"I was amazed at how many comments I’ve gotten from constituents about how much they appreciate a letter grade when they go to eat in L.A.," said Moorlach, who acknowledged that people often decide spontaneously where to eat instead of looking up health reports and reviews online ahead of time. "This motion isn’t the one I prefer, but I will vote for it."

Stuart Pfeifer of the LA Times covered the topic in O.C. rejects letter grade system for restaurants The Board of Supervisors says it is worried about harming restaurant owners during a recession. O.C. restaurants currently post certificates showing they have met food safety standards.

Despite a warning from the county grand jury, the Orange County Board of Supervisors declined Tuesday to impose a letter grading system designed to inform would-be diners about the health safety record of restaurants.

It was the second time that county supervisors rejected using a system that’s become nearly universal in Southern California — using letter grades to measure restaurants.

Orange County does not require its 13,000 restaurants to post letter grades after health inspections. Instead, restaurants are required to post certificates showing that they have met food preparation and cleanliness standards or are scheduled for a reinspection because of past violations.

In May, the Orange County Grand Jury concluded that the county’s current system essentially keeps the public "in the dark" about a restaurant’s record and suggested the county’s Health Care Agency require restaurants to post letter grades so the public knows how they scored in their last safety inspections.

Citing a Stanford University study, the grand jury also noted that instances of food-borne illness declined in Los Angeles County after it adopted the letter grading system in 1998. It also said that most Orange County restaurant customers don’t even notice the certificates the establishments are currently required to post.

But supervisors Tuesday declined to adopt the letter grading system or an alternative plan that would have required restaurants to post color-coded certificates to provide more information to customers. A yellow certificate would have indicated that the restaurant had been cited and was scheduled for a reinspection.

Instead, supervisors opted to redesign certificates to more prominently display "reinspection scheduled" for those restaurants that had enough violations to warrant a follow-up visit by the health department.

Supervisor Bill Campbell, who once owned a chain of Taco Bell franchises, said he thought it was unfair to punish restaurant owners with grades or color codes if they had corrected problems and met health standards. The county Health Care Agency will not allow restaurants to open if they fail to correct significant health violations.

"I do have some concerns about the yellow [warning certificates] in this particular market. Consumers won’t understand. I just think that jumps out too much in this particular time," said Campbell, citing the slumping economy.

Supervisor John Moorlach said several Orange County residents had encouraged him to adopt a letter grading system, but he lacked the votes on the board to get such a plan approved. Supervisor Janet Nguyen opposed any change to the system, saying restaurant owners already face "hundreds of regulations."

In Los Angeles County, health inspectors issue A, B or C grades depending on how restaurants score during inspections. A restaurant that scores less than a C is generally required to close.

Health inspectors in Los Angeles and Orange counties close restaurants that are deemed a threat to public health and allow them to reopen only after reinspection. Several restaurant owners in Orange County said they were pleased that supervisors did not adopt letter grades.

"I’ve never liked the L.A. letter grade thing," said Tim Lowenberg, managing partner of Roy’s Hawaiian Fusion in Newport Beach. "Here in O.C., it’s either you pass or you don’t. If you don’t pass, you shut down. Talk about turning away guests and scaring the public," shutting down is "the worst that could happen."

Detailed reports about health inspections are available on the health department websites in both counties. It’s not pleasant reading.

In the last three months, for instance, health inspectors have shut down an ice cream shop in Orange after finding cockroaches on the floor and wall near the preparation counter and a Laguna Beach restaurant after finding a live rodent caught on a glue trap. Both of the restaurants reopened after passing follow-up inspections.

Dr. Jonathan Fielding, who heads the Los Angeles County Department of Health Services, said the letter grade system has worked well in his county.

"What is more important than protecting the public’s health?" Fielding asked rhetorically when told Orange County supervisors had turned down letter grades.

"It doesn’t necessarily impose economic constraints," Fielding said. "What we’ve shown is that revenues go up as people feel more confident" in a restaurant’s health safety.

"Our system reduced food-borne illness," Fielding said. "As far as I am concerned, providing helpful, timely information to the public, along with an incentive for the restaurants, are important in protecting the health of the public."

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